Walmart Tackles the Tough Issue of Taking Political Positions
The Wall Street Journal’s Sarah Nassauer had an interesting piece last week showing that Walmart is increasingly taking political stances. The whys and hows of that are instructive because, almost by definition, doing so affects an organization’s reputation. Yet it’s becoming more common for companies to take positions on divisive social questions — rather than putting their heads in the sand.
The July 5 piece focuses on Walmart’s decision to raise the age for gun sales after the Parkland, Florida, school shooting in February. The company didn’t see a big negative reaction to that, though some customers did say they would stop shopping there because of it.
While Walmart’s announcement followed that of rival Dick’s Sporting Goods, Nassauer notes that the retail giant warned outside allies — including the governor of its home state of Arkansas — that the move was coming. That was smart. It has also reached out to employees to explain controversial decisions. Also smart.
The WSJ’s take on why Walmart feels the need to do this now: “Political divide in the country is creating a new landscape for business, in which fierce debates often lead consumers and employees to demand that corporations and chief executives take positions on big issues.”
It’s maybe more important than ever to let people know what it is we stand for.
— Walmart Chief Marketing Officer Tony Rogers
Other issues Walmart has confronted include immigration, the Confederate flag, and gay rights. Given that the company is headquartered in a strongly Republican state, some issues, such as merchandise with the Confederate flag, pose challenges. Yet CEO Doug McMillon (pictured) tweeted opposition to a state bill that would have allowed refusal of service to customers based on religious beliefs.
CEOs used to stay as far away as possible from such divisive issues, but now are pressured to confront them. Surveys show customers want Walmart to take a stand on social issues. “It’s maybe more important than ever to let people know what it is we stand for,” the WSJ quotes Walmart Chief Marketing Officer Tony Rogers.
We’ve touched on this issue before. A 2016 study on CEO activism advised caution. Another study found that consumers were torn about whether companies should take political positions.
The WSJ mentions that recently several airlines announced they wouldn’t help the U.S. government transport children separated from their parents when they crossed the southern border. Walmart recently had to confront news that a Texas location it sold in 2016 is being used as a holding center for immigrant children.
Walmart has been battered over the years by complaints about squeezing employees, suppliers, and small businesses. It is trying to attract wealthier customers. The WSJsuggests expressing controversial viewpoints has boosted its standing in the eyes of many.
“In some cases, the company is embracing public positions as part of efforts to enhance its reputation,” Nassauer writes.
Photo Credit: Walmart
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