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Is Trump's attack on Nordstrom fair or foul?

Everyone is talking about President Trump's skirmish with Nordstrom over its decision to halt sales of Ivanka Trump's merchandise line. Ten retail experts share their perspective on the controversy.

Ivanka Trump is no longer a good fit for Nordstrom: The department store retailer earlier this month halted sales of apparel and accessories marketed under the first daughter’s name.

Despite the efforts of Grab Your Wallet, a nationwide campaign calling on shoppers to boycott retailers and brands supporting businesses owned and operated by the family of polarizing President Donald Trump, Nordstrom maintains the decision to wind down sales of Ivanka Trump merchandise is all about performance, not politics.

“Over the past year, and particularly in the last half of 2016, sales of the brand have steadily declined to the point where it didn’t make good business sense for us to continue with the line for now,” a Nordstrom spokesperson told Retail Dive. “We've had a great relationship with the Ivanka Trump team. We’ve had open conversations with them over the past year to share what we've seen and Ivanka was personally informed of our decision in early January.”

Nordstrom’s statement aligns with a recent Wall Street Journal report revealing that its sales of Ivanka Trump products have been in decline for months: An internal Nordstrom memo obtained by the Journal disclosed the chain’s Ivanka Trump sales fell 32% last year, even plunging 70% in the climactic weeks of the presidential election cycle.

President Trump sees it differently: “My daughter Ivanka has been treated so unfairly by @Nordstrom," Trump posted on his Twitter account last week, sparking a firestorm across social media. Nordstrom shares tumbled immediately after Trump’s tweet, but recovered within minutes to close 5% higher.

The drama isn’t likely to die down anytime soon: Not only did White House counselor Kellyanne Conway create her own media furor by plugging the Ivanka Trump line on Fox News, but retailers including Belk, Sears and Kmart have since ceased selling Trump-branded merchandise as well. The Nordstrom kerfuffle even ended up as fodder for a “Saturday Night Live” sketch.

In the wake of the controversy, discussion forum RetailWire asked its BrainTrust panel of retail experts the following questions:

  • What is your reaction to Donald Trump’s criticism of Nordstrom for delisting Ivanka Trump products?
  • Should advocate groups such as the National Retail Federation and Retail Industry Leaders Association and other retailers make public statements supportive of Nordstrom and/or critical of the president?

Here are 10 of the most provocative and insightful comments from that discussion. Comments have been edited by Retail Dive for content and length.

1. Conflicts of interest

Max Goldberg, President, Max Goldberg & Associates: Trump has gone too far in his criticism of Nordstrom, demonstrating why traditionally presidents and their immediate families step away from any potential commercial entanglements before they assume office. Trump is emotionally unfit to be president and demeans the office with his Twitter rants.

2. Murky waters

Meaghan Brophy, Managing Editor, Independent Retailer: It is absolutely an abuse of power for President Trump to denounce Nordstrom. Legally he is navigating murky waters when he endorses or denounces businesses for personal reasons, especially when family financials and personal gain are involved. However, if anything President Trump’s tweets against Nordstrom have helped the brand more than hurt it. Nordstrom’s stocks are going up and there are many groups on social media encouraging its members to show support by shopping at Nordstrom. NRF or RILA could issue a statement supporting Nordstrom, but I don’t think it would make much of a difference.

3. Totally inappropriate

Ian Percy, President, The Ian Percy Corporation: “Gone too far” can be applied on so many levels. With immigrants. With the disparagement of science, the environment, judicial system, financial de-regulation. With his career. This Nordstrom incident is beyond the pale, totally inappropriate. Let me be clear this has nothing to do with Republican-ism or with the Office of the President. It is 100% related to the man himself.

And, as we’re seeing, the explanation from Nordstrom reveals a rapidly fading brand at least as far as clothing goes. Bad.

4. Business comes first

Cathy Hotka, Principal, Cathy Hotka & Associates: Business is business. If the product isn’t selling, you remove it from your stores, and no tweet from the dad of the face of the brand can change that. The man who lives at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue should get back to work.

5. Timing is everything

Lee Kent, Principal, Your Retail Authority, LLC: Regardless of what Nordstrom says the reason for disengaging with the line is, the timing is everything. It sure looks and feels more like a lash out at the president. And let me just add that if I were president and had a child who was already a brand and was treated like that, I too would likely say, “Why are you treating my child like this? She didn’t do anything wrong. Don’t take your dislike for me out on her.” It does not mean that he is still engaged in his previous business activities. It means he’s a dad!

As much as I have always loved Nordstrom, this one doesn’t smell so innocent. Timing says a lot.

6. Get a life

Roger Saunders, Global Managing Director, Prosper Business Development: It is understandable that a father and mother would defend their offspring. Donald Trump’s position as U.S. President places him in a role where he would do well to defend his children in a different manner than a tweet. His adult children would do well to help the President understand that he is not helping their cause and credibility in the retail marketplace.

For those on opposing sides choosing to pull a “boycott” against a retailer to send a message to the father … get a life. No need for the NRF to enter this fray.

[Nordstrom co-president] Peter Nordstrom clearly and productively pointed out the reason to discontinue the Ivanka Trump line. He stated, “All merchandise lines are evaluated on an ongoing basis. The bottom 10% of merchandise that impacts revenue/profitability, is discontinued each year.” That permits a new assortment to replenish it. Retailers, like Nordstrom, are attempting to satisfy consumer needs, support their associates’ interest in building loyalty with quality merchandise to help those consumers, provide consumers with quality, selection, service, convenience and a positive experience, all while making an acceptable profit for shareholders.

7. Sell or else

Paula Rosenblum, Managing Partner, RSR Research: Square footage in stores and [distribution centers] is valuable. If it doesn’t sell, it’s out.

Worse, [Trump] a) singled out Nordstrom and b) retweeted from the official POTUS account. I think it’s a litigation waiting to happen.

It’s also incredibly embarrassing to me as an American.

8. Voices carry

Jasmine Glasheen, Editor, Off-Price Retailing Magazine: To say Ivanka was “treated unfairly” is ludicrous. She was a huge part of Trump’s campaign and she and her husband continue to reap the benefits of her father’s presidency.

Nordstrom pulled Ivanka Trump’s line relatively late in the game for consumers influenced by #grabyourwallet. Still, Trump’s tantrum proves the #grabyourwallet movement successful. The American people are making their voices heard.

Should the NRF and Retail Industry Leaders Association make public statements on Nordstrom pulling the Trump line? Donald Trump’s proposed immigration and import policies pose a huge threat to the retail industry. We depend on international trade. The more relationships Trump severs, the more difficult it will be for retailers to maintain their businesses.

9. Parental rights

Naomi K. Shapiro, Strategic Market Communications, Upstream Commerce: Mr. Trump is the President.

Mr. Trump has a daughter.

If he feels that his daughter was slighted (even wrongly), can’t he express himself on this? Or just not through a president’s channels? It’s not fair to say that he, as President, shouldn’t be able to express himself at all. And that, as Trump supporters and detractors alike will have to agree: That’s what makes Trump, Trump.

10. Everything is politicized

Phil Rubin, CEO, rDialogue:  We’ve all been hearing that “the rules no longer apply” and this is now more true than ever. Politics are increasingly inseparable from business and vice-versa, and that is largely due to the POTUS and his executive actions in his first few weeks. It’s not just Nordstrom either. Look at Uber and Lyft, where the former saw mass customer defection due to its CEO meeting with POTUS. And Nike and Under Armour, where the CEOs of each company have taken very different positions, with Mark Parker coming out clearly against the Executive Order on immigration and Kevin Plank coming out staunchly supporting Trump.

We are only at the beginning and the longer-term ramifications are not yet understood. What is clear, however, is that brand loyalty will be either reinforced or eroded through increasingly political forces.

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Filed Under: Consumer Trends Corporate News
Top image credit: Gage Skidmore