Sears and Kmart stores over the weekend joined several other retailers dropping Trump-branded items. The Sears Holdings-owned retailers will cease e-commerce sales of 31 items in the “Trump Home” collections, Reuters reports, which includes furniture, bedding and lighting, among other products.
Nordstrom, which took flak last week from President Donald Trump for its announcement that it won’t sell first daughter Ivanka Trump’s merchandise, continued to generate headlines over the weekend as the scuffle was lampooned on "Saturday Night Live."
The retailer’s contention that its decision was a business one and not political was bolstered by a report from The Wall Street Journal that Nordstrom’s Ivanka Trump sales had fallen 32% last year, plunging 70% in the final weeks of the presidential election, according to an internal memo cited by the Journal. " We haven’t and won’t be sharing specific sales results for this brand or any other. We don’t know where these numbers came from and we did not share them" [with the Journal]. Meanwhile, an Ivanka Trump spokesperson told Retail Dive that Nordstrom ordered apparel and shoes for spring and went forward with its spring apparel purchase.
Last year, Nordstrom made it clear it would let go of poorly performing merchandise as it tries to get a handle on costs amid slipping apparel sales. And in the face of boycotts against various Trump brands, Nordstrom has maintained that decisions about that merchandise, like all others, are based on sales rather than politics. In a statement to Retail Dive on Monday, however, Rosemary K. Young, Senior Director of Marketing at Ivanka Trump, seemed to imply that politics, or at least "integrity," should indeed count when making such business decisions.
"The Ivanka Trump brand continues to expand across categories and distribution with increased customer support, leading us to experience significant year-over-year revenue growth in 2016," Young wrote in an email. "We believe that the strength of a brand is measured not only by the profits it generates, but the integrity it maintains. The women behind the brand represent a diverse group of professionals and we are proud to say that the Ivanka Trump brand continues to embody the principles upon which it was founded. It is a company built to inspire women with solution-oriented offerings, created to celebrate and service the many aspects of their lives."
But Nordstrom's insistence that, basically, it's selling what its customers are buying, jives with its longstanding customer focus. And, while the retailer wouldn't confirm the Journal's numbers, it's also borne out by outside research. Analytics firm Jumpshot tracked traffic to Ivanka Trump products on Macy's and Nordstrom since Jan. 1, 2016, and found that while traffic to Ivanka Trump products on Nordstrom was much higher than on Macy's between April 2016 and September 2016, traffic on Macy's has exceeded Nordstrom since October. While Macy's and Nordstrom both saw a spike in November, traffic to Ivanka Trump pages decreased on Nordstrom by about 14% in December and January, and increased on Macy's by about 18%.
But the controversy has been stoked by the Trumps. Ivanka Trump denied Nordstrom’s contention of slipping sales. It was President Trump, though, with a tweet last week that apparently came during a morning intelligence briefing, who created a firestorm on social media.
My daughter Ivanka has been treated so unfairly by @Nordstrom. She is a great person -- always pushing me to do the right thing! Terrible!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 8, 2017
I am so proud of my daughter Ivanka. To be abused and treated so badly by the media, and to still hold her head so high, is truly wonderful!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 11, 2017
Branding expert Mark Borkowski said getting knocked down by Trump could actually be a boon for retail brands, according to a post he wrote for CNN last week. “[S]hould Trump's approval ratings remain as low as they are — or sink even lower — many working in the public relations industry will be privately hoping to cash in on being the enemy of the ultimate enemy,” Borkowski wrote. “I'm sure that in more than [one] bedroom across the United States, PR executives will be on their knees, praying for the first time in years: "Dear God, please let Donald Trump attack one of my clients.”
Whether that’s true for any one brand depends on who your customers are, Borkowski also said, echoing what retail futurist Doug Stephens told Retail Dive last week.
“Given the social, moral and ethical tumult created by Trump’s candidacy and now his presidency, brands are increasingly having to weigh in," Stephens said. "This means that brands, more than ever, have to know and intimately understand their customer base. [Starbucks CEO] Howard Shultz, for example, likely had a very good sense that his customers would largely support his position on refugee hiring. Shultz tends to have a good gut for his customers’ sensibilities. This keen knowledge of customers is now table-stakes for CEOs in a politically charged climate.”