Target’s public declaration that customers in its stores are free to use the restroom or fitting room facility that corresponds with their gender identity has sparked a public outcry and boycott that have damaged its brand reputation by a “significant” degree, according to YouGov BrandIndex, which conducts daily surveys on brand perception, USA Today reports.
While before its April 19 announcement some 42% of people said they’d consider shopping at Target, that number fell to 38% as of last Wednesday, which YouGov CEO Ted Marzilli calls a "significant" shift.
A petition begun by the conservative American Family Association calling on consumers to boycott Target has garnered some 1 million digital signatures. Target declined to comment on how its position may have affected sales or marketing effectiveness. A Target spokeswoman last week told Forbes that “Our belief in and commitment to inclusivity has not changed.”
In the short term Target’s brand seems to be taking a hit, at least as it’s measured by the daily YouGov brand index. But that may not be the full picture.
For one thing, people lie in polls, especially when it comes to certain hot button issues. So there may be people who say they won’t shop at Target, but in the end will, and some people who said they would be likely to shop there before the announcement may not have frequented Target very often in the first place.
Then there’s the possibility that Target may very well be courting the Americans who support its public declaration of inclusiveness. Those in that group tend to be female and/or young, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released the same week as Target’s announcement. That poll suggests that support for transgender people in general and for open-mindedness about bathroom use will likely only grow—and, some experts say, will likely move even more swiftly than toward support than LGBT issues like gay marriage.
"I don’t think they [Target] stand to lose much at all," Melissa Arnoff, senior vice president at crisis communications firm Levick, told USA Today. "This isn’t unusual for them. It’s actually very true to who they say they are as a brand. I think the people who shop there loyally know that.”
In the end, it could be rival Wal-Mart that suffers a bigger hit by staying silent on the matter. While Wal-Mart has publicly supported inclusivity and increasingly opposed laws that discriminate against LGBT people, staying silent on the issue now could actually work against its stated efforts to appeal to wealthier consumers. Attempts to determine Wal-Mart’s bathroom and fitting room policies have failed, according to AL.com and other outlets.