Target will invest some $20 million to add private bathrooms to all U.S. stores in order to accommodate transgender people.
Most Target stores already have such bathrooms, but the nationwide move has been deemed necessary after controversy erupted when Target announced a policy allowing people to use restrooms that suit their gender identity.
Target reiterated its long-standing policy in April after North Carolina passed a law requiring people to use public restrooms that correspond with the gender noted on their birth certificate.
Target has stipulated that sales have not materially suffered because of its bathroom policy, but the retailer now says that it’s working to ensure that all stores have private, unisex bathrooms in an effort to assuage some customer complaints.
Ghe April announcement had sparked outcry among conservative quarters, including the American Family Association, which launched a boycott that has reportedly garnered more than a million signatures.
Columbia University business school retail studies professor Mark Cohen earlier this year told Retail Dive that while the policy may be the right one, Target's unexpected and unprovoked announcement ultimately did the company and its shareholders a disservice.
“[CEO Brian Cornell] is demonstrating at best a lack of experience and at worst a lack of common sense and judgment,” Cohen told Retail Dive. “It’s okay for [Target] to be sensitive to this issue of gender and bathrooms — and they’re based in Minneapolis, so they have a history of being progressive. But this is an issue that has become a lightning rod. If this CEO had a scintilla of common sense, he would do what Wal-Mart is doing, which is to wait this out and wait for the lawmakers to duke it out and decide.”
Other experts says that in the long run the company may benefit from both its stance and its policy of having private bathrooms.
“Some would advocate that brands keep their morals to themselves and focus exclusively on what their customers (all their customers) depend on them for — products and services,” retail futurist Doug Stephens told Retail Dive in an email. “Others see it differently and fully expect that brands take positions on social, political and moral issues that impact the rights and well-being of their staff and customers. I personally believe that the true character and value system of any organization is defined by what it’s willing to lose money over.”
Evidence suggests that he may be right — to a point. Consumers do want companies to take a stand: A 2014 study by policy and communications firm Global Strategy Group found that 80% of respondents believe corporations should take action on important issues in society, up from 72% a year before. In addition, 79% say that it’s appropriate for enterprises to advocate on an issue pertinent to their industry (up slightly from 78%), although many also agreed that “companies should tread carefully on controversial issues.”