Walmart this week pulled shirts and baby clothes emblazoned with "Impeach 45" after conservative activist Ryan Fournier, founder of Students for Trump, tweeted about it.
Such items, still for sale elsewhere including on Amazon, were quickly removed from Walmart.com, and Walmart replied to Fournier’s tweet: "These items were sold by third-party sellers on our open marketplace and were not offered directly by Walmart. We’re removing these types of items pending review of our marketplace policies."
The retail giant was also under fire last month when it was revealed that its former Brownsville, Texas supercenter was being used to house children separated from their parents amidst an immigration crackdown by the Trump Administration. Walmart tweeted a statement saying it is "surprised and deeply disturbed" by the repurposing of the store, which it sold in 2016.
Walmart continues to have difficulty expanding its core customer base, and these kinds of controversies don't help.
These items were sold by third-party sellers on our open marketplace and were not offered directly by Walmart. We’re removing these types of items pending review of our marketplace policies.— Walmart Newsroom (@WalmartNewsroom) July 3, 2018
Walmart's average customer is less wealthy, less urban and quite a bit older than those typically shopping at Target and Amazon, and new e-commerce acquisitions starting with Jet in 2016, aim to change that, the company has said. Since Jet, Walmart has also bought online shoe retailer Shoebuy for $70 million, online outdoor retailer Moosejaw for $51 million in cash, vintage-inspired online women’s apparel Modcloth and menswear site Bonobos for $310 million. The company is also testing a text-based style concierge and shopping service, dubbed Jetblack, for "busy NYC moms."
But some fans of those sites say they've moved on in light of the Walmart ownership, often citing Walmart's treatment of its workers. The troubles persist even as it made what Keith Anderson, vice president of strategy and insights at retail intelligence firm Profitero, said have been substantive changes to its culture and reputation, as when it meaningfully began elevating wages and employment opportunities. Earlier this year, the retailer, also the country's biggest gun seller, instituted new limits on gun purchases that have ruffled some feathers.
"There’s a whole history of experiments at Walmart that almost universally failed, and I see the Jet acquisition and the quick string that came next ... as a much bolder effort to basically buy customers," Anderson told Retail Dive last year. "You have these debates that have been going at that company for 20 years — similar debates have been going on at McDonalds and also other brands that are mainstream, but can’t reach a segment that they want to reach."
Walmart blamed availability of the "impeach" shirt on third-party sellers, but that's a tricky situation, too, considering the increasing importance of that channel in broadening its online assortment and reaching new customers. While Walmart doesn’t break out online sales between the marketplace and its own distribution, there's plenty of evidence that its marketplace, founded in 2009, has been picking up steam in recent months, according to research from eMarketer. In its first quarter this year, Walmart's U.S. online sales grew 33%, a rebound from comparatively lackluster growth of 23% in the previous quarter.