The Trump Presidency is fast becoming a minefield for business –especially retailers and service companies that rely on consumers for their sales. In fact, the combination of an opinionated President delivering on many of his controversial campaign promises with a vigor rarely seen and the ever-growing power of social media to affect behavior can be lethal.
Just ask Uber. The ubiquitous ride-sharing service got into trouble when it allegedly attempted to capitalize on a strike by some New York cab drivers at JFK Airport who were protesting the Trump Administration’s so-called “extreme vetting” of visitors from seven Middle Eastern and African countries that many have characterized as a “Muslim ban.”
Uber suspended its surge pricing – higher charges at peak times – at JFK in what was widely seen as an effort to snatch business from the protesting cabbies. Uber denies that was its intention, but the reaction on social media was swift, with the #DeleteUber hashtag trending on Twitter as Uber customers were urged to erase the app on their smartphones and cancel their accounts. One report says that as many as 200,000 accounts were canceled.
In response to the fury, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick resigned from Trump’s economic advisory council, which was scheduled to meet today (Disney CEO Bob Iger said he wouldn’t be able to make the meeting because of a “scheduling” issue). That may help, but at least one competitor is already using Uber’s Trump woes to its advantage: The New York Times reports that Lyft has “ pledged to donate $1 million to the American Civil Liberties Union,” which has been at the forefront of opposition to the travel ban. That has sent downloads of the Lyft app shooting up, the Times says.
But it’s not just Uber that is getting pulled into – or voluntarily leaping into -- the political maelstrom swirling through Washington, and the results can be unpredictable:
- Starbucks. CEO Howard Schultz pledged to hire 10,000 refugees over the next five years in response to the Trump Administration at least temporarily closing America’s door to Syrian refugees and suspending travel from seven primarily Muslim nations. But that has led to a nascent campaign on Twitter, #BoycottStarbucks that wonders why the international chain doesn’t hire 10,000 vets instead of refugees. And Schultz’s outreach didn’t stop an angry mob at UCBerkeley, protesting a planned speech by Milo Yiannopoulos—a right-wing provocateur, editor at Breitbart News and confederate of Trump advisor Steve Bannon—from trashing a Starbucks coffee outlet last night.
- Airbnb. In the face of the travel restrictions, Airbnb asked its hosts worldwide to provide free lodging to those affected by the ban, and it pledged to cover the costs of shelter for anyone unable to find a free host. Social media loved it. On the social-media opinion site 30dB, “Airbnb + Refugees” was getting a 92 percent positive rating.
- Nordstrom. After what the website Racked describes as an aggressive boycott and poor sales, Nordstrom has pulled Ivanka Trump’s clothing label from its stores. The Washington Post says that as of early December, Nordstrom had 71 Ivanka items for sale on its website; now there are four – and they are being sold at clearance prices.
- Neiman Marcus. The upscale department store has removed the Ivanka Trump jewelry collection from at least one of its stores. Racked says it is unclear whether Ivanka jewelry will be dropped from all stores, but her name is no longer listed on Neiman’s “master list” of designers.
- Kawasaki USA. After customer complaints, the motorcycle maker is dropping out as a sponsor of “The Celebrity Apprentice,” the NBC show that helped make Trump a TV star and of which he is still executive producer, the Post says. The show’s declining ratings have been the subject of a Twitter war between the President of the United States and current host, actor, and former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. After Trump said at the National Prayer Breakfast yesterday that he wanted to pray for Arnold because he is a “total disaster,” the Terminator responded with a video on Twitter in which he said: “Hey Donald, I have a great idea—why don’t we switch jobs? You take over TV because you’re such an expert in ratings, and I take over your job. And then people can finally sleep comfortably again.”
- L.L. Bean. The New England purveyor of rugged outdoor clothes and gear found itself in the crosshairs of the anti-Trump crowd when the President singled out one of the heirs to the privately held company, Linda Bean, to thank her for her backing (a donation of more than $66,000 to the Make America Great Again PAC) and urge his supporters to shop there. The company scrambled to distance itself from Linda Bean and maintain its political neutrality, but it remains on a boycott list.
At least some of the credit for the moves by Nordstrom and Neiman is being claimed by a boycott campaign called #GrabYourWallet, which compiled the names of some 70 companies that carry Trump-branded products or are led by executives who supported Trump or donated to his campaign, including L.L. Bean and New Balance. At least five companies have been removed from the list since they dropped Trump brands: Shoes.com, Bellacor, Wayfair, Zulily and RueLaLa.
Even the Super Bowl is being dragged into the political fray. Boston public radio station WBUR reports that some Patriots fans opposed to the President are sitting out the Big Game to protest the ties of New England owner Robert Kraft, Coach Bill Belichick and Quarterback Tom Brady to Trump.
At a rally in New Hampshire on the eve of the election, Trump read a letter Belichick had written to him, WBUR says. “Congratulations on a tremendous campaign,” Trump quoted the letter as saying. “You have dealt with an unbelievable slanted and negative media. And have come out beautifully, beautifully."