retail news in context, analysis with attitude

As noted yesterday on MNB, Starbucks chairman Howard Schultz has pledged to hire 10,000 refugees over the next five years in countries all over the world, a decision that came as a reaction to the executive order from President Donald Trump restricting immigration from a number of predominantly Muslim countries, as well as greater vetting and preferential treatment for Christian refugees. That order, we noted, has been criticized by a number of attorneys general who have labeled it as unconstitutional, and set off a number of protests around the country.

Now, Fortune writes, "a group of Twitter users are pledging to stop supporting Starbucks, while those supportive of the refugee hiring news say they will buy coffee and food from the restaurant chain to support the move."

The story notes that Starbucks is used to the attention, and even courts it. The company "found itself the target of a social media boycott last year, as a #TrumpCup protest surfaced for a few days after a viral video showing a white male Trump supporter yelling at a barista for unfair, anti-white discrimination fueled that campaign. #BoycottStarbucks has been a hashtag that has floated around on social media channels for some time now ... Starbucks seems to be a perennial target. That could be because Schultz has never demurred when it comes to talking about issues and topics that could be seen as divisive to some. Some cultural stances he has backed include support for marriage equality and a call for open discussions about race..."
KC's View:
Well, this was sort of predictable.

The interesting this about this is that I saw this play out in the emails I got about yesterday's story. One MNB reader wrote:

I admire Howard Schultz taking a definitive position.  Starbucks is successful with store all over the world and he is welcoming citizens of the world to this establishment. And his hiring and healthcare policy has alway been admirable.  If this is risky so be it.  We all need to be a little more forthcoming and risky in this selfish political climate.

But another wrote:

Never had an never will step foot in a Starbucks  and Schultz's recent narrative only strengthens my stance. He has every right to speak his mind as I have every right to speak with my feet. While I have long believed that everyone is totally free to express their opinion, if you choose to do this, you need to understand the and accept what the results can be.

Which is exactly the point I made yesterday.

The thing is, Schultz is counting on the fact that most of the people he pisses off are going to be people like you who didn't go to Starbucks anyway. You deciding to boycott Starbucks because of this stand costs him not one penny. On the other hand, if his position on the issues helps define the brand in a positive way with people he sees as Starbucks customers, then it works out as being a good thing.

Let's also not forget that Schultz is playing a global game here - Starbucks operates in a lot of countries, and he has to be conscious of his company's image in those places.

We also probably shouldn't rule out the possibility that while there is a business component to Schultz being so publicly defiant of the Trump administration, he also may be acting out of actual ethical outrage, based on his values.

Starbucks is hardly the only company being caught up in these controversies. I was fascinated yesterday when one of the attendees at the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) Midwinter Executive Conference in Scottsdale, Arizona, came up to me and informed me that even though he was a longtime and dedicated Uber user, he'd deleted the app from his smartphone and from now on would be using only Lyft.

Here's the background. Uber CEO Travis Kalanick sits on a business advisory group created by the Trump White House, and has been getting considerable grief online for having any sort of relationship with the administration. (To be fair, Kalanick has said that he's against the ban and plans to make that point in a meeting at the White House this week.)

But what really has torn it for a number of people was when Uber charged "less than it could at JFK Airport in New York City as taxi drivers had halted service for an hour on Saturday to protest the ban," as the Associated Press reports. " The move was perceived of by some on social media as an effort to profit off the protests as more passengers would need to seek alternatives to cabs. But the company said on Twitter that it had not "meant to break the strike."

Meanwhile, the AP writes, "Rival ride-sharing company Lyft responded by saying it will donate $1 million over the next four years to the American Civil Liberties Union, which successfully requested an emergency order approved by a federal judge Saturday that temporarily bars the U.S. from deporting people from the countries subject to Trump's travel ban."

Which is why this industry executive decided never again to use Uber, and instead use Lyft.

People are choosing sides. Companies are choosing sides. While some of this is predictable, some of it is not.