Sunday, February 5, 2017

Do Boycotts Work? Do They Work For You?

Did the Chik-fil-A "boycott" really change anyone's mind about anything?

In response to Trump's Muslim Ban, many people have called for a boycott of Uber and Starbucks.   This seems kind of odd, as it is not clear what these two companies have to do with the Muslim Ban.   Uber was targeted supposedly because they cut pricing after taxis went out on strike in support of the ban, or right after the strike ended, depending on which article you are reading.   This makes no sense to me - cutting rates when a strike is on.  If anything, I would think they would raise rates.

And how are you going to get to the protest without Uber?

I guess also Uber raised ire by having Peter Thiel on the board, and he is a Trump lackey, so then there's that.   He is on so many silicon valley boards, though, you'd have to basically go back to being Amish if you want to boycott every pie he has his sticky fingers in.

Starbucks is targeted, I guess by the Right, for promising to hire 10,000 refugees and give them shitty jobs working at Starbucks.   The Rightests say, why not give these shitty service jobs to 10,000 "unemployed Americans" who have already turned their noses up at them?   Again, a weird argument in this era of 4.6% unemployment - but we'll discuss employment numbers another day.

The main thing is, do boycotts work to change behavior or more importantly, public policy?   And moreover, are these effective for your personal bottom line?   In this day and age of polarizing politics, it seems that boycotts and anti-boycotts are all the rage, with every purchase a consumer making not only defining who they are by their personal choices, but political ones as well.

Even something as simple as lunch gets complicated.   Do I go to McDonald's, who is clear-cutting the rainforest, or Chik-fil-A who is mean to gays (how about neither and eat healthier?).   Or pizza - do I support "pro-life" by going to Dominos or Papa John's?   Or do I support Hillary by going to Comet Ping Pong Pizza?   (Sorry, couldn't help myself).

Many folks we know refuse to shop at Wal-Mart because, you know, Wal-Mart.    They cite vague fears that it is "a huge corporation" that is "taking over" and that they pay their employees poorly.   But these same people think nothing of fueling up at Exxon, who certainly is a huge corporation and I doubt the people behind the counter there are making six figures.

The problem, of course, is that today there are so many boycotts that they have lost their effectiveness.  We are exhorted to shun one company or another for various reasons - either on the Left or the Right - and shop only at politically correct places.   This gets to be time-consuming and moreover, expensive.   Maybe you have moral qualms about Wal-Mart.  I don't.   I own stock in the place.  Hillary was on the Board of Directors.   They are the largest retailer of organic foods in the world.   People who never shop there have a lot of misconceptions about it.   And for the most part, Walmart is smart enough to remain on the sidelines on these political debates.

The other problem is that you often don't know the politics of the owners or board directors when you shop at a store.   Trying to research this is next to impossible - unless you want to spend all day online.   I think a better approach is to shop at places that have the best prices, and save the "big gun" of boycotting for the big issues.  Too many boycotts merely dilutes the concept of boycotts.  And also, unless everyone boycotts something, it is pretty ineffective.

Speaking of which, do boycotts work?   People point to the Montgomery Bus Boycott as an example of one that worked, but even the NAACP seems to think that it was political action, not economic concerns that lead to change.   This interesting article from the idiots at Freakonomics discusses this.   And did the "grape boycott" of the 1960's result in better conditions for farm workers, or was it merely union organizing and striking?   Because back then, at least where I lived, no one gave a shit about the grape boycott.

It seems that the upshot of all of this is that most companies try to stay out of the political fray - and go to great lengths to be "neutral" in political debates - be like Switzerland.    Other companies actually seek out political positions, as they understand their customer base is aligned with these politics.   Chik-fil-A and Hobby Lobby don't care about losing liberal customers because they largely don't have any.  Being headquartered in the South and serving mostly conservative Baptists, they not only don't lose customers this way, but gain customer loyalty.

This is not to say that Chik-fil-A isn't having some reservations about the whole deal.  The company's founder, Mr. Cathy, says he regrets getting involved in the debates, but that is probably because they want to expand into Northern markets and also do an IPO.   The company's policies about closing on Sunday as well as how franchises are awarded will no doubt cause problems for them down the road as they try to expand and become a publicly traded company.

My main beef with them (if you'll pardon the pun) is that they are awarded franchises in public buildings, like the Atlanta airport, but refuse to open on Sunday - a day the airport is open.   If you are going to take a franchise spot on the turnpike or an airport, you should be open to serve the public regardless of your religious views - and they are religious views.   That Mr. Cathy uses this "day off" argument makes it even worse, as he is basically lying to me - trying to get me to believe the "closed on Sunday" policy has nothing to do with his Bapist upbringing, but rather is a humanitarian gesture to allow workers a day to relax.   It is bullshit on so many levels - people can work in shifts.  McDonald's is open seven days a week, but none of its employees work all seven days (indeed, today, low-wage jobs like that are all part-time, thanks in part to Obamacare forcing employers to provide healthcare for full-time employees, but let's not go down that rabbit-hole!).
Similarly, other companies like Target and Starbucks tend to embrace more liberal causes, which reflects their customer demographic.   They don't worry about losing business because of political views, but instead, again, gain customer loyalty because of them.   Let's face it, Starbucks isn't losing any sleep over a conservative "boycott" as the conservatives have already shot their load on this with their idiotic "War on Christmas" and annual "War on Starbucks Christmas Cups."   Keep it up, evangelicals!  Any day now, the beast will collapse.

Myself, I don't buy coffee at Starbucks because I think it is too expensive, too trendy, and tastes burnt.   I realized that a $5 a day habit at Starbucks was just not worth the cost - and it is quite a cost!   The last time I went to a Starbucks was  a month ago, at a truck stop that had a Starbucks.   It was $2.49 for a small cup of coffee (I have the receipt!) and frankly, it wasn't that good.   Not $2.49 good anyway.   Not when I can buy an entire can of coffee at Trader Joe's for about $5.   It's called a thermos, people.   Use it!

Similarly, I am not "against" or "for" Target, but I rarely shop there because their merchandise selection is limited and their prices are higher than at Wal-Mart.   In fact, the two are not even in the same league.  I can buy all my groceries at Wal-Mart, buy new clothes, have my eyes examined, taxes done, sign up for Obamacare, have my tires rotated and oil changed, buy shrubs for the house, and so on and so forth.   Target has a little better content in terms of trendy clothes, but it just isn't Wal-Mart.   Apples and Oranges.

The calls to boycott Trump-related products are similarly ridiculous.   The Trump "brand" was tarnished long before he ran for office, and the sales of his products were already faltering.   Nordstrom's dropped some Trump-branded products simply because they weren't selling, not because people were protesting the store.  And in this day and age, department stores can't afford to keep lines that don't sell.   Similarly, Macy's didn't stop selling Trump ties because people protested, but used it as an excuse to get rid of a slow-selling line.  Only the densest sort of boobs would think Trump-branded anything is "classy" or "upscale."    And maybe that is why he ran for President - sensing that his empire was going to collapse anyway.    His kids are quickly re-branding the hotels as "Scion" now that Toyota has abandoned the nameplate.   This tells you more about the value of the Trump brand than anything else.  When Trump abandons Trump, you needn't boycott.

Besides, if you really want to change things, find and support a candidate that will win an election.   Nominating ultra-left-wing losers isn't going to win elections or change things in Washington, it will just insure the right stays in power that much longer.   Inciting riots and protesting just makes the left look ridiculous - if in fact that is not a plan of the right that the left is stupidly playing into.

These latest "boycotts" I think will be similarly ineffective and just make their proponents look ridiculous.   Uber is a favorite of the young, trendy set, who get off on anything involving an "app" - so I doubt their accounts will be cancelled for long.   The Starbucks boycott by the right will similarly be ineffective because the right has so many longstanding boycotts of Starbucks already.   You can't "double boycott" a company anymore than you can put them on double-secret-probation.

It is just silliness.