Before Donald Trump was president, he was a brand — from his TV show to his clothing line to his steaks. Now after surprising many by winning the White House, the Trump brand may have even more power, but it is also deeply connected to the divisive world of American politics.
That means what Trump says and does and what others say about him has impacts that go far beyond policy and politics into the world of everyday Americans' lives — where they shop and eat and what they watch on TV.
On Wednesday, Trump tweeted that his daughter had been “treated so unfairly” by Nordstrom after the store stopped carrying her clothing line. “Terrible!” Trump added.
The impact? Nordstrom’s website saw a big jump in traffic Wednesday, according to data from Connexity, an ecommerce marketing firm. There were about 908,000 visits to the site, compared to 709,000 the previous Wednesday, a 28 precent increase.
And that makes sense considering Nordstrom’s customer base, which skews politically liberal according to Connexity. People who describe themselves as “very liberal” are 40 percent more likely to visit Nordstrom.com than the average person. People who describe themselves as “very conservative” are 23 percent less likely to go to the site. The top 14 states for web traffic to the site all voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016.
Data from Simmons Research show Nordstrom shoppers are among the most politically liberal in the country. Among the top 10 retailers for self-described liberals, Nordstrom is No. 6 and Nordstrom Rack is No. 9.
By the end of the week, the store’s stock closed up 7%. In other words, Trump’s bad-mouthing of Nordstorm likely only helped the retailer.
The week before brought another example when Starbucks announced they would hire 10,000 refugees in their stores. The announcement came after Trump’s executive order temporarily suspended refugees from entering the United States and temporarily blocked people traveling to the U.S. from seven predominantly Muslim countries.
The response? A group of Trump supporters have called for a boycott of the coffee chain and #BoycottStarbucks became a trending hashtag on Twitter.
But there are questions about how effective that boycott might be. Starbucks' customer base also skews politically liberal and an analysis from Simmons Research shows people in counties that voted heavily for Clinton were much more frequent Starbucks patrons than those who lived in Trump’s best counties.
The boycott could end up having a boomerang effect if blue-leaning Starbucks drinkers turnout in greater numbers to support the company’s refugee proposal. But the larger point of blurring consumer/political lines around the Trump brand is apparent even in the call for a boycott — and there is more evidence.
On Jan. 12, Trump urged his supporters on Twitter to “buy L.L.Bean” as a way of thanking company heiress Linda Bean for a big contribution to a pro-Trump PAC. Consumers seemed to notice and react.
After the tweet, traffic to the L.L. Bean website declined from the politically blue New England states, all of which voted for Hillary Clinton, according to data from Connexity. Meanwhile some of the biggest jumps in L.L. Bean traffic came from Texas, Florida, Mississippi and Arizona, states with populations that visit the retailer much less frequently and that voted for Trump in November.
The consumer core for Maine-based L.L. Bean has long had more of a Democratic cast because of its home. Purchasing a Rugged Ridge Parka (good to -40 degrees) is not a political act, but it’s something more logically suited to blue states such as Vermont and Massachusetts than red states such as Texas and Arizona.
That’s why the numbers from that week are so eye-catching.
Consider the decline in L.L. Bean website visits from the seven states that produce the most traffic to the online retailer — all cold-weather, New England states and neighboring New York.
Only Rhode Island, which voted for Clinton, saw an uptick in traffic to the site. The other states, all of which voted for Clinton, saw declines, many of them sizable.
You can see that drop in a broader tally as well. Of the 21 entities that gave their electoral votes to Clinton (20 states and the District of Columbia), 15 saw their traffic to L.L.Bean decline.
Now consider the increases in website visits that week from the seven states that generated the least traffic to the L.L.Bean site before Trump’s tweet.
All those states saw an increase, except Hawaii, which voted for Clinton and saw a decline The only outlier in the group is Nevada, which voted for Clinton and saw an uptick in web traffic to the site. What’s more, all those states, except South Dakota, are warm weather states.
To be clear, the numbers show L.L.Bean was still drawing heavily off of its blue New England base. Even with the declines, the six New England states provided more traffic to Maine retailer than any others. And the changes in L.L.Bean’s traffic also seem to have been temporary. Many of those trends had reversed themselves the next week.
Regardless, the numbers show the depth of the divides running through the country under Trump. Much has been made of how the Trump administration’s plans to upend Washington have left businesses unsure of how to plan for the future, but for many retailers, just dealing with the Trump brand holds a complicated set of challenges.