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“Should retailers get their workers and customers out to vote?” by Tom Ryan via Retail Wire

“Should retailers get their workers and customers out to vote?” by Tom Ryan via Retail Wire

Retailers have at least three paths to join in on the upcoming elections: giving their employees time off to vote, encouraging customers to go to the polls and selling election merchandise.

More than 700 companies, including Walmart, Macy’s, Starbucks and Nike, have joined the nonpartisan coalition Time to Vote and committed to making it easier for their employees to vote.

Walmart is giving U.S. workers up to three hours paid time off to vote. J. Crew is closing its stores and corporate offices on Election Day.

Some have called out the importance of voting in the wake of the racial injustice protests and other challenges facing the country.

“Who you vote for is a very personal decision that you make as a citizen,” said Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson in a letter to employees. “It is one way for you to be heard. It is how democracy works. Yet we know that barriers exist, notably in Black and Brown communities throughout the nation, that lend to systemic racism and require greater voter access and protections.”

Starbucks’ has also added features in its app to help customers learn how to register to vote, and ”Rock The Vote” and other consumer campaigns, as usual, are ramping up their campaigns.

On Monday, Old Navy said it will pay store employees who serve as poll workers to help offset a national poll worker shortage. The chain is inviting eligible consumers who want to be poll workers to participate, as well.

“Every voice in this country matters and deserves to be heard at the polls, and if we at Old Navy can be even a small part of making that process more accessible to the communities we call home, we are on board,” said Nancy Green, head of Old Navy, in a statement.

On selling floors, t-shirts and facemasks embossed with the single word “Vote” can be found at mainstream stores, but citizens in search of items endorsing their side (or ridiculing the other) largely have to head to third-party sellers on Amazon, Walmart, Etsy and other marketplaces. In 2016, Urban Outfitters sold a wide range of merchandise bashing Donald Trump that some saw as polarizing. This year, the chain has so far not sold merchandise around either candidate.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What advice would you give retailers and brands for taking advantage of marketing or merchandising opportunities around the upcoming presidential election? What are some safer versus riskier steps?

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