An increasing number of retailers have announced their intention to drop Ivanka Trump's merchandise line. From Nordstrom (NYSE:JWN) and Belk to Neiman-Marcus and Burlington, there's a growing movement for retailers to distance themselves from the Trump brand.
The coincidence of the announcements may seem to suggest that there's a political motive behind them, especially as the #GrabYourWallet movement, which advocates boycotting Ivanka's products, has gained momentum following Donald Trump's election last November. However, retailers maintain this is simply a business decision, and they're no longer offering the merchandise because it isn't selling.
If that's the case, then it's reasonable that Sears Holdings (NASDAQ:SHLD) would also join the conga line of companies dumping Trump wares, because despite the bit of life that was recently breathed into its stock when chairman and CEO Eddie Lampert revealed his reorganization plan for the retailer, Sears can't afford to anger any of its remaining customers.
Blue state blues
According to The Wall Street Journal, sales of Ivanka Trump's fashion line at Nordstrom fell 32% last year, picking up steam as the election year advanced, with footwear and apparel plunging more than 70% in the last three weeks of October. However, brand representatives have countered that overall sales actually rose 21% year over year.
Nordstrom issued a statement saying it makes "buying decisions based on performance," and the Trump line wasn't up to snuff. Soon after, the other retailers also rushed out similarly worded statements, with Neiman-Marcus saying its decisions are "based on productivity," Belk saying it reviews the "assortment and the performance" of its brands, and Burlington saying it makes "buying decisions based on performance."
Those statements were similar to the one eventually offered by Sears, which said the reason it eliminated 31 Trump Home items from its online website was "part of the company's initiative to optimize its online product assortment, we constantly refine that assortment to focus on our most profitable items."
Know your customer
Nordstrom might be able to get away with dropping Trump's merchandise because its customers tend to be wealthier, its stores are located in more urban areas, and they are in states with a presumably more liberal political bent.
Sears, despite many of its stores also being located in urban areas, might not be so fortunate. While California also had the most Sears and Kmart stores last year, they represented less than 10% of the total. Moreover, Sears arguably has a more blue-collar, working-class customer base, meaning if it were to take a political position like this, the decision might not sit as well with its customers.
Focus on profitability
Still, the reason why this is not that strategy, and why it's probably a smart move, is because, despite the headlines, Sears hasn't really distanced itself from Trump's merchandise as claimed -- or at least not to the extent other retailers have.
Sears and Kmart never carried Trump products in their stores; they were always only available online. While Sears did remove 31 items from its websites, saying it did so "to focus on our most profitable items," consumers can still find hundreds of Trump products on its site through third-party sellers.
By stating, "All of these products are offered by our marketplace sellers and not directly by Sears or Kmart," it may look as though Sears Holdings is trying to have its cake and eat it, too, to avoid any activist campaign against it ("Hey! It's not us, it's these other guys selling the stuff!") But it's also true that any of its customers who do want to purchase Trump items can still come to its websites and find them.
This is why the removal of the Trump line from Sears' websites was undoubtedly a financial one, not a political statement. Sears can still offer the merchandise to customers who want to buy it without the risk of having to carry it itself.
Sears Holdings is in dire straits, and regardless of its plan to generate $1 billion in savings over the next few years, the retailer definitely needs to focus on the most profitable products on its shelves, which is exactly the rationale it has given for the move. Although it sounds counterintuitive for a retailer that's hemorrhaging sales, Sears can't afford not to drop Ivanka Trump's products.