Target CEO: Trans-Inclusive Bathroom Policy Hasn't Hurt Sales

Target CEO Brian Cornell

Target CEO Brian Cornell told Fortune magazine on Wednesday that the retail chain’s decision to allow transgender customers and staff to use the bathroom that most closely corresponds with their gender identity hasn’t hurt sales.

“To date we have not seen a material or measurable impact on our business," Cornell said. "Just a handful of stores across the country have seen some activity and have been impacted.” 

On April 19, the big-box store reaffirmed its longstanding equal access policy for trans people in all its facilities, confirming that trans employees and customers are free to use the restroom that best matches their gender identity. The timing of the statement came in response to House Bill 2, the controversial North Carolina law that requires transgender people to use bathrooms and locker rooms in public buildings that do not match their gender identity. Under HB 2, trans women using facilities in North Carolina government buildings or state-owned property are required to use the men's restroom, while trans men are required to use the women's restroom. Cisgender (nontrans) residents are permitted to continue using the facilities that correspond with their gender identity. 

“We stand for equality and equity, and strive to make our guests and team members feel accepted, respected and welcomed in our stores and workplaces every day,” Target stated in a press release last month. “We believe that everyone — every team member, every guest, and every community — deserves to be protected from discrimination, and treated equally.”

In response to that decision, certified anti-LGBT hate groups like the American Family Association threatened a boycott of the store, collecting a supposed 1.2 million signatures to condemn the company’s trans-inclusive policies. However, there is no way to verify the validity of the signatures on that petition, and Zack Ford at ThinkProgress LGBT reports that he was able to sign the petition three separate times, using clearly false names and email addresses that do not exist. 

Following that backlash, reports indicate that shares of Target's stock have decreased. “Just before the policy change was announced, the corporation’s stock was trading at nearly $84 per share,” the conservative website Western Journalism reported on Wednesday. “This week, the price hit a low in the mid-$60 range.”

That plunging stock value was part of a rough first quarter for the retailer, with Target posting sluggish overall sales. In a previous interview, Target's chief financial officer Cathy Smith told reporters that the company “[had] seen a noticeable slowdown post-Easter,” as The Street reports.

Cornell, however, maintains that Target’s woes have nothing to do with right-wing outrage, stating that flatlining revenue is due to “an increasingly volatile consumer environment.”

The CEO spoke with the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday, further pointing the finger at unexpectedly harsh weather in the first quarter. “It’s been a very wet and cold start to the year and it’s reflected in our sales,” Cornell said. “We haven’t seen anything from a structural standpoint that gives us pause.”

The message on that front is perhaps mixed. Last week, Business Insider reported that since the April announcement, “consumer perception of the brand has... dropped sharply.” The website said, “It's at its lowest point in two years.”

Prior to the policy change, 42 percent of consumers said that they were considering visiting Target the next time they make a retail purchase. Just 36 of potential customers were willing to say the same on May 14, according to data from YouGov. That’s a 16 percent drop in less than a month.

But Kevin Dinino, the CEO of KCD, a PR firm based in San Diego, told Business Insider that these numbers shouldn’t be of major concern to a store that attracts 80 million visitors a month.

“There's a very large group out there that supports Target's decision," Dinino said. “At worst, we are talking about a group of 1.2 million shoppers — or 1.5 percent of Target's customers — who are disenfranchised.”

No matter the end result, Cornell has said that Target will stick to its trans-affirming bathroom policy.

In a May 11 interview with Kelly Evans of CNBC’s Squawk Box, the CEO stated, “We’re going to continue to embrace our belief in diversity and inclusion, just how important that is to our company. … We want to make sure we provide a welcoming environment for all of our guests, one that's safe [and] one that's comfortable.”

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