Thursday, January 12, 2017

What Should My Family Do With Our L.L. Bean Gift Cards After Trump's Latest Tweet?

I have a small personal connection to one of President-elect Trump's latest tweets, and it also provides a good discussion topic for my students.
It all started with a consumer boycott advocated by a group called "Grab Your Wallet" because corporate board member Linda Bean has been an active Trump donor and supporter who just got in trouble with the FEC because she didn't properly register the "Make Maine Great Again" PAC she founded as a super-PAC and thus exceeded legal political contribution limits.  L.L. Bean has responded with this statement

I have L.L. Bean gift cards in my wallet right next to my L.L. Bean Visa which has some reward points built up that I could spend.*  My 19-year old college student daughter who has been actively protesting Trump also has gift cards, and I expect I will learn that she has joined the L.L. Bean consumer boycott when I speak to her later tonight.

So what should she do with the gift card?  Burn it?

My suggestion is that she spend it right away on a hat or warm boots she could use for the protest march outside the Chicago Trump tower she will be attending.  Why?

L.L. Bean already has the money.  Thus, the gift cards and our Visa reward points are a liability to the company, so if we cut them up we have given them cash for nothing in return.  Ironically, the most harmful thing she can do to L.L. Bean is to buy something with the gift card right away.  I suggest she buys their most popular products so all the new Trump supporters making their first purchase from L.L. Bean today face a depleted inventory and poor selection.

If you are a holding a L.L. Bean gift card and want to support the company as Trump suggests, it could be the best way to support them is to throw it away.

Of course, there are other more serious issues embedded in this tweet/controversy.

For the most part, I think the company's statement from a few days ago is fine and I certainly see no reason to boycott them.  However, I noticed the end of their statement asks the group "Grab Your Wallet" end its "misguided" boycott.  But today, the President-elect gave them an endorsement for political reasons, and specifically directed his supporters to buy their products.  I have to wonder if L.L. Bean CEO Shawn Gorman also thinks Trump's tweet is misguided and will ask him to withdraw it as well.  I won't hold my breath on that one, especially since they are probably setting January sales records right now thanks to the President-Elect.  I can certainly understand why they would not want to upset or embarrass President-elect Trump by refusing his assistance at this point.

And that leads to what is the worst part of this entire episode.  The President-Elect is personally using the power of his office to promote products and companies connected to his political supporters.  And this is coming the morning after he had a news conference that was supposed to show his understanding of conflicts of interest, separate business from his public life.  While it is true that Presidents of all parties have rewarded political supporters in various ways, Trump's corporate intervention is taking it to a new and dangerous level.  So much for draining the swamp...  

Finally, I would note that Maine is a critical swing state that has political value to Trump far beyond what its 4 electoral votes would suggest.  It also has a moderate Republican senator in Susan Collins who is seen as one of the Republicans most likely to defect from the Trump agenda on issues like Obamacare and others.  It seems that Trump's corporate interventions have primarily been to the advantage of companies headquartered in these critical locations.  California may be the largest state in the U.S., but I doubt it will receive it's proportional share of President Trump's corporate help.

* Why do we have so much L.L. Bean stuff?  I married into a Freeport Maine family with L.L. Bean roots and loyalties.  My wife's grandparents worked in the Bean shoe factories and later the retail store their entire lives, and lived in a modest house a few blocks away until they passed away about a decade ago.  Her grandfather was the fire chief at the old station a few blocks away from famous L.L. Bean store and warehouse complex.  My mother-in-law grew up working in the store and was childhood friends with some of the family members who have gone on to great wealth running the family-owned company.    My brother-in-law and sister-in-law founded and operated a bed and breakfast walking distance from the Bean's complex catering to their tourist/shoppers until they sold it a few years ago.  Thus, my closets are full of many of their products, and I have eaten Linda Bean's "perfect" lobster rolls at her restaurant, etc.  I haven't talked to any of my immediate or extended family members about this episode yet, but I am sure the next discussion will be more lively than usual.

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