Marshalls and T.J. Maxx have become two of the most popular discount retailers in the country by offering shoppers an ever-changing selection of bargains. But will their latest merchandising move make an enemy out of the president of the United States?
The chains may soon find out, after parent company TJX Cos. of Framingham told employees to downgrade the visibility of Ivanka Trump’s clothing and accessories in stores where they previously had their own displays.
TJX spokeswoman Erika Towers on Wednesday confirmed that products from the first daughter’s company were being moved onto general merchandise racks. Ivanka Trump in-store signs were to be thrown away, according to the New York Times, which obtained a memo outlining the change ordered last week by TJX.
Towers did not respond to specific questions about why TJX made the move, or the number of stores that featured Ivanka Trump displays. But she emphasized that the products will still be sold in the stores.
“From time to time, we communicate with our stores about how to handle merchandise. The communication we sent instructed stores to mix this line of merchandise into our racks, not to remove it from the sales floor,” Towers said in a statement.
The move comes as retailers consider whether to carry products with the Trump name. On one side is an online movement, Grab Your Wallet, calling on consumers to boycott companies with connections to the polarizing president. And on the other are Trump supporters, who have called for consumers to support retailers targeted by Grab Your Wallet, and the president himself, armed with a Twitter account.
He put the account to use Wednesday morning by criticizing Seattle-based retailer Nordstrom Inc., which last week said it would no longer sell Ivanka Trump products.
“My daughter Ivanka has been treated so unfairly by @Nordstrom,” Trump tweeted. “She is a great person — always pushing me to do the right thing! Terrible!”
Unlike the shares of other companies that fell after being singled out in a presidential tweet, Nordstrom’s stock rose 4 percent to $44.53 on Wednesday. TJX gained 0.4 percent to $75.51.
White House spokesman Sean Spicer said Wednesday that Trump’s Nordstrom tweet, which renewed concerns among critics that the president was using his bully pulpit to advocate for a family business interest, came as a response to an “attack on his daughter.”
“For people to take out their concern about his actions or executive orders on members of his family, he has every right to stand up for his family and applaud their business activities, their success,” Spicer said.
Nordstrom, however, has said it pulled Ivanka Trump’s brand because people simply weren’t buying enough of it.
That’s what retailers care about first and foremost, said Rajiv Lal, a professor of retail at Harvard Business School. Lal speculated that TJX may have made its move for a similar reason. It rotates goods within its stores more quickly than other retailers, emphasizing its “treasure hunt” approach to shopping. The company is keenly aware that if displayed goods don’t sell fast, it’s a lost opportunity to have sold different merchandise.
“If it’s not moving, no one is going to waste their shelf space,” Lal said. “Attractive products move.”
The Ivanka Trump line, whose founder said she would step away from in January, is a private company, so it’s not clear how the political atmosphere has affected it. A spokeswoman for the company defended its performance, saying its products are still available in 800 stores nationwide and will expand to over 1,000 this year.
“The Ivanka Trump brand continues to expand across categories and distribution with increased customer support, leading us to experience significant year-over-year revenue growth in 2016,” Rosemary Young, the brand’s marketing director, said in a statement.
Neil Saunders, founder of the retail research firm Conlumino, said TJX may have been aiming to thread the needle between Trump and his critics by keeping Ivanka Trump products on the floor while not visually promoting them in stores. Since the company is well known for the hodgepodge approach, mixing the Ivanka Trump products in with other lines doesn’t seem like such a slight, he said.
“I don’t think it’s particularly radical for TJX because they always put [brands] in together and you have to search them out,” he said.
The move isn’t good enough to please Grab Your Wallet, said Shannon Coulter, the boycott group’s cofounder. Grab Your Wallet lists both T.J. Maxx and Marshalls on its boycott list.
“I think brands are trying to play it down the middle,” Coulter said.
As for the president’s response? As of Wednesday evening, he hadn’t tweeted about TJX.Adam Vaccaro can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @adamtvaccaro.