Target’s sales slump for first time in 6 years. Executives blame “strong reaction” to Pride merch.

Target’s sales slump for first time in 6 years. Executives blame “strong reaction” to Pride merch.

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Target’s quarterly sales declined for the first time in six years, with one company executive blaming the drop on the “strong reaction” to its Pride merchandise. Target faced a backlash against its LGBTQ+ merchandise earlier this year, with some conservative shoppers vowing to boycott the store. 

The retailer’s sales at stores open at the same time a year ago declined 5.4% in the second quarter, the company said on Wednesday. On a conference call to discuss the results, executives, including CEO Brian Cornell, primarily blamed wider economic issues for the drop, such as pinched consumers who are cutting back on spending amid higher inflation and the resumption of student loan payments this fall. 

But some executives also pointed to the Pride backlash as an issue that ate into sales. “The headwinds were incremental, including the strong reaction to this year’s Pride assortment,” Chief Growth Officer Christina Hennington added on the call.

Amid criticism in May from some customers over merchandise featuring rainbows and the word “Pride” commemorating the fight for LGBTQ+ equality, the retailer pulled some items off its shelves after employees encountered threats and harassment. Last month, seven U.S. state attorneys general sent a letter to Target warning that some of the clothes sold as part of the company’s Pride month campaigns might violate their state’s child protection laws.


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The backlash meant that “many of our store team members face a negative guest reaction to our Pride assortment,” CEO Brian Cornell said on the conference call. 

Target’s Pride merchandise line isn’t new; the retailer has offered it for over a decade, Cornell added. But he said that this year workers “began experiencing threats and aggressive actions that affected their sense of safety and well-being while at work.”

Cornell added that Target plans to continue supporting Pride in the future, however the company will adjust its mix of merchandise, timing and other factors moving forward. 

General rise in violence and theft

Target is facing issues beyond its entanglement in the culture wars. For one, the company is struggling with a rise in theft and violent incidents at its stores that is costing the retailer hundreds of millions each year.

“During the first five months of this year our stores saw a 120% threat increase involving violence or threats of violence,” Cornell said on Wednesday. 

Consumers are also growing more price-sensitive. They’re cutting back on spending after a year of record-high inflation, which is eating into their disposable income, according to Neil Saunders, an analyst at GlobalData, in a Wednesday research note. Target’s sales decline is a “somber” reflection of how consumer habits are shifting, he noted. 

“Target is one of the more exposed retailers to the frugal mindset that has taken hold of shoppers,” Saunders said. “This is mostly because a lot of what Target sells is discretionary — and traditionally, a high proportion of sales are unplanned. This is precisely the spending that consumers are curtailing as times get tougher.”

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