The Target boycott cost more than anyone expected -- and the CEO was blindsided

Target shoppingJoe Raedle / GettyBacklash over Target’s bathroom policy is costing the retailer more than anyone expected.

Target triggered a nationwide boycott last year with a single blog post — and it turns out that the message was as big of a shock to the company’s CEO as it was to some shoppers.

The blog post, published in April last year, publicized a bathroom policy that welcomed transgender customers to use any bathroom or fitting room that matched their gender identity.

“Everyone deserves to feel like they belong,” the post read. “And you’ll always be accepted, respected and welcomed at Target.”

Target CEO Brian Cornell never approved the post and only found out about it after it was published, according to the Wall Street Journal.

He later told colleagues that he wouldn’t have approved the decision to “flaunt” the policy and that the backlash was “self-inflicted,” the Journal reports, based on information from Cornell’s colleagues.

The boycott cost the company millions in lost sales and added expenses. Shopper traffic and same-store sales started sliding for the first time in years following the post and the company was forced to spend $US20 million installing single-occupancy bathrooms in all of its stores to give critics of the policy more privacy.

Critics of the policy said it opened the door for sexual predators to victimize women and children inside the retailer’s bathrooms, and more than 1.4 million people signed a pledge to stop shopping at Target unless it reversed the policy.

Sales fell nearly 6% in the three quarters following the post, compared to the period last year, and same-store sales have dropped every quarter since the announcement.

Despite the fact that Cornell reportedly didn’t approve the post, he supported the policy in interviews after it was published.

“We took a stance and we are going to continue to embrace our belief of diversity and inclusion,” Cornell said in an interview with CNBC in May.

In the past, even the most widespread calls for company boycotts have tended to blow over within a matter of weeks to months.

Chick-fil-A, for example, faced a nationwide boycott in 2012 after Dan Cathy, the son of Chick-fil-A’s founder, S. Truett Cathy, set off a fury among gay-rights supporters when he told Baptist Press that the company was “guilty as charged” for backing “the biblical definition of a family.”

Following Cathy’s remarks, reports emerged detailing Chick-fil-A’s many charitable donations to organisations opposed to same-sex marriage.

Despite the backlash, Chick-fil-A’s sales soared 14% in 2012.

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