What Retailers Can Learn From the Wayfair Walkout

Jamie Grill-Goodman
Editor in Chief
Jamie goodman

Employees of online retailer Wayfair staged a walkout on Wednesday near company headquarters in Boston, MA, in protest of the company selling furniture to migrant detention facilities. 

As of Wednesday the Twitter account @wayfairwalkout had over 21,000 followers and the news drew the support of politicians such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Elizabeth Warren. Under the hashtag #BoycottWayfair, customers took to Twitter to announce they were canceling orders, returning purchases and boycotting the retailer.

The walkout comes after Wayfair executives said they would fulfill an order for beds and other items for a detention center in Carrizo Springs, TX, according to the Washington Post. The $200,000 order was placed by BCFS, a government contractor that manages the facility, and in September Wayfair sold furniture to another BCFS facility in Tornillo, TX, that held more than 2,500 teenagers, according to employees. 

More than 500 employees sent a letter Friday to senior management, asking the company to no longer do business with BCFS, according to CNN. They also asked Wayfair to establish a code of ethics that "empowers Wayfair and its employees to act in accordance with our core values."

Wayfair management responded in a letter to employees, also obtained by CNN, saying it still plans to do business with BCFS.

"As a retailer, it is standard practice to fulfill orders for all customers and we believe it is our business to sell to any customer who is acting within the laws of the countries within which we operate," the Wayfair's leadership team said in the letter. "This does not indicate support for the opinions or actions of the groups or individuals who purchase from us."

In response, employees took to the streets Wednesday at 1:30 p.m. ET at Copley Square, where Wayfair has its headquarters. Meanwhile, Wayfair cofounders Steve Conine and Niraj Shah wrote a note to employees saying they “care a great deal about humanitarian issues” announcing the company would make a $100,000 donation to the American Red Cross to support its “effort to help those in dire need of basic necessities at the border," according to The Boston Globe.

From a consumer perspective, RIS found that beyond price, quality and convenience, 42% of shoppers say retailers caring about helping families and the poor and disadvantaged (37%) is a strong influences on their purchases. While earning the trust of shoppers is important, the Wayfair walkout is prime example of a retailer facing the issue of earning the trust of their employees.

Forrester’s Employee Experience Index found that values in the employee experience often matter more than values in the customer experience; companies that align corporate values with employee values empower the workforce. For example, 85% of employees that agree with company values are productive at work, compared to 72% of total employees. Meanwhile, 76% of employees that agree with values recommend the company’s products, compared to 55% of total employees.

Also, according to Forrester’s Customer-obsessed operating model, companies that positively reinforce employee’s embrace of corporate values set themselves up for success: 81% offer a top tier customer experience, compared to 65% of total companies; 37% report YOY revenue growth, compared to 32% of total companies.

Wayfair’s response to the walkout will be something of importance for other retailers should follow. As Wayfair steps up its investments in customer engagement, how it engages with employees will be of high importance as well.

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