The Politics of $pending

Super Saturday marked the mad dash to the end of holiday shopping before the Dec. 25 deadline and a day expected to increase seasonal sales by 4 percent over last year. While politics may be the last thing on shoppers’ minds as they wait in checkout lines, market researchers, demographers and think-tank experts, alike, say political ideology shapes buying habits more than we realize, influencing where we shop and what we purchase.

Sharp partisan divide in brand allegiance can be found between Republicans who favor Coldwater Creek, Hobby Lobby and Wal-Mart and Democrats who prefer Abercrombie & Fitch, Banana-Republic and Carson Pirie Scott according to numbers from the global credit agency Experian. University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business researchers found liberals inclined to buy planet-saving light bulbs at a higher price while conservatives eschew products promoted as ecologically friendly, predicating purchases on price point instead.

Likewise, political differences can be found among car buyers with convertibles and luxury sedans the preferred means of transportation by 69 percent and 49 percent of Republicans, respectively, and multi-function vehicles—such as station wagons and hatchbacks—overwhelmingly supported by Democrats, regardless of cost according to a 2012 study from San Diego-based consumer research firm Strategic Vision. Environmentally friendly automobiles track with their environmentally friendly light bulbs among Democrats who lean towards the Honda Civic Hybrid and Nissan Leaf, add researchers.

Political purchasing corresponds with a rise in socially active spending with more consumers boycotting brands and merchants that chafe with their values and beliefs. Opposition to same-sex marriage by Dan Cathy, president and CEO of Chick-fil-A, cost him patrons at his restaurants in 2012 and refusal of Hobby Lobby to provide birth control to female employees this year, prompted customers to take their arts and crafts business elsewhere. Contrast that with retailer, JC Penney, which stuck by its decision to hire openly gay spokesperson and talk show host Ellen DeGeneres and feature same-sex families in both Mother’s and Father’s Day ads and averted threatened consumer boycotts by conservative groups.

The trend towards socially responsible spending underscores political consumerism with no group personifying this more than Millennials. While half of these echo-Boomers, born between the early 1980s and 2000s, don’t identify with any political party, they lean Democratic, voting for President Obama in 2008 and 2012. They also exhibit socially responsible shopping with 44 percent “being green” in their daily lives and practicing “give-back shopping” for socially relevant causes according to a 2012 “Forbes” magazine article. All of which is good for business since a 2012 Edelman GoodPurpose Survey found that companies that support good causes increase consumer sales.

While data on the voting habits of consumers might not result in an ideological ad, it does influence where those ads run. As Strategic Vision President Alexander Edwards put it, “If I were selling a convertible, I’d consider buying airtime on Fox News.” Adds Christopher Chaney, Strategic Vision vice president, “We certainly appreciate the anecdotal discussions that explain why consumers make the decisions they do, but the actionable steps to create more sales come from understanding the brand.”

Do you know what your shopping politics are?

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