Shopping While Black: When Racism Hits Retail

There is a lot of evidence that African-Americans make extremely good customers. Market research shows that African-American customers are extremely brand-loyal and purchasing surveys consistently show that they outspend all other minorities on consumer products. I haven't worked in retail since 1994, and even I know this — and so do many companies these days, as a dedicated commercial-watcher often notices (thankfully) more and more minority faces depicted in television commercials. Which is what makes this story told by Atlanta-area shopper Leah Wells even more disturbing.

Leah and two co-workers decided to spend their lunch break shopping instead of working out and headed over to an Old Navy store, at which they were detained by 6 police officers for shoplifting for more than ninety minutes. They hadn't taken a thing, hadn't put anything in a purse — but they did have the "misfortune" of being being black while trying to shop. Mall security had called police upon spotting a "gang of shoplifters" entering the store — Leah and her two friends. No one in the store, the mall or certainly among the police bothered to apologize to the women for the mistake, though a letter from Leah to the CEO of The Gap got the store manager fired for his behavior.

Leah and her friends are exactly the kind of shoppers The Gap should be (and probably is, at the corporate level) trying to attract — the kind of shopper who will drop by regularly on a lunch break or one the way home for an impulse buy. Affluent, young, successful women who would likely remain loyal to the brand for years to come, who have now soured on the experience and the company (and who are talking to the press about it) because some manager assumed that they were shoplifters because of the color of their skin.

Brand Loyalty Strong Among Minorities [Brandweek]

New 'Buying Power' Report Shows Blacks Still Outspend Other Ethnic Segments [Target Market News]

Behind the Scenes: Black and shopping in America [CNN]