This led to the chatter that a new, "Awake Walmart" was emerging, with CEO Doug McMillan taking over the mantle of the outspoken crusader. Let's not get carried away: Walmart is moving in the right direction on these issues. But to say that the company takes a new, bolder political position is overexposure.
Begin with Walmart's decision to suspend e-cigarette sales. This should not be a difficult choice. At least 530 people have become ill with the disease associated with vaping, and several have died, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is a rational business decision, not necessarily a political statement, to decide not to sell a product that may not be safe. (Although it should be noted that there is much more evidence that the cigarettes that Walmart still sells are also deadly.)
Think of it this way: Exactly what critical constituency would upset Walmart for this change? This month, President Donald Trump is talking about a move to curb sales of certain e-cigarettes, and there is a two-way movement between federal lawmakers toward more restrictions. Walmart does not get into any real dispute.
Yet this is perceived as Walmart stepping into politics because it comes on the heels of Walmart's actions on guns ̵
1; a problem that is actually politically inflammatory. Even in this case, however, what Walmart did is hardly audacious.
In addition to discontinuing sales of certain types of ammunition, Walmart "respectfully requests" customers to avoid openly carrying weapons in their stores. McMillan also said the issue of whether to reinstate the federal ban on assault weapons "should be discussed", which is far from necessary to call for its re-authorization. It's incremental stuff.
Careful, cautious steps such as these are from time to time Walmart Rifle Modes. After the shooting in Parkland, Florida, in 2018, she raised the minimum age for buying firearms at her stores. In 2015, she stopped selling assault-style rifles.
A similar story is with vaping: Walmart already moved earlier this year to cease selling electronic cigarettes flavored with fruits and desserts, varieties thought to have particular appeal.
None of this means that Walmart's modest moves don't matter. They make. As the largest US revenue company, it can set the tone for corporate America and give other companies coverage for making difficult decisions. Kroger Co. and Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc., probably not by accident, asked customers not to carry an open firearm in their stores as soon as Walmart did so. And since McMillon will begin a two-year term in January as chair of the Business Round trade group, Walmart's influence will only grow.
McMillon is a leader trying to make smart business decisions in response to changing political and cultural environments. That his latest acts are seen as remarkable speaks more to Washington's momentum than to Walmart's activism.
Contact the author of this story: Sarah Halzac at email@example.com
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Sarah Halzak is a Bloomberg Columnist Opinion covering the Consumer and Retail Industry, She was previously a National Retail Reporter for the Washington Post.
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