[OPINION] Online shopping drama: to boycott or not to boycott 1

[OPINION] Online shopping drama: to boycott or not to boycott

Aneth Ng-Lim

Posted at Oct 03 2022 02:09 PM | Updated as of Oct 03 2022 04:15 PM

Social media was once again abuzz these last few days over an online shopping platform’s choice for an endorser. When asked to defend their controversial choice, Shopee said they picked Toni Gonzaga for her “mass appeal”. Considering the flak, more like she incited “mass unrest”. 

Speaking from my over two decades of experience in public relations, the company’s response was poorly crafted, and the fact that the controversial endorser is still in their banner advertisement until today, also points to the company’s insensitivity to their consumers, as well as employees (they seem to be circulating a signed appeal to remove her too) and sellers (with public posts that their sales took a plunge, and/or that they are moving to another platform, Lazada).

Celebrity endorsers, when used wisely, can amplify the appeal of a product or service. Jisoo, a member of Blackpink, is being credited for the huge jump in sales for luxury brands like Dior and Cartier which she endorses. Not even the pandemic slump slowed down how her direct endorsement converted to actual sales and of course profits for these designer houses.

But it’s a double-edged sword as many brands have discovered. Recent examples are well-documented in China where celebrities who were alleged to be tax evaders, or reportedly went into parent surrogacy arrangements, or accused of rape, all saw their endorsement deals disappear overnight. Affected brands quickly distanced themselves and scrubbed all traces of the “problematic” personalities in their online platforms plus physical stores.

And yet Shopee clings on to Toni Gonzaga. Whatever their reason, as consumers, sellers and even as employees, your wallets can take a stand on this.

#1 No longer just about “the price is right”

Consumer activism is alive and well, and more and more companies are fearing this. While there are those who will still choose on the basis of less cost, the “woke” do not mind paying a little bit more for the brand’s social conscience. Consider the calls to boycott fast fashion brands, or products that were exposed for unfair labor practices. In Shopee’s case, I decided to test the theory and actually found that the items I need from there are also in Lazada, and if I time it right and pay with a partner credit card, my wallet wins. 

#2 Everything is political

Part of Shopee’s media statement mentioned that the choice of their contentious endorser has nothing to do with her political leanings. But whether you find yourself on her side of politics or on the other side, her recent actions have made her a political figure. It’s not just once, or twice, but she has consistently shown on whose side of the political fence she sits. By choosing her, Shopee made a political choice, whether they admit it or not. If you’re on her side, why not make it known to Shopee that she can and will deliver.

#3 Very bad timing

Endorsers cost money. Some ask for lower fees, while others command higher paychecks. Shopee clearly spent on their latest choice of endorser, and they did this soon after they announced they will be downsizing and will have to let go their staff globally, including here in the Philippines, to cope with the rising pressures on their bottomline. It’s not just bad timing, it’s very bad timing. 

#4 You say one thing, but do another

And to think that the letter from their CEO Forrest Li to their global employees which was made public actually made me vow to support Shopee through their “crisis”. In that letter, the CEO said their top management will forego salaries to overcome the challenges they are facing. It was the kind of letter every employee would want their leader to write to show that we are all in this together. I too was moved and being a Platinum-level Shopee member, I felt proud to be their customer. But admittedly, those pronouncements lost some if not all their credibility when the company chose to spend money on a divisive endorser that may not even directly boost their sales.

#5 It takes a village

To some outraged consumers, the final nail on this “coffin” is when the employees of Shopee leaked their letter to management decrying the choice of the latest endorser just as hundreds of their colleagues have lost or will lose their jobs. It begs the question – just who and how many were involved in choosing the endorser, and did they even do their homework?

With 10.10 sales around the corner, this is a good time to consider if you will use your wallet to make your voice heard. It does not matter if you are checking out 1 item or 100. You can stick with Shopee, or look around other online platforms. Big or small, there’s a difference only your wallet can make.

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Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.