For Ivanka Trump's brand, Nordstrom may be tip of the iceberg

Ivanka Trump is witnessing just how ephemeral brands can be, given that they are constructed on the whimsies of consumer feelings, loyalty and perception.

Ivanka Trump’s fashion brand is geared around her image of a professional, glamorous woman with a successful career and family, yet many of the types of women who should serve as her core audience have turned away from her clothing and accessories line, according to retail experts. Driven by the #GrabYourWallet boycott, some consumers are not only vowing to never buy an Ivanka Trump-branded product, but to snub the retailers who hawk them. The boycott scored a major victory this month when Nordstrom said it was discontinuing the line because of poor sales. 

There’s some independent data to back up Nordstrom’s assertion of poor business performance: Ivanka Trump’s online product sales declined by 26 percent in January 2017 from the same month a year ago, according to Slice Intelligence. Its research found that her brand “experienced sales declines across all online merchants in the back half of 2016,” including Amazon, Zappos and Nordstrom, a spokesman for Slice Intelligence said in an email. The brand reportedly booked $100 million in annual sales before the boycott revved up after the election of her father in November.

Instead of dying down, the controversy over her brand appears to only be growing in light of President Donald Trump’s tweet Wednesday that Nordstrom had treated his daughter “so unfairly.” His counselor, Kellyanne Conway, is under fire for a possible ethics violation by hawking Ivanka’s products Thursday on Fox News, urging viewers to “Go buy it today.”

The result? Ivanka Trump’s brand is getting “slammed in the teeth” by lower sales and hits to its image, says Eric Schiffer, the chief executive of Reputation Management Consultants. The pushback from President Trump and Conway may spur some supporters to buy Ivanka Trump’s brand, he said, but that is unlikely to provide a lasting boost.

“You’ll see many Republicans step up to protect Donald Trump and Ivanka, but it’ll likely be a one-time thing,” Schiffer said. “You don’t see a lot of people with “Make America Great Again” hats walking around Nordstrom. That’s not the norm.”

Ivanka Trump’s products aren’t cheap, as her dresses carry price points between $100 to $200. They’re geared toward professional women who are fashion conscious, or the types of upwardly mobile, educated consumers who are among the least likely to support her father’s policies. That may also spell trouble for her book, “Women Who Work,” whose publisher has delayed its release from March until its current May publication date. 

Schiffer added, “There’s a good chunk of her audience that runs counter to her dad’s politics.” 

That’s borne out by the #Grabyourwallet campaign, created by marketing specialist Shannon Coulter and Sue Atencio to urge consumers to boycott Trump-branded products as well as the retailers that sell them. Ivanka Trump quickly became a focus of the campaign because of what the organizers saw as the use of her father’s campaign to sell her own brand. In addition to Nordstrom, several other companies have dropped her brand or appear to no longer sell it, including Shoes.com and Neiman Marcus.

#Grabyourwallet has been “far more effective than people thought it would be,” Schiffer said of the boycott’s organizers. “They are dogged.”

The Ivanka Trump company did not respond to a request for comment for this story. It did, however, issue a statement after Nordstrom’s decision was announced in early February that emphasized the brand’s long-term growth. “The Ivanka Trump brand continues to expand across categories and distribution with increased customer support, leading us to experience significant year-over-year revenue growth in 2016,” said the statement from Rosemary Young, senior director of marketing.

Ivanka Trump said she would step down from her company as her father moved into the White House, yet her identity remains closely wrapped up with the brand. For instance, IvankaTrump.com, the brand’s website, continues to feature photos of Ivanka Trump as well as her book title “Women Who Work” as a frequent company tagline. 

Mr. Trump and Kellyanne Conway’s defense of her brand may muddy the waters at a time when Ivanka Trump is looking to separate her private identity from the brand, at least on the face of it. 

The best option for Ivanka Trump’s brand? Refocus on consumers outside the U.S., where Mr. Trump’s actions may not be as examined as intently as within American, Schiffer says. The glamour of the White House may help lure consumers in Asia and other regions, for instance, he said.

It remains to be seen whether the protest will spread to other world regions, although some business-management experts are arguing it may be inevitable and even widen its scope. Rohitesh Dhawan, a director at KPMG based in London, said on Twitter that his prediction is that “#GrabYourWallet will spread overseas, not just #Trump products but #MadeinUSA broadly & force change in U.S. political direction.”