UPDATE: Amazon began the process of taking down Confederate flag-related merchandise Tuesday afternoon from its marketplace.
Three of the country’s largest retailers, Walmart, Sears and Kmart, have all vowed to pull Confederate flag merchandise from their stores and websites in the aftermath of last week’s mass shooting in Charleston, South Carolina.
“First of all, our hearts and prayers go out to the victims’ families and all the people in Charleston,” said Wal-Mart Stores CEO Doug McMillon during an interview on Bloomberg TV. “As it relates to this decision, we just we don’t want to sell anything that offends people. We carry some of these items through our marketplace online — we have over seven million items — and we decided to discontinue it.”
Sears Holdings Corporation, which operates both Sears and Kmart, also said it would remove any merchandise bearing the symbol sold by third-party vendors online, according to CNN. CNN checked with Target, but it already wasn’t selling related merchandise.
So, the question is, will Amazon, the largest U.S. online retailer, cave to political and social pressures, and pull similar products from its vast marketplace?
GeekWire reached out to a company spokesperson yesterday and today, but did not hear back.
A search on Amazon.com for “confederate flag” returns 29,355 items, ranging from flags to tactical knives and novelty shirts, shower curtains and blankets.
In the past, Amazon has been conservative about eliminating products from its site, often saying that it continues to evaluate the situation. In one example, it agreed to ban Foie Gras in France, due to the manner by which some duck and geese are force fed in order to fatten their livers, but in the U.S., it has yet pull it from online shelves.
In another case, where Walmart and Amazon have sat on opposite sides of an issue, Walmart banned a memoir by an Olympic medalist in mixed martial arts for being too violent. Whereas, on Amazon, it became a No. 1 bestseller.
But the issue doesn’t seem to be going away, and one book or delicacy is not the same as a symbol that was used in a deadly shooting that killed nine African-Americans, including Pastor Clementa Pinckney, a state senator. On Monday, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley asked for the removal of the Confederate flag from statehouse grounds, calling it “a deeply offensive symbol” due to way some people use it as a symbol for hate.
The voices of Amazon customers are also being heard. Some are using its forums and product reviews to speak their mind, while others are voting with their pocketbooks. Yesterday, a U.S. Nylon flag being sold for $7.72 on Amazon was listed as the No. 1 Best Seller in outdoor flags and banners. Today, a polyester Confederate Rebel Flag for $5.75 has replaced it.
A recent one-star review calls the Confederate flag bestseller “A great way to show the world you are an ignorant bigot!” Another like-minded reviewer says: “A convenient and inexpensive way to let everyone know how ignorant and hateful you are.” A third uses two words to make a point: “American Swastika.”
A post on Amazon’s discussion board, with the title of “No state has any business flying the confederate flag,” has 417 posts. Additional posts called “rebel flag” and “Confederate flag” have 42 and 15 replies, respectively.
According to CNN, eBay also continues to sell confederate flag merchandise, and has not replied to emails seeking comment. UPDATE: Reuters is now reporting that eBay will ban Confederate flags and related items, calling it “a symbol of divisiveness and racism.”
A help forum that’s typically closed off to sellers only, asks this question: “Should Amazon ban the sale of the confederate flag? “It was posted this morning at 4 a.m. and has already received 43 replies.
“As we still live in a free country, I believe it should be available,” one comment said. “As this item is offensive to some/many, the best result would be minimal sales which would lead to the product being discontinued.” Another person said Amazon should be allowed to continue the sales, but has been known to pull items due to bad public relations and pressure.
Another source that could potentially influence Amazon is the editorial board of The Washington Post, which Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos bought last year. The newspaper is calling for the flag’s removal from the state capitol, saying it “glorifies the worst aspects of our country’s past…It’s a heritage that should be studied but not celebrated.”
What do you think? Should Amazon fall in line behind Walmart and Sears and stop selling Confederate merchandise?