Target, Amazon pull Confederate goods from websites

Etsy & Amazon to remove confederate flag items
Etsy & Amazon to remove Confederate flag items   

Sales of Confederate flags spiked on Tuesday as big name retailers like Wal-Mart, Sears and eBay, dropped their flag-emblazoned products. Target, Amazon and Etsy.com followed suit Tuesday afternoon.

The retailers' decision came after widespread protest following the massacre at a historically African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina, last week.

Target pulled its one obvious Confederate costume from its website after CNBC questioned the retailer about it. A company spokeswoman later said, "Our intention is never to offend. We all recognize the great sensitivity around this and have removed the item from our website." (Tweet This)

Amazon said it was in the process of taking down Confederate flag listings. Later on Tuesday Google also said it planned to remove items donning the Confederate flag from Google Shopping, its online marketplace, citing a violation of the company's anti-hate policies.

Wal-Mart, Sears and eBay announced their decisions amidst calls from South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley to remove the flag from the statehouse grounds. After doing so, sales of Confederate flags spiked on Amazon to claim first, second, and third place on the site's list of biggest sales gainers in the previous 24 hours. Prices ranged from under $2 to nearly $16 per flag.

David Simpson, who works at Ruffin Flag Company, the Georgia-based manufacturer that saw sales of its Confederate flag surge 2,305 percent to top Amazon's patio, lawn and garden Movers & Shakers list, declined to comment on Wal-Mart's move. As for his sales, Simpson would only say, "Of course sales go up when people are talking about it. That much is true with any flag, the same happened with the U.S. flag in 2001."

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Yet even as demand for Confederate battle flags spike, fellow flag manufacturer Valley Forge Flag announced plans to stop making Confederate battle flags entirely. The 133-year-old Pennsylvania-based company which sells millions of flags each year, including those used on the beaches of Normandy in World War II, said it hoped the move would help "foster racial unity and tolerance in our country."

A Public Policy Polling survey taken in the shooting aftermath showed Americans opposed flying the Confederate flag over government buildings by a 3-to-1 margin. More broadly, a 2011 Pew Research poll revealed only 9 percent of Americans reacted favorably to the Confederate flag.

For retailers that means catching up to changing opinions.

For Bentonville, Arkansas-based Wal-Mart, which previously sold shirts and belt buckles donning Confederate symbols, the decision was clear.

"We never want to offend anyone with the products that we offer," the company said. "We have a process in place to help lead us to the right decisions when it comes to the merchandise we sell. Still, at times, items make their way into our assortment improperly—this is one of those instances."

It's a wise move for the retailer that pays close attention to its customers, according to Marianne Bickle, department chair of retailing at the University of South Carolina.

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"Wal-Mart is being extremely wise and extremely progressive by responding to their target audience," she said. "And anyone who didn't shop at Walmart for whatever reason they are going to remember the goodwill. They are taking down the flag."


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EBay's decision to prohibit the sale of Confederate flags and related products revealed a similar sentiment. "We have decided to prohibit Confederate flags, and many items containing this image, because we believe it has become a contemporary symbol of divisiveness and racism," the company said.

"Retailers are looking at the landscape of their customers and feel like they want to get out in front of this," according to Ed Fox, a retail marketing professor at Southern Methodist University's Cox School of Business. "They are sensing that the tide has quite literally turned in the face of the violence in Charleston."

Reuters contributed to this story.