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Three Tech Solutions to Help Quickly Resolve Confederate Flag —and Other Product — Controversies


While the Confederate flag has been an increasing source of controversy in recent years, retailers have long sold items featuring its image with no major outcry. But following the tragic shooting in Charleston, consumer sentiment against the “Stars and Bars” intensified to a degree that made selling Confederate flag-themed merchandise unacceptable to a large portion of the public within a few days.

On the single day of June 23, retailers including Wal-Mart,, eBay, Etsy, Sears and Spenser Gifts all removed or pledged to remove Confederate flag merchandise from their stores and websites. More will surely follow suit.

The combination of the potential for rapid spread of public outrage on social media and heightened consumer sensitivities will surely result in the need for quick removal of other product categories in the future. Amazon and Sears already had a similar incident after they were found selling items emblazoned with the Nazi swastika in October 2014.

Retailers need to be prepared with technologies that will allow them to rapidly remove all traces of controversial and/or offensive merchandise in the event of dramatic shifts in consumer sentiment. These include:

Real-time Inventory Awareness

A national retailer like Wal-Mart, with thousands of stores and SKUs, has a huge task in removing Confederate flag merchandise from shelves, back rooms, warehouses and fulfillment centers. The symbol is found on items including shirts, hats, pins, towels, cups, plates, toys, and of course on flags and banners.

Without an inventory management system that can reveal the precise location of SKU-level merchandise throughout the enterprise, ridding your product assortment of the Confederate flag could be torturously difficult. In addition, retailers would be wise to have some sort of image recognition system, as the Confederate flag also turns up in the merchandising of rock bands, sports teams, TV shows and films, and even on the official state flag of Mississippi.

Unified Purchasing

In addition to clearing front- and back-end inventory of Confederate flag merchandise, socially conscious retailers must also ensure that they cancel all purchase orders for existing and future shipments of offending items. Since purchase orders may extend across multiple channels, each with their own invoicing, shipping and receiving and distribution infrastructure, having a unified back-end view of the entire purchasing process is critical.

The only thing more embarrassing than a retailer promising to remove offensive items and still having them for sale is a retailer initially following through on that promise but having the merchandise reappear a few weeks later because an errant purchase order went through.


Amazon received some negative social media publicity for still offering personalized recommendations of Confederate flag merchandise after pledging to stop selling it. Retailers need to be able to cleanse their marketing and CRM systems of any images or data relating to offensive goods on a real-time or near-real-time basis.

This includes removing all related content from websites, search and recommendation engines, catalogs, flyers, email promotions, etc. Products can now be “available” even if they have no physical presence at a retailer, with potentially disastrous results.

It’s also worth adding that any retailer with a third-party online marketplace needs a whole additional set of technological safeguards to manage the removal of offensive merchandise and imagery, at Internet speed, from sellers they may not directly control.

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