Walmart Threatened With Lawsuit Over Offensive Holiday Sweater
A Colombian government agency is threatening to sue Walmart over a Christmas sweater depicting Santa Claus with what appeared to be three lines of cocaine, reports Business Insider. The now-removed sweater's product description tied the merchandise to Colombia, saying, "the best snow comes straight from South America" and "Santa really likes to savor the moment when he gets his hands on some quality, grade A, Colombian snow." The sweater was listed for sale by a third-party seller on Walmart's Canadian website before the company removed it and apologized.
The Colombian government agency wants Walmart to pay monetary damages, and if Walmart fails to comply, the agency said it plans to file a lawsuit. "The Walmart sweater is an offense to the country," said Camilo Gómez Alzate, director of Colombia's National Agency for the Legal Defense of the State, according to The Washington Post. "It generates damage to the legal products of Colombia and damage to the country's reputation. Although Walmart apologized, the damage was done. Colombia must be respected," Gómez said. "What will the family of a person who died in the fight against drug trafficking feel when a firm like Walmart promotes a bag of cocaine from Colombia?"
Total Retail's Take: Although the offensive sweater has been pulled from Walmart.com, clothing with identical designs or similar themes remain available for sale on Amazon.com, highlighting a growing issue in the industry. Quality control on large retail marketplaces like Walmart's and Amazon's is lacking, with the retailers struggling to regulate third-party sellers whose items they often list, sell and ship under their brand. This begs the question of how such a sweater design could have been reviewed and approved by Walmart Canada's merchandising team — unless there was no product quality check performed at all. "These sweaters, sold by a third-party seller on Walmart.ca (our website in Canada), do not represent Walmart's values and have no place on our website," a company representative told Business Insider.
In addition to offensive products, these marketplace also have to deal with counterfeit items. In August, The Wall Street Journal reported that it found 4,152 items for sale on Amazon that had "been declared unsafe by federal agencies." Consumers trust big e-commerce retailers like Amazon to sell quality, affordable, and safe items, but that may not always be the case with quality control oversights. Other retailers should take this as a cue to check their own third-party merchandise and ensure that every product being sold online under their brand name truly represents the brand.
Kristina Stidham is the digital content director at Women in Retail Leadership Circle and sister brand Total Retail. She is passionate about digital media and handles video, podcast and virtual event production for both brands. You can often find her at WIRLC, TR, or industry events with her camera and podcasting equipment recording interviews with retailers.
Kristina holds a B.A. in Media Studies and Production from the Temple University Klein College of Media and Communication in Philadelphia. Go Owls! When she's not in the office, she loves to go on long walks, sing around the house, hangout with her two pet guinea pigs, and travel to new places.