Supermarkets sprung to action after Boston Mayor Thomas Menino’s now-famous missive to Rolling Stone went viral earlier this month.
One by one, Stop & Shop, Roche Bros., Big Y, Wegmans, Roundy’s, Hy-Vee and others deemed the iconic magazine’s choice of cover boy Boston bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev egregious enough to bar its sale.
But for Publix Super Markets, the decision wasn’t as cut and dried, as shoppers from both camps took to its heavily trafficked Facebook page to debate the issue.
In response to Laura Owczarek’s request that Publix not sell the issue out of respect to victims and their families, Betsey from Publix urged her to ask her local store manager to conceal the cover with a plastic shield. Laura rejected the solution as insufficient.
Shopper Kim Taylor Katsaras, on the other hand, had read the Rolling Stone article and couldn’t see what all the fuss was about. “Publix is in the business of retail, not censorship. Leave them alone about the magazine,” she posted.
Rather than avoid delivering difficult news to heated shoppers, Publix placated them by being open and honest, and explaining in frequent updates its progress on determining how best to proceed. It ultimately decided to sell the August issue of Rolling Stone, but from behind the customer service desk, as it did when a pregnant Demi Moore posed nude on the cover of Vanity Fair, according to spokeswoman Maria Brous.
Scott Stephan, author of a pointed post that said “I will never again check out at your stores without seeing the cover of that magazine in my mind’s eye,” followed up to say he appreciated Publix’s decision to conceal the issue from shoppers.
As a member of an industry that lags in using online shopper insights for competitive advantage, Publix serves as a shining example of a company that effectively gauges consumer opinion, weighs it against business objectives and responds transparently and in real-time.
Publix is rewarded for its efforts. By positioning its social mediums as natural extensions of the in-store experience, it’s made privy to the likes and dislikes of more than 1.7 million Facebook followers.
Not everyone may have agreed with the chain’s decision to sell the August issue of Rolling Stone, but by meeting shoppers halfway, it will likely retain their business.
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