Sephora will be closing its stores this morning (June 5th) for inclusion training . While an overall corporate desire to do good may have contributed to this decision, the timing appears to have been prompted by an incident in a Sephora store in California. The R&B singer SZA (Solána Imani Rowe) was suspected of stealing merchandise at a Sephora store in The Commons at Calabasas in southern California, and promptly tweeted about the incident (“Lmao Sandy Sephora location 614 Calabasas called security to make sure I wasn’t stealing,” and “Can a b***h cop her fenty in peace er whut.” While SZA may not yet be a household name (at least in this writer’s household), her plight was picked up by Rihanna. This incident, and corresponding corporate reaction, is similar to Starbuck’s decision to close its stores on May 29, 2018 after a Philadelphia store manager called police to remove two African-American customers.
This incident highlights a centuries-old challenge in the United States concerning racial profiling and pre-conceptions. However, one other key takeaway also emerges: the need for retailers and restaurant operators to ensure that their brand is positively embraced by existing and potential customers. This need is challenged by the incredible speed of social media – one negative incident can become a maelstrom within hours, and operators who fail to react swiftly and appropriately run the risk of real reputational damage.