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Will economic boycotts succeed in St. Louis? Expert says it depends

James Fisher, a professor of marketing at Saint Louis University, said economic boycotts can be effective.  Nov. 21, 2017
Marissanne Lewis-Thompson | St. Louis Public Radio
James Fisher, a professor of marketing at Saint Louis University, said economic boycotts can be effective.

While protests continue since the Sept. 15 verdict in the Jason Stockley case, activists have also launched an economic boycott in St. Louis. They said it’s in response to the treatment of African-Americans, who they believe are disproportionately experiencing economic and social disparities.

Community activists are encouraging shoppers to spend their dollars at black-owned businesses during the winter holiday season, instead of at places they say have historically discriminated against African-Americans. James Fisher, a professor of marketing at Saint Louis University, spoke with St. Louis Public Radio’s Marissanne Lewis-Thompson about the effectiveness of economic boycotts.

On how effective economic boycotts are

Fisher said economic boycotts can be effective, but they aren’t always. However, he said there are a few key reasons why some of them work.  

“Boycotting is just the reverse of marketing. And in that sense, their success depends upon things like publicity and motivation and compliance by those people who might potentially organize a boycott or engage in it.”



On the differences between ethical buying and boycotts

Fisher said some consumers take part in economic boycotts, while others choose ethical buying, instead. The concepts are not mutually exclusive.

“Boycott behavior suggests a withdrawal of one's participation with that organization, whether it’s buying their products or shopping at a particular retail location. And so it’s an effort to use economic power in a focused way to achieve a desired end. Ethical buying, on the other hand, refers to a trait or even lifestyle that a consumer may engage in, which he or she tries to be more thoughtful and deliberate in their buying behavior, where they may want to make a practice of making purchases from firms and organizations that are ... perhaps especially in their way of perceiving things socially responsible.”


On whether or not economic boycotts have the financial power to make an impact

An economic boycott can have the financial power to make an impact if it’s used as an “economic weapon,” Fisher said. However, in order for that to happen, those who are choosing to participate in such a boycott must be well-informed, motivated, and their observance of the boycott must be publicized and noticed.  

“These are the factors that would contribute to a boycott that itself is effective as an economic kind of lever. So, yes they can be effective, but effective boycotts in a narrow economic sense, I think, continue to be the exception rather than the rule.”    


Oh why the effectiveness of economic boycotts vary

Fisher said sometimes the effectiveness of a boycott can vary depending on the particular cause that is at stake.

“Sometimes the cause may be one that is widely shared. Sometimes it may be more focused. Sometimes the cause itself may be fairly well understood, but maybe the target of the boycott itself may not be fully understood or agreed upon by those that are being invited to join in the boycott. So sometimes the target itself may be deserving of this kind of sanction, but at other times, perhaps the consumers or perhaps the public don’t feel that the target is fully culpable.”

Follow Marissanne on Twitter @marissane2011 

Marissanne is the afternoon newscaster at St. Louis Public Radio.

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