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Holiday Spending Was Up—So How Do Companies Stay Engaged with Consumers?

Wednesday, January 6, 2016 @ 10:14 AM

TUPELO, Miss.—Retailers this holiday season saw nearly an 8 percent increase in sales—and online Christmas shopping surged—according to the Associated Press, citing figures from the MasterCard SpendingPulse report, which tracks retail sales across cards, cash and checks from Black Friday to Christmas Eve.

Now that the Christmas shopping numbers are in and the sales have settled, American Family Association (AFA, www.afa.net) offers insight into how those companies that did well during the busy shopping season can engage their customers and keep them loyal throughout the year.

Through the “Naughty or Nice” list this Christmas—and for the 10th consecutive year—AFA communicated to potential shoppers which retailers were “Christmas-friendly” in their advertising and promotions and which acted like Scrooge, refusing to utter “Christmas” and opting instead for the politically correct use of “holiday” in their communications.

And in 2016, AFA will offer another new educational campaign to inform the nation about which companies value religious freedoms—and those that don’t. The Corporate Religious Liberties Index (CRLI) is a short, simple questionnaire written by AFA that seeks to gauge the importance of the broad issue of religious liberty for the nation’s major companies, including large-scale retailers, restaurants and manufacturers. The index is in direct response to the growing threats against religious liberty in the U.S., including but not limited to, faith in America.

“It’s clear that informed, educated and savvy consumers are now using the wealth of knowledge available at their fingertips to make spending decisions based on their values, and they will patronize and partner with those companies that are aligned with their beliefs,” said AFA President Tim Wildmon. “The Naughty or Nice’ list at Christmastime is telling, but AFA is excited about our newest project—the Corporate Religious Liberties Index. In 2016, we’ll release our findings about which corporations take religious freedoms in the workplace seriously and which devalue the rights of our citizens.”

Wildmon added that unlike many common ratings and indices that are based on the opinions of others, the CRLI directly surveys each company and evaluates their core values and the religious freedoms they offer their employees.

 “This survey will seek to bring to light the policies that some of the nation’s biggest companies have on religious liberties,” added AFA Executive Vice President Ed Vitagliano. “For example, do their non-discrimination policies include religion, and are their employees allowed or encouraged to use such greetings as ‘Happy Easter’ and ‘Merry Christmas’? These are questions that will communicate to Americans which companies value religious freedom in the workplace. And the answers will have an influence on where those who value religious freedom spend their money.”

The first company to complete and return the seven-question survey from AFA was Wal-Mart, which scored a perfect 100, with its answers demonstrating that the corporation respects and values religious freedoms. AFA is awaiting responses from other corporations as well.

Companies that received the survey include: Barnes & Noble, Bed Bath & Beyond, Best Buy, Big Lots, Campbell Soup Company, Chick-fil-A, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Dollar Tree, Fred’s, Foot Locker, Hallmark, Hobby Lobby, Home Depot, Interstate Battery, J.C. Penney, Kmart, Kohl’s, Lowe’s, Marshalls/T.J. Maxx, Michael’s Stores, Office Depot/Office Max, Old Navy (The Gap), PepsiCo, PetSmart, Procter & Gamble, Sam’s Club (Wal-Mart), Sears Holdings Corp., Staples, Target and Toys ‘R’ Us.

The survey includes seven questions that deal with corporate policies and practices. As companies take the survey, the answers will be scored, compiled and assigned an “index number” that will indicate whether or not companies are favorable, indifferent or antagonistic to religious liberty. The index number will fall on a scale of 0 to 100, with 100 indicating full support for religious freedom.

The questions include:

1.      Does your company include religion in its non-discrimination policy?
Explanation: This would include “religion” in the company’s list of protected categories, such as age, gender, race, sexual orientation, etc.

2.      Do you allow your employees to exchange religious greetings with one another and your customers, such as “Happy Easter” or “Merry Christmas”?
Explanation: For employees, this would apply to internal and informal communication, as well as employee interactions with customers or the general public.

3.      Does your company use the name of religious holidays for business purposes?
Explanation: This would include holiday advertising, internal communications, or communication with the general public.

4.      Do you allow employees to express their religious beliefs during working hours?
Explanation: This would apply to worker breaks, when other employees are free to discuss sports, politics, pop culture or other personal matters.

5.      Do you expressly allow employees to decorate desks or other work areas with religious symbols, messages or literature?
Explanation: This would refer to a policy that allows employees to decorate personal space with items that communicate their interests, including religious expression.

6.      Do you allow employees to express without penalty their religious beliefs on their own time, even if those beliefs are contrary to those that underlie corporate policies?
Explanation: This means employees are free to espouse their own religious beliefs outside working hours, on their own equipment, on blogs, Facebook, etc.

7.      Would you ever reject a job applicant because of his or her religious beliefs about controversial issues, such as the nature of marriage, human sexuality or the sanctity of human life?
Explanation: This would apply to the pre-hiring screening process, during which some companies might check Facebook posts, blog posts, etc.

AFA will release results of additional company surveys in the coming weeks. Going forward, a yearly report will also be generated and released each September.

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