Wal-Mart’s safety compliance team is charged with regulating the products it sells to spot potentially offensive merchandise, a job that this year must scrutinize over 40,000 costumes available on its website. Wal-Mart has increased its use of third-party retailers that supply its website in a move to better compete with online giant Amazon. But, with a greater supply of products comes a greater chance of offending the public’s delicate sensibilities.
No, Wal-Mart customers won’t be able to find Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly’s used tampon outfit, or a decapitated Cecil the Lion. Wal-Mart’s media relations head, Bao Nguyen, said, “We want Halloween to be fun and to be a surprise. But we don’t want to belittle serious incidents. We do not want to offend anyone, especially during Halloween."
Nguyen’s Wal-Mart PC police attempt to be proactive as they decide which products to ban, reading the news headlines to discover the current flavor of social justice. In June, Nguyen’s team quickly decided to pull Confederate flag products in the aftermath of the South Carolina shooting at a black church. The retailer has been targeted in many Middle East-related controversies of late, including one instance this summer when a customer requested an ISIS-themed cake.
Because Walmart.com’s list of products has more than tripled in the last three years to 7 million items, the compliance team is unable to stop every instance of a potentially offensive products. A simple Israeli soldier costume was removed after multiple complaints, with the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (AAADC) stating, “Such a symbol of fear, violence… should not be used for entertainment purposes.”
Social media now allows anyone with access to the internet to publish their opinions (however trivial) to an audience of millions, helping to stoke controversies that otherwise might be forgotten. However, Halloween’s trend towards becoming an adult holiday has provided a greater demand for these types of incendiary costumes.