July 19, 2023 - 1:00pm

The premise of the Veebs shopping app is simple yet intriguing. For a subscription fee of 99 cents per month, consumers can shop entirely in accordance with their personal and political values. Users input their ideological preferences — liberal, conservative, “America First,” “pro-LGBTQIA+” — and Veebs then scans product barcodes to suggest how closely they accord with these values. It even offers alternative products that might better match a user’s views, integrating this highly personalised recommendation system with standard consumer tracking mechanisms.

Veebs isn’t just a consumer service, though. By openly aggregating data about users’ value-based purchasing habits, the app enters a market dominated by data giants like Google and Meta. These corporations have built their fortunes on collecting vast troves of personal information, using it to shape marketing and advertising strategies. Veebs seems to be hoping for a slice of that huge market, albeit through more overt, value-based methods.

The concept of ideological consumerism is becoming more relevant than ever — the Pew Research Center has found that twice as many members of the two main American parties now view their opponents unfavourably compared to 1994. This year’s Bud Light and Target boycotts by Right-wing shoppers revealed a new intensity of ideological consumer behaviour, while the marketing of companies like REDCON1 supplements, Black Rifle Coffee Co., and MyPillow cater almost exclusively to Right-wing customers. Other products like meat substitutes and environmentally-friendly cleaners are almost exclusively targeted at Left-wing buyers.

Of course, ideologically-tinged purchasing patterns are not entirely new: think back to the “Cola Wars” between Coke and Pepsi, or the 1990s-era burger battle between McDonald’s and its competitors. In a more politically charged example, Rust Belt union workers engaged in a boycott of Coors beer between the 1960s and 1980s, prompted by the corporation’s union-busting tactics. For years, Left-wing consumers avoided Chick-fil-A due to the company’s perceived anti-LGBT stance, while Right-wing shoppers have embraced products like Duck Dynasty merchandise. Yet there is significant evidence to suggest the market for ideologically aligned products is growing, and quickly. 

As with any product or service, Veebs’s own ultimate success will depend on a multitude of factors, not least its ability to engage and retain users over the long term. Right now, its interface is somewhat threadbare, and even the act of selecting categories is a bit clunky. While Veebs may succeed or join the scrapheap of failed consumer apps, its mere existence indicates a larger trend that won’t dissipate anytime soon. The “divide and conquer” strategy, a mainstay of marketers and political consultants alike, is likely to be further refined and exploited. Ideological segmentation will become even more prominent, and products will continue to be positioned along party lines. 

Oliver Bateman is a historian and journalist based in Pittsburgh. He blogs, vlogs, and podcasts at his Substack, Oliver Bateman Does the Work