Wayfair, a retail company that specializes in high-end home products, has been the center of a conspiracy theory for much of July. Despite the lack of concrete evidence, what started online has spread significantly.
The theory itself alleges that Wayfair's high-priced cabinets and other expensive products are available on its online store were actually a front for a child trafficking operation. It was traced back to a July 9 post on Reddit from user PrincessPeach1987, who included screenshots of the company's WFX Utility storage cabinets, which cost between $12,699.99 and $14,499.99. "Is it possible Wayfair involved in Human trafficking with their WFX Utility collection? Or are these just extremely overpriced cabinets," the user asked.
As the theory continues to spread, it managed to overlap with other popular (and debunked) theories, including Pizzagate and the alleged activities of Jeffrey Epstein. Of course, the theory itself came about not long after Epstein's longtime associate, Ghislaine Maxwell, was arrested by the FBI on July 2. Here's a look at the company's history, as well as how it got entangled with an online conspiracy.
The Company's Origins
Wayfair was founded in 2002, previously known as CSN Stores. The company's digital platform offers 14 million items from more than 11,000 global suppliers. The online company is headquartered in Boston, Massachusetts, though it has offices and warehouses throughout the United States as well as in Canada, Germany, Ireland, and the United Kingdom. Wayfair currently operates four branded retail websites in addition to its namesake, including Joss & Main, AllModern, Birch Lane, and Perigold.prevnext
A month prior to the coronavirus pandemic, the company announced a layoff of 550 employees or about three percent of its global workforce, with the Boston headquarters accounting for 350 of those individuals. "On reflection, this last period of investment went on too long... and we find ourselves at a place where we are, from an execution standpoint, investing in too many disparate areas, with an uneven quality and speed of execution," the company wrote in an email. The company has not been profitable throughout 2020.prevnext
The Conspiracy Theory
Wayfair became the subject of a conspiracy theory earlier in July, which alleged that high-priced cabinets and other products were secretly a front for child trafficking. Some theorists claimed that the expensive products carried the names of missing children, while others attested that product SKUs could be used to find images of young children on a Russian website. What started on Reddit soon spilled over into the rest of the mainstream social media platforms, complete with dubious screenshots supporting these claims.prevnext
Tom Hanks Gets Involved
As the conspiracy theory snowballed online, Tom Hanks ended up getting involved, due entirely to an Instagram photo he'd posted in July 2016 that had 'SKU USA' written in chalk on the ground. Apparently, the product SKUs, which were used to find missing children on a Russian search engine, somehow connected to Hanks.prevnext
As Does Ellen DeGeneres
Talk show host Ellen DeGeneres was also pulled into the fray, thanks to her partnership with the high-end retailer because of what was claimed to be a $10,000 throw pillow she designed — though its real price tag is $99. As the store's website notes, the ED Ellen DeGeneres collection was launched in 2015 as a joint venture between her and Christopher Burch, the CEO of Burch Creative Capital.prevnext
The Fake Commercial
There was also a widely-circulated commercial making the rounds on social media, which appeared to show children opening boxes bearing the Wayfair logo with another child popping out near the end. While the video already appeared to be heavily edited, it turned out to be a FedEx commercial from 2018.prevnext
The Reddit User Speaks Out
Speaking with Newsweek, the same Reddit user that got the ball rolling said that they saw the cabinets with their husband while looking for garage storage. Suspect over the high prices, they soon noticed that some other shoppers on Facebook had posted about their suspicions over the pricing. Afterward, they asked if "anyone else had more details" on the expensive items to other Reddit users. While they didn't reveal their name, they did say they were "involved in a local organization that helps victims of human trafficking."prevnext
A spokesperson for Wayfair told Business Insider there was "no truth" to the claims being spread on social media. "The products in question are industrial grade cabinets that are accurately priced. Recognizing that the photos and descriptions provided by the supplier did not adequately explain the high price point, we have temporarily removed the products from the site to rename them and to provide a more in-depth description and photos that accurately depict the product to clarify the price point."prev