Do They Hate Guns Or Are They Brilliant Marketers? Both, Actually.

Guns on display at the Dick’s Sporting Goods store in Danvers, Mass., on Wednesday. (C.J. Gunther/EPA/Shutterstock, courtesy of The Los Angeles Times)

Here we go again. There’s a school shooting, then a lot of tears and hand-wringing, then nothing happens.

But wait, maybe, just maybe, this time is different.

I’m of course referring to the recent mass shooting in Parkland, FL that killed 17 people, including 14 students, a geography teacher, an assistant football coach and the school’s athletic director. In response, three major U.S. retailersWalmart (one of America’s largest firearm retailers), Dick’s Sporting Goods and Kroger—have “voluntarily restricted gun sales to make a policy statement and manage their image with consumers,” reports The Los Angeles Times.

According to the article, these retailers “are responding to the national uproar that followed the shooting…especially the feverish debate on Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms. They are not waiting for legislative action to improve matters.”

So are these retailers really anti-guns or are they trying to look good to their customers?


According to Roger Beahm, executive director of Wake Forest University’s Center for Retail Innovation, the
 retailers “want to position themselves in the minds of consumers by taking steps like this,” even if it means alienating some consumers who object to further gun controls. 

Risking alienating customers? That’s a bold move, which is also being taken by 
Delta Air Lines and Hertz, which are eliminating their discount programs for NRA members. (The NRA’s response? Calling the moves “a shameful display of political and civic cowardice.”)
And it’s been done before, not in conjunction with a school shooting. In 2014, CVS, the nation’s largest drugstore chain, stopped selling cigarettes and other tobacco products. The company stated that although this meant losing more than $1.5 billion in tobacco-related sales, the move was necessary to support its commitment to healthcare.
When asked for my opinion, I talked about the importance of understanding your customers and the power of social media
James Peltz of The Los Angeles Times interviewed me for his article and here’s what I had to say (you can read the entire article here):
The retailers are paying attention to what’s going on in the lives of their customers, especially the ones who really understand social media and understand how to mobilize others into a cause. I don’t think that in the world of social media, they can stay out of the discussion.

Dick’s and others might even see a surge in the top line or in overall sales by taking stances on certain gun controls that prompt consumers to shift business their way.

Yes, you have a bottom line and stockholders. But perhaps there’s something more important going on right now. Maybe we are on the brink of something that’s transformative. 

Remember, by responding with their wallets, consumers can dictate retailers’ actions
It’s always been that way. If you don’t like a store’s products, services or even its corporate philosophy, you can take your business elsewhere.

But now, in the aftermath of this horrific event, the actions of big retailers like Walmart and Dick’s have taken on a deeper and more urgent meaning, and consumers’ demands that companies demonstrate they are good community citizens have gotten louder.

“Retailers are recognizing that society and consumer demands are changing,” Beahm said in the article.

And to that, I say bravo. It’s about time.


From Observation to Innovation,


Andi Simon, Ph.D.
Corporate Anthropologist | President
Simon Associates Management Consultants

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