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This Time It’s Guns: Retail Activism Goes Mainstream With Dick’s Sporting Goods

After the Parkland school shooting, the students unified for “Enough is Enough” with demonstrations and a call to action. Dick’s Sporting Goods took initiative in response to this, making headlines by stating that they would no longer sell assault style rifles, high capacity magazines or firearms to anyone under 21 years of age. Dick’s had already stopped selling assault style rifles in the Dick’s chain after Sandy Hook, but was still selling them in their 35 Field & Stream Locations.

The push by Dick’s shows that retail activism is becoming more commonplace and recognized by customers. According to a study by Strike Social, 66% of customers want brands to take a stand on big issues. This research was confirmed by Sprout Social’s analysis of the tweets sent in the aftermath of the announcement. Tweets mentioning Dick’s Sporting Goods jumped 12,000% and 79% of them showed a positive sentiment. The market responded favorably to the announcement as well with Dick’s stock trading up for the day.

So, from the absurdity of Ivanka Trump’s shoes and Keurig coffee machines to the broader issues of protecting national lands and the thorny issue of gun control, retailers have suddenly found themselves in the particular predicament of having to lead on issues of social activism, not simply follow the path of least resistance.

There is, of course, a risk for Dick’s to alienate some of its customers, but ultimately the announcement helps Dick’s align with its core values of being a family first retailer. The move will raise credibility with Dick’s core customer. There will be a loss in sales from guns and ammunition, but the categories were slow turning and low margin. The economic growth engine of the company will not be significantly impacted by this event. It is more likely that Dick’s will see an increase in sales as a result of the announcement.

The decision by Dick’s Sporting Goods placed pressure on other retailers and the response has begun to trickle in. Walmart and Kroger’s Fred Meyer stores announced they will no longer sell a firearm to anyone under 21 years of age. Academy Sports remains neutral, but reaffirmed their support of the “Fix NICS Bill” to strengthen background checks and compliance.  The remaining retailers, including Cabela’s and Bass Pro, are unlikely to make any changes to their current processes. The cynic in me suggests that the harder decisions to make are the ones that could adversely impact sales and profits.

Gun control has always been a hotly contested issue, but overnight Dick’s Sporting Goods has become a leader in the new era of retail activism. Dick’s joins the ranks of Patagonia, REI, CVS, and various other retailers who have pushed forward social change not by lobbying votes, but by influencing our shopping habits. One thing is clear:  Retail activism is no longer a fringe concept carried out by B-Corporations. Retail activism has gone mainstream and retailers may be put in the very uncomfortable position of taking stands (and leading) on the social issues of the day.

Co-Authored by Brad Koszuta and Neil Stern for Forbes


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