Dick's Sporting Goods is making good on its vow earlier this year to lobby for gun control, according to a report from Bloomberg and a filing from government affairs firm Glover Park Group.
In addition to advocating for gun control, the retailer in February also announced it is no longer selling assault-style rifles at any of its 35 Field & Stream stores, that it won't sell firearms to anyone under 21, is no longer selling high capacity magazines and "never has and never will" sell bump stocks that allow semi-automatic weapons to fire more rapidly. The retailer had already removed the rifles from all Dick's stores after the 2012 Sandy Hook, Connecticut massacre.
Meanwhile, Vista Outdoor, which owns brands including CamelBak, Giro, and gun and ammunition companies, said earlier this week that it's divesting itself of its firearm brands, according to outdoor magazine The Inertia. Some retailers had dropped Vista products over its refusal to enter the fray on the issue and Vista lender Bank of America last month said it would no longer underwrite or finance military-style firearms.
Retailers are turning out to have a lot of clout in one of America's most controversial debates, and those taking steps to limit firearm and ammunition sales are so far more effective than policymakers when it comes to gun control. Along with Dick's, L.L. Bean, Kroger, REI and others have all taken firm stances on the issue by either cutting ties with suppliers, raising the age to buy guns or stopping the sale of assault-style weapons altogether.
Dick's strong stance sparked protests and boycotts as well as accolades, but on balance the moves seem to have hurt little, if at all. In fact, Dick's stores saw a 3.7% increase in foot traffic the weekend after the company's new policies were announced, according to a study by Reveal Mobile emailed to Retail Dive. In states that voted blue during the last presidential election, Reveal Mobile found that foot traffic increased by 7.59% between February 23-25 and March 2-4, compared to a 2.84% increase in red states.
Annother study by YouGov also found that Dick's perception rose after making the announcement, with 7% of adults discussing the sports retailer on Feb. 28 (the day the announcement was made) compared to 25% the weekend of March 3-4.
Retailers in general have become less shy about attaching activist causes to their brand's message, from environmentalist movements like Patagonia's Black Friday grassroots donation a few years ago to charity efforts and, yes, even politics.
While in the past taking a stance on social or political issues was essentially taboo in the retail world, a January study by Sprout Social seems to suggest that's changing in a big way. According to that study, over half (58%) of consumers are open to seeing political messages from brands, and what stance a brand takes on an issue can also have a big impact on a given customer's loyalty.
Nearly half (44%) of shoppers would buy more from a brand if they agreed with the brand's stance on a political issue and 28% said they would publicly praise a brand for the same reasons. That's particularly true of younger consumers, the majority of whom choose brands based on how socially responsible they are.
For Dick's, continuing to walk the walk on gun control could have positive effects on brand sentiment and loyalty, especially in a competitive sportswear market.