DENTON (UNT), Texas — Walmart, Dick’s Sporting Goods and most recently Kroger, through its Fred Meyer locations, recently announced changes to their store gun sale policies following a deadly shooting at a Florida high school that left 17 dead. Among the limitations, all three companies will end the sale of firearms to anyone under age 21.
Could there be consequences from consumers?
- Yes, but companies are prepared for that, says Guzman. “Any business decision can be harmful, but usually companies make these decisions after a lot of thought and discussion and are ready to deal with the possible consequences,” he says.
- Strutton says that the long-term implications could be limited. “Customers generally have short-term memories and, truth be told, most customers will likely remain unware that these changes have been made,” he says. “So even if a handful of customers are put-off, most of them likely would not remain upset for long. By contrast, the media would be all over Walmart or Dick’s Sporting Goods for weeks should a weapon purchased at Walmart be used in future violent acts.”
How, when and why do companies pull controversial products?
- Guzman says companies make these types of decisions based on two factors: “When the company understands that their consumer base expects them to act accordingly or when the company's leadership decides, it's the right thing to do. This last point could be because of a corporate ethical stance, because they believe the move will benefit profit and market value or because they believe it is the right PR move.”
- Strutton adds that a typical business will consider its long-term survival. “Firms will and should make this sort of decision when the weight and trend of public opinion dictates, financially and market share-wise,” he says. “None of these sorts of decisions are made in a vacuum. Without question, the data suggested to Dick’s Sporting Goods and Walmart’s leadership that these were the best decisions to make. They made it. Good for them, from both a business public relations and reputational perspective.”
Are more businesses making decisions based on a sense of social responsibility?
- “Consumers today expect their beloved brands to not remain neutral,” says Guzman adding that he covers the related topic – corporate social responsibility – frequently in class. “Brands that have been successful in aligning with certain current topics in a way that is congruent with their brand values are developing incredibly strong connections with their consumer base,” he says. “Some consumers might not like their position, but that's what, in marketing, we've called segmentation for years. No brand has ever appealed to a whole market. The only difference is that today, some brands are aligning to these kind of consumer values to segment their markets.”
- Companies are increasingly protective of their reputations, particularly in the internet age, adds Strutton. “In today’s world, electronic word of mouth can be the modern marketer’s best friend or worst enemy,” Strutton says. “Executive leadership, meanwhile, knows that bad news, negative associations, are more likely to be spread about firms – especially when controversial behemoths, such as Walmart, are involved. Walmart is simply doing what is logical and necessary to head off bad news. What Walmart and Dick’s have done make sense to me.”