Run the Numbers: Walmart Poised to See Gains Following Changes to Gun Policy

Run the Numbers, FN’s new data column, unpacks the data that’s driving top retail trends in the industry.

Walmart made headlines early this week when the retail giant announced sweeping changes to its gun policy in response to last month’s mass shootings at two of its stores.

On Tuesday, CEO Doug McMillon’s memo informed employees of the company’s landmark decision to discontinue the sales of short-barrel rifle ammunition and handgun ammunition as well as completely halt handgun sales in Alaska. It marks the Bentonville, Ark.-based retailer’s full exit from the handgun business, with the chief noting that the big-box chain’s market share of ammunition would effectively be reduced from around 20% to a range of about 6% to 9%.

“We’ve also been listening to a lot of people inside and outside our company as we think about the role we can play in helping to make the country safer,” he wrote. “It’s clear to us that the status quo is unacceptable.”

It was a bold move for Walmart — the chain has stores that are prevalent in largely non-urban and politically right-leaning regions of the country. But according to a data study by CivicScience, the decision to nix firearms from its inventory might ultimately pay off for the retailer.

The consumer intelligence research platform surveyed 1,471 Walmart shoppers, finding that 28% are more likely to shop at the retailer following its recent gun policy change — split into the 21% who are “much more likely” and 7% who are “somewhat more likely.” (A majority, however, noted that their shopping frequency at Walmart would remain unchanged.)

In addition to its gun policy changes, Walmart also requested that customers no longer openly carry firearms into Walmart and Sam’s Clubs stores — even where open carry is permitted. CivicScience’s survey discovered that half of 1,423 respondents were in strong support of the retailer’s decision. No change in policy has been made on concealed carry by customers with permits.

Walmart had been widely considered as one of the largest sellers of guns in the United States, and firearms are said to represent a significant portion of its business. But it’s not the only big-name retailer that has drawn attention for changing up its firearm sales policies in the wake of deadly shootings.

A year and a half has passed since Dick’s Sporting Goods began the process of destroying assault-style rifles in its stores — two weeks after last February’s slayings at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. The Coraopolis, Pa.-based company had also raised the age restriction for purchases of firearms and ammunition to 21 as well as taken down items that resemble assault-style rifles, including nonlethal airsoft guns and toys.

Late in last year’s third-quarter period, Dick’s CEO Edward Stack announced that the company had removed hunting products from 10 stores where the category was underperforming and replaced them with other merchandise, resulting in positive comp sales and strong margins in those locations. (It has also continued with its plan to remove hunting gear from 125 more stores this year.) This quarter, the retailer’s same-store sales increased 3.2% — its strongest showing since 2016.

“We saw growth across each of our three primary categories of hardlines, apparel and footwear, our brick-and-mortar stores comped positively and our e-commerce channel remained strong,” Stack said. “Our key strategies and investments are working, our major headwinds are behind us and we’ve bent the curve on sales.”

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