Bridging The Digital Divide In 2019

By Taylor Smithfield

Every retail operation is seeking the keys to success, especially at the start of the new year. A few often-asked questions: What will it take to really be successful this year? What do I need to do differently this year to ensure my success? What new trends should I adopt to stay ahead of the completion?

For gun dealers, there’s no lack of advisors who offer the most cutting-edge, hottest trends to guarantee overwhelming success — along with improved good looks. You don’t need empty promises, but a sound approach to what will actually work in 2019.

This year, like last year, will be the year of the personal brand connection. While consumers are consuming tons of digital content, they’re simultaneously seeking ways to connect more personally with each other. Brands have followed suit with their best attempts at bridging the digital divide. And 2019 will be no different. So what are some trends and tactics to consider this year?

People Trust People

The first TV advertisements began airing in 1941 in the U.S., but, as one would expect, people’s wallets were far too tight during the war to spend money on frivolities. It wasn’t until the ’50s consumers began loosening their purse strings in light of a prospering economy.

Thus kicked off a trend of using characters or celebrities to engender trust between brands and consumers. Be it the Marlboro Man or Tony the Tiger, marketers understood the power of a friendly face, and used this connection to their advantage.

However, long gone are the days when consumers outright trusted brands, even ones associated with a likable personality. Today’s shopper is skeptical of slick marketing pitches and promises too good to be true because they’ve been disappointed one too many times. An entire generation grew up hearing their parents lament the quality of modern products: “In my day, things lasted for forever.” (An observation we’re certain is true because grandma is still using her trusty General Electric hand mixer — “It just won’t die,” she claims.)

Consumers are looking for genuine connections with companies. Regardless of if it’s the CEO, brand influencers, sales associates or the dude behind a corporate Twitter account, people are eager to interface with … people.

Remember those pesky pop-ups that used to plague your screen while surfing the internet? Maybe you’ve chosen to forget, but these ads felt so impersonal and invasive people began employing ad-blocking software to keep them at bay. Between January 2010 and January 2017, ad-blocking users grew from 21 million to 236 million.1 People became tired of the constant barrage.

Skeptical. Overwhelmed. Exhausted. These are emotions advertisements have inspired throughout the history of marketing. And these are obstacles marketers — including you — have sought to overcome.

A Nielsen study from 2015 titled “Global Trust in Advertising” revealed the top most-trusted sources of advertising were: friends/family, branded sites, editorial sites and reviews, with advertisements falling toward the bottom of the list.2 This is why brands today have invested in content marketing, influencer marketing and referral partnerships.

In July 2017, we discussed the power of influencer marketing in “Under the Brand Influence” and in August 2018, the persuasiveness of online reviews in “Reviews Rule Our Decision-Making.” (These are both great resources, available anytime at

A few key points.

Whether or not you find a designated individual to tell the world about your store, you can still rely on human interactions to influence customers. It may be as simple as recording yourself for a one-minute Facebook or Instagram video.

The majority of consumers have stopped trusting shiny headlines or catchy jingles over the last several years. Instead, they’ve turned to a more trustworthy source: the online customer review.

Use Digital To Your Advantage (And Not How You’re Thinking)

Websites, social media, blogs, podcasts, e-newsletters, online videos and alerts on wristband devices. Yes, how we consume information has changed vastly. Did you ever imagine people would communicate predominantly by text more than in-person or via phone?

We’ve talked about the advantages of each of these digital mediums for years, and you’ve no doubt invested in new forms of digital marketing since then. If so, you’re playing the long game — keep it up! However, as we get more creative with technology and develop new methods of communication, it’s important to keep one eye on the future and the other on the past and present.

Remember print newsletters — the kind that would arrive in your mailbox? (“Oh, those ancient artifacts!” “Ah! That kind of mailbox.”) People have been saying for some time print is dead.
However, is it? I recently came across a company that physically mailed their corporate newsletter to clients. What a thought! It was surprising to also learn their campaign was extremely successful. Because their competitors had gone fully digital, there was zero competition for their client’s attention via mail. So while this method might seem behind the times, they were actually ahead of the game.
It’s the same with printed magazines. Southwick Associates, in reporting the results of their third-quarter 2018 surveys, noted magazines edged-out the internet and social media as the top source of information and media entertainment for hunters and shooters.

Of course, you should create a balance of how you reach your customers, using a healthy mix of both digital and print. In the rush to “think digital,” many dealers have neglected the valuable at-the-point-of-sale flyer. These promotions accompanying the sales receipt, regardless of the amount of the purchase, will draw customers back into the store — they’ll want an extra percent off their next purchase, special rates on range time and to take advantage of seasonal specials and manufacturer-sponsored sales events. These are easily created on in-store computers and printers — an old trend in need of refreshment.

Shop And Run — Meeting The Need

Is it time for firearm dealers to consider adopting a growing shopping trend: buy online, pickup in store? Your customers visit your website, click the special “Pickup in Store” link, selects items for their shopping cart, pays online and gets a receipt letting them know when their order will be ready. You can also add a text/email option: “Let me know when my order is ready.” If you’re really on your game, offer a “Pickup Today” option for those products already available in-store.

This “Buy Online, Pickup in Store” trend is growing rapidly, with major companies across all product lines offering the service.

Would this work for a gun shop? Sure, why not. Most dealers are already offering online shopping, often with free shipping for orders over a certain dollar amount.

Why not offer free pickup at your store?

Yes, there are gun-store products that won’t work “rapidly” for this type of service; customers still have to undergo firearm background checks. However, you have hundreds of products customers need now and, like many of us, are in a hurry. This service not only meets their needs but it adds a personal connection to an otherwise impersonal internet transaction. Just make sure the bag containing their products also includes that point-of-purchase flyer inviting them back for a more thorough in-store shopping experience.

(Are there any gun dealers already offering this kind of service? If so, we would like to hear from you, with insight into the dos and don’ts to achieve success — send us an email at

Ask Your Customers

In the rush to discover the next hot trend to propel us to overwhelming success, we too often overlook the most important resource: our customers. Perhaps the best trend for 2019? Ask your customer what they want.

As Evan Reynolds, owner of LeadFeather Guns & Archery in Winter Haven, Fla., reminds us, “I don’t pay my employees; the customer pays my employees. Without customers, I don’t have a shop.”

When surveying customers, a few simple questions works best. Avoid lengthy surveys that only require a “few minutes of their time” but seem to last forever. Be original. The best question: “What would you recommend we do to better meet your needs — in the way of products offered, customers service and information provided?” It will get the conversation going. All of us are customers just waiting for someone to ask us what we’d do if we were “in charge.” Give your customers this opportunity, listen and then take action. From what you learn, you can begin your own hot trend this year.


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