Saturday night it apparently dawned on the geniuses at Cheaper Than Dirt that they’d burned a few bridges with their firearms-sales moritorium (which was played in the press as a cave to anti-gun sentiment) and their price gouging on modern sporting rifle standard-capacity magazines.
They may have figured out that they will still need customers after the current demand calf has pass through the snake of the market. And their customer relations approach of the last three weeks, which can be boiled down to, “Go **** yourself. Next!” was only going to fly as long as desperate buyers were willing to queue up for bad treatment. This period has to end: for one thing, gun and magazine buyers have a finite amount of wealth and credit, and they can’t buy more than that. It’s a well known economic principle: when something cannot go on forever, it has to end.
Now, it’s possible to tell your story and soothe the savage breast of an angry consumer, but you have to know how. They don’t. The document — sourced here from an ARFCOM post — is a model of mealy-mouthed, defensive sniveling and passive-voice buck-passing.
Before we look at what they actually did, what should they have done? If you’re in business, you’re probably not as ate up as these guys, and would do the right things instinctively. If you’re in this business, you can just look at how Brownell’s, which got hit just as hard as CTD (actually, harder) and went just as out-of-stock, handled it. Brownell’s is coming out of this situation — in which they disappointed many customers — with improved customer mindshare, and CTD is down in the cellar with CAI/Century. What’s better for the up-businesses and worse for the down-ones is this: reputation is a trailing indicator.
- Communicate early and often. Brownell’s was up with an explanation the first business day after they began to have problems keeping up with orders; Cheaper Than Dirt took three weeks to communicate.
- Communicate where the customers are. Brownell’s maintains contact with the community on forums. CTD’s PR stuff gets on forums when pissed-off customers post it there. See the difference?
- Be transparent. Customers may not understand the imperatives of your business and the pressures on you, but they’re willing to give you a hearing if you’re timely with it. This explanation three weeks ago would have poured a lot of oil on troubled waters.
- Don’t ignore reasonable grievances. CTD’s belated response to their customers and the community addressed their decision to pull guns from internet sales. But it didn’t address price gouging like the $60 PMAGs or the “negative discount” trick the company has used to chisel more money while they can get away with it. Their explanation of the gun-pull was late, and bullshit; apparently they couldn’t even make up bullshit for the price gouging.
Again, our initial take is that it has dawned on them that they will still need customers in the shooting sports that they have been able to spurn for the last few weeks of panic buying, so maybe they had better tell their side of the tale — belatedly and partially.
Consumer reaction to the political rhetoric after the shooting in CT caused a rush of online orders at Cheaper Than Dirt! which led to the largest backlog in the company’s history.
Cheaper Than Dirt! management had no choice but to suspend firearm sales while examining ways to meet customer demand and maintain the careful and lawful processes established.
Firearm sales require a significant amount of individual attention compared to the automated system for non-firearm products. Firearm orders were being placed faster than the inventory system could update, potentially leading to an overselling situation and cancellation of orders on a very large-scale.
Ammunition and shooting accessories orders more than tripled, resulting in week-long shipping delays. Since firearms sales are a much smaller portion of its sales and require more resources, the decision was made to utilize personnel in areas that would make the most impact servicing customers.
The past three weeks have been spent catching up on the tremendous backlog of orders, training additional staff and increasing inventory back to acceptable levels.
Firearm sales will resume on a limited basis beginning Tuesday, January 8, based on available inventory. The selection will increase as more firearms become available. Specifically, firearms that are in high demand are not currently available from manufacturers due to the lack of inventory. This includes most modern sporting rifles.
Cheaper Than Dirt!’s goal is to maintain the level of service customers have come to expect.
Well… that won’t be hard.