Spikes Tactical—a family-owned Florida business established the day before 9/11 with 40 employees—was informed in August that the Canada-based service it uses for on-line sales, Shopify, was adopting a new acceptable use policy that effectively bans sales of guns, parts and accessories.
The change came as a shock to retailers I contacted at the time, partly because Shopify CEO Tobi Lutke stated emphatically in his February 2017 article on Medium that, “I’m against exclusion of any kind—whether that’s restricting people from Muslim-majority nations from entering the US, or kicking merchants off our platform if they’re operating within the law….Commerce is a powerful, underestimated form of expression. We use it to cast a vote with every product we buy. It’s a direct expression of democracy. This is why our mission at Shopify is to protect that form of expression and make it better for everyone, not just for those we agree with.”
An Aug. 13, 2018, he had a change of heart, writing on a personal blog (which quotes from his now-deleted Medium story) that, “…we have found ourselves in a position of having to make our own decisions on some of these issues. And along the way we had to accept that neutrality is not a possibility.” Shortly after, the company’s acceptable use policy was modified, and gun businesses banned from Shopify—a company established in 2004 that in 2017 helped generate nearly $1 billion in website sales for more than 600,000 retailers, big and small.
Expensive to Move
Changing services is no simple process, though. Cole Leleux, general manager of Spikes Tactical—which has millions of dollars of sales through the Shopify service—explained, “We can export product out, but the code used in Shopify is called Liquid, which is proprietary...It will have to be completely redone.”
Leleux has already received estimates from web developers to rebuild that run from $30,000 to $70,000. That doesn’t reflect the expense of training staff, loss due to inevitable glitches, or the original investment to populate the Shopify store—a figure he estimates to be roughly $100,000. “Our company will be fine and will be able to just make another website, but some smaller gun shops may not have the funds to start over after investing in the platform,” he said.
Mikhail Orlov, CEO of 1800GunsAndAmmo.com said, “Words fail to describe the feelings we felt when told by Shopify that because of the types of products we sell they will no longer allow us to operate on their platform.” When asked about the financial setback he added, “It is hard to even put an estimate on cost of all the labor that went into creation of the original site. It’s tens of thousands of dollars, if not more. And now we have to start over.”
Four-year-old 1800GunsandAmmoalso, like Spikes Tactical, has an established brick-and-mortar store, which puts both in a better financial position to survive than many smaller companies with only Internet outlets.
Where Once There Were Exclusives
Rare Breed Firearms launched a new AR-15 lower for sale exclusively on Shopify only days before the August announcement. Company President Lawrence DeMonico estimates he’s spent $40,000 developing a Shopify presence over a three-year period. “Depending on how this policy is rolled out, this is a move that could put companies like ours out of business, and we will undoubtedly be looking to pursue legal options,” he said in a joint press release with Spikes Tactical.
Shopify notified vendors in violation of the new policy by e-mail and companies have until Dec. 31 to remove products or abandon the platform. I reached out to the company for comment and received a response from Beth M. explaining, “From time to time, Shopify reviews and amends the terms, conditions and policies governing the use of our platform. We have recently amended our Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) to restrict the sale of certain firearms and parts on our platform. A full list and revised version of our AUP can be found at https://www.shopify.com/legal/aup.”
“It definitely makes you think twice about the changing nature of the world we live in,” Orlov said. “But we will persevere,” he added, reflecting the attitude of every company I contacted. “We will keep pushing forward. Because we are ‘powered by Freedom.’”