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 "A customer looks through the in-store sales advertisements inside a Cabela's store on the shopping day dubbed ''Black Friday'' in Fort Worth, Texas November 27, 2009." (Courtesy Reuters/Jessica Rinaldi)

TTAG’s Armed Intelligentsia assume we’re monitored by the NSA. Dunno. This much we do know: the private sector is collecting the kind of consumer-specific data on gun owners that the NSA would kill for. Not literally. At this point. “[Cabela’s] data collection begins as customers, whether in-store, online or from one of the more than 100 catalogs the company publishes each year, are lured into joining Cabela’s Club Rewards loyalty program or sign up for its Club Rewards Visa card,” reports. “Customers are prompted to use accumulated points at checkout, creating a positive feedback loop.” And a consumer profile to die for. Not literally. At this point. In the words of the great Montell Jordan, this is how they do it . . .

Online, meanwhile, Cabela’s has examined how the order in which customers place items in their basket influences the probability of purchase, Tanner said. A customer that begins a basket with a hunting call that attracts predators like coyote, for instance, suggests a specific kind of hunt. The customer will then be prompted to buy lightweight camouflage that can be worn year-round (as opposed to camouflage for deer hunting, which is only done in the winter) or a spotlight with a red filter that helps hunters spot coyotes at night.

And every time a consumer responds to a prompt, their Cabela’s profile gets more and more complex, specific and actionable. And, of course, profitable.

Cabela’s ability to seemingly know what its customers want at all times has helped the company become “central to their lifestyle,” said Mark Mulholland, manager of the $630 million Matthew 25 fund. Mulholland began buying shares at around $6 per share in late 2008 – giving him an approximately 1,000 percent return since – and has added to his position in the last 30 days, in anticipation that the company’s share price will continue to see percentage growth in the mid-teens for the next several years. The company makes up the second-largest position in his fund, behind Apple Inc.

So buy Cabela’s stock before or after (but not during) a coyote-killing expedition. Meanwhile, here’s a question . . .

How would Cabela’s corporate stewards react when if the NSA, FBI, ATF or some rep from a federal alphabet agency showed-up at Cabela’s corporate HQ with a request for a consumer data dump? Or is that post-equine egress barn door closing? Is it too late to worry about gun owners’ privacy?

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  1. I am a database guy and one of my previous gigs involved building eletronic marketing databases, in my case for some major sports franchises. You have no idea…

    Everybody is doing it. No news, here. Move along.

    • +1

      TTAG folks: you think it’s a coincidence your local grocery store is offering you coupons for BBQ sauce and dry rub on Fridays? Your pre-weekend steak and beer purchases are data points on your card.

    • Agree. I worked for what is now Experian in the late 80s and early 90s. This is old news for anyone who pays attention.

      Given the amount of leverage the G has over private enterprise (see: IRS audit abuse, Gibson guitar raid, etc, etc) I find it unlikely that Cabela’s or anyone like them would be able to mount more than a cursory defense. This isn’t to put blame on them, it’s just reality. It’s what happens when the government and its regulatory agencies gain so much power.

    • I don’t give a **** about companies I voluntarily interact with trying to cater to me. What does bother me is the government recording who I’m talking to, when I’m talking to them, and saving my Skype calls.

      If I don’t like Cabela’s I can tell them to take a hike. Try doing that to the government and you’ll wind up in cuffs or dead.

    • Just think, the NSA and other alphabet soup agencies sniff your data stream and have it to. Tell the NSA, DHS, et al. to move along.

    • +2. I dont care if Cabelas knows what I like – just like I dont care if Amazon uses my book purchases to sell me more- they are using it in-house to better serve me.

      Google, Fakebook- thats another story. They intrude and lie about it.

      NSA. Yeah, too late- but by the time they get to this small slightly bent nail sticking a small way out of the wood, theres gonna have been a lot more hammering going on.

  2. “How would Cabela’s corporate stewards react…”

    Roll over like a scolded puppy, is my guess.

    Props for the Montel Jordan video. I had to take a 4 minute break back to just after graduation.

  3. As Nick says, everyone has been doing this for at least ten years. It’s called cross selling. This isn’t news. Data is golden.

    • It’s news regardless of whether it’s “new” or not. It’s specifically NEWS because 95% of Americans, don’t know, or care. That’s because they haven’t been showed WHY they should care.

      It’s just like sheeple saying, “I don’ dew nuthin’ wrong! Why should I care?”


  4. I’d be willing to wager that the alphabet soup gang has already tapped Cabela’s…
    That said, they now know that i like a couple of interesting calibers.

  5. Yes, we are known. But our numbers protect us. The gun grabbers run that lie that gun ownership is declining and restricted to a dwindling number of OFWGs. The alphabet agencies know this to be a lie. They know that we’re growing and that the guns are everywhere. Why else would barry and double biden joe be having conniptions and trying to dent the numbers?

    • @ jwm
      Absolutely agree.

      But don’t get too comfortable.

      This gun grabbing crap will continue forever, and data mining will become more prominent in their efforts to subvert gun ownership and try to intimidate gun owners.

      • Roscoe and WB. Agree 100%. I’ve been in this fight since 68 and plan on passing it on to my grandkids. The bad guys never take a break.

    • Every one of us hopes you’re correct. I think it’s true, but there’s nothing you know that they don’t know. Their strength is on the bubble a bit; we can’t relax for one minute.

  6. You mean like this?:

    Look, this whole “monetizing the intertube” thing is a toughie. Here’s some interesting data: 14.7% of firearm sales are online, and have profit margins 50% greater than brick and mortar FFLs (NSSF study). So guess what is going to happen?

    Firearm sales will move to occur more and more online, and buyers will be less and less exposed to fine people like TTAGers to impart, even in passing, the ethical, legal, etc., etc. responsibility of gun ownership.

    You all know that the culture of the firearm community is an honorable one. And if you get to bypass it, never interact with it? What then? Is that a good thing?

    Not that they’ll be chaos. I just think it’s worse if firearms are owned in isolation from resources that inculcate newbies into the full spectrum of goodness that goes with ownership.

    So, as I talk to VCs — and in the SF Bay Area, that means hoplophobes, universally — I give them this pitch in one form or another:

    The idea is to get goodness to the current firearm-owning community, just as TTAG does now; and regularize exposure and training. And, of course, consumption.

    Unlike Cabelas, the GA method directs discounts and treats related to content being viewed. At least: It will. If I can convince VCs to get with the program.

    As to marketing, generally: Marketers pretty much know all about we knuckle-draggers. The marketing trick is to get someone to ACT (e.g.: actually buy something) when they are thinking of doing so in the first place.

    Good or bad? I bet on good. Now I get to see.

  7. Meh…

    Whenever you order online, you’re creating a paper trail. There’s always invoices or order history. The ATF doesn’t have the manpower to do anything like a database and maintain it. Look at NFA items they are struggling to approve in a timely matter, then compare that to how many gun purchases a day.

  8. Private data-gathering for marketing purposes makes the NSA data dragnet look primitive by comparison. And when the NSA and other agencies want that private data, they’ll either subpoena it or hack it.

    Privacy is dead.

    • With all due respect, Ralph: The NSA’s data collection makes any private marketing effort look primitive.

      The NSA is and has been grafting all data at the router level, and has been for many years:

      I don’t like it, but it’s what is happening.

      How is the now-possible-to-store data used? Why, to justify issuance of a FISA Court order to examine data held should any individual’s online profile match up with algorithmically-procured “person of interest” behavior.

      Troubling, but a touch more sophisticated than Cabela’s.

    • As a guy who has written code that is in routers all over “the intarwebz”, no, they don’t.

      The NSA is operating at a level that is so far beyond the imagination of people who aren’t networking nerds that it isn’t funny. The reason why the clowns in Congress don’t know what is going on is because when a guy like me starts describing what is actually occurring in these data capture/storage operations, the people in Congress (who are, by and large, lawyers) check out. Their eyes roll back in their heads, they start twitching and jerking, and they can’t wait to get out of the briefing and back to getting drunk, molesting their interns and wiping their plump buttocks with the Constitution.

      You want the truth? You’re going to have to start electing some engineers to Congress. That means the American public will need to dispense with their need to have sunshine blown up their nethers every day, because the truth in this matter is a pretty ugly thing.

      • Care to elaborate a bit here? Or link?

        Those who value 2A rights tend to be most likely to support others and Privacy too.

  9. As I drive around, I notice new Cabela’s stores going up along interstates all over the west. Drove past two in Colorado on I-25.

    I have buddies who have or currently work for Cabela’s in their gun departments. They’re quite the bunch of gun traders. They’ll take in most anything but a Lorcin and put a price on it. It’s a good place for me to lurch on their interweb thingie and wait for nicer double guns to show up for sale.

    The nice (really nice) thing about Cabela’s is that they’ll send any gun that is in any of their gun libraries across the US to a store of your choosing for $25. You’re under no obligation to buy the gun when it gets there. You can then inspect it and do what you will. For me, this is a huge upside, because getting a number of nice guns sent to the store closest to me saves me a year’s worth of driving to go see guns.

    I reckon that it’ll be a long time before a store shows up here in Wyoming, tho.

    • Hmmm, double guns. Yes Sir, I check their web sight daily for one.
      Each day that passes without one in my safe is a sad day.
      Still in search for a .416 SxS…

      • Hope you’ve got a lot of $$$ saved up! I’d love a double rifle, but a Safari-grade Win 70 .458 Mag is a whole lot closer to reality.

      • When I say “double gun,” I mean “shotgun.”

        When I mean a side-by-side rifle, I’ll say “double rifle.”

  10. Re: How would Cabela’s corporate stewards react when if the NSA, FBI, ATF or some rep from a federal alphabet agency showed-up at Cabela’s corporate HQ with a request for a consumer data dump?

    Well…the counter guys at my local Cabela’s may see to fall more in line with most of the readership here, but I don’t know about how their corporate cheiftains would. I think they’d probably just roll over and not have to deal with the hassle. Keep guns for hunting at all.

    I like the selection of inventory my local store has (even though they want way too much for most of it), but I’ve never done any online shopping – the firewalls where I work are strange (I can come to this blog, but I can’t go to ARFCOM or glocktalk and the like, don’t get me started on what they do for car forums), and I live so close to the store, like 10 miles, so going online isn’t worth it.

  11. Self defense tip of the day: Pay Cash.

    And tell them to FO when they ask you for your phone number (yea, that means you Bass Pro Shop).

    • This. Cabelas and Bass Pro both ask me. I just say I’d rather not.

      And the Cabelas Club thing? Just don’t do it.

      • The nearest Cabelas is about 150 miles for me, Bass Pro is about 25.

        The worst is Best Buy. I paid cash for a Blue Ray player a couple years ago and it wouldn’t work with my DVDs so I took it back a couple days later, with the receipt. She asked to see my driver’s license and like an idiot I took it out to show her and she snatched it right out of my hand and swiped it. I’ll never shop at Best Buy again. Ever.

        • Oh yeah, they did the same to me too.

          I asked her if she was sending it to the NSA, she laughed.

          I returned it because I realized the item was overpriced.

          Best Buy’s days are numbered, they will go the way of Circuit City and CompUSA pretty soon.

    • When I refused to give my phone# to Cabelas cashier in Indiana she refused to sell me the last two boxes of small pistol primers they had on shelves. Claimed it is the law. Now I’m not from Indiana, but I had doubts local law forbids selling components to people with no phone service so I asked to see her manager. When I said I never had this problem in Illinois and my FOID card was always enough she changed her mind and released the merchandise. The guy behind me in line adviced me: “Next time just make some number up.”

      • I used to use an old number I used to have – quicker and easier that way – but personally it really irritates me that they are so intrusive and I figure if nobody tells them off they’ll never figure it out. So in a way I figure I’m helping them out.

        Although my wife works in retail, and I think every single customer could tell off the clerk and the higher ups still wouldn’t get the message. Business majors aren’t the brightest lot.

  12. Sigh. I admit to actually visiting one of their stores anytime I travel into their area… So freaking nice for a gun guy. I don’t think we’ll ever have the economy or people to justify one in New Mexico, but a guy can dream.

    I know I surrender privacy when I shop online at Cabela’s or on Amazon, but (particularly with the later), the more they know about me, the more likely their suggestions nail it. I will never have time to actually browse every book published – who would? – but I frequently buy from their suggestions. It is a tradeoff, certainly, but one I am making with eyes wide open.

  13. They’re kind of overpriced, and don’t usually have all the latest and greatest toys that are on all the YouTube channels. Plus, with their popularity, they were out of absolutely everything during gunpocalypse.

    I do like their selection of outdoor cooking implements though.

    • I think it depends on the market area. My cabela’s has an entire “Cabela’s Tactical” section with rows of different ARs in 5.5.6 and .308, and shotguns that feature all the tacitcool stuff. They also have most of the Magpul goodies in stock, and a decent ammo selection. I agree on the overpriced side though.

  14. Shop at a real store, not online. Pay cash. Lie when they ask for your name and/or phone #. Buy your guns at your FLGS, which does not have a huge database that would be attractive to the feds.

    • I bought a Xxxxxx model 000 from a small dealer off of Gun Broker. Paid with a Walmart money order and had it shipped to a local FFL who runs his business out of his house. And since I have a CCW there’s no NICS check. That’s probably about as anonymous as you can get.

  15. To parrot everybody else… meh. Corporations have been tracking data for a while. Go read about how Target predicted that a 16 year old girl would get pregnant based on her shopping history. Here’s the deal- if you don’t like it, don’t buy online. But, people are tracking pretty much everything you do at almost every moment in public or online. Most of the time, it isn’t malicious, and generally, you’re too boring to really stand out to anybody bad.

    Sure, the NSA/CIA/DIA/FBI/ATF/ETC might follow what you’re doing, but they probably don’t really care. I’d be really surprised if some midlevel bureaucrat hit the panic button because “that guy who runs the gun blog bought another gun and blogged about it.”

    Same goes for ammo purchases. “The guy who buys ammo regularly bought more ammo” is not interesting from a data analysis standpoint. What would be interesting is, “The guy who has bought ammo every week for the last five years suddenly stopped, despite the fact that there is ammo available.”

  16. 1% store credit for all purchases. how’d you think i got such a nice collection? Thanks cabelas. NSA come and take it. put that in your database.

  17. The IRS should start their own Credit Card then give loyalty point for paying taxes on time. Also, give loyalty points for registering their guns, knives, ammo and any other items used in a violent crime.

  18. if i’m correct (as i have no personal knowledge of this) cabela’s has wonderful customer service.
    let’s take that and do some extrapolation.
    a customer service rep must have knowledge of the product and, preferably, faith. if he is knowledgeable of (and/or have faith in) the product, then he likely has experience with the product,or at least the field in which the product is used. which means he is likely of the associated culture (i.e. sportsmen/outdoorsmen).

    assuming that cabela’s personnel are at least somewhat consistent means a fair number of the people who have access to cabela’s servers are also sportsmen.
    and sportsmen have an unusually high chance of being both ornery and honorable.

    but only one has to be ornery and honorable enough to accidentally drop his high powered magnet collection all over the server room.

  19. All the major retailers do this, and it’s frightening how they build their customer profiles. There was a story a few years ago about Target where a man went to his local target furious that they were sending baby item coupons to his teen aged daughter, turned out their computers ID’ed her as an expectant mom before her father got the news.

  20. Fifteen years ago or so I worked for a company that granted me access to First Data Resources (FDR). With it I could look at every credit card or store card purchase a person made, when it was bought, where. . . I could also see every address they had ever lived at, or had utilities in their name at, every car they had ever registered, their phone numbers (every one ever in their name), magazine subscriptions, even where they ordered pizza delivered to. I could see a family tree of their parents, children and extended family, and call up all this info on any of those people as well. We used it to facilitate collection of unpaid debts and or repossessions.
    Keep in mind this was for civilians with no security clearance and existed in a time before the average person had internet. I cannot even fathom the level of information available about the average person now.

  21. Dont like it dont buy it. Simple as that. Btw i ingnore all suggestions. Only i know what i want unless it is the wife on top…

  22. Chances are they already hacked what they wanted. Sort of like asking permission after the cow is already on the truck and down the road.

  23. I have the Cabela’s credit card. It is the only credit card we have. We pay it off in full each month. All the points I accumulate turn into real money I spend at the store for free stuff. It is a no fee card.

    If they make suggestions based on what you put in your cart it is up to you to purchase the items suggested. They are not forcing items upon you.

    If they adjust their inventory or coupons based on real world data they gather, offer suggestions based on purchasing habits, expand their marketing areas based on phone numbers or zip codes of shoppers, add stores based on the zip codes and phone numbers… aren’t consumers helped as well as the stores?


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