REI, the Seattle-based outdoor recreation and sporting goods behemoth, recently announced that it is going to close for Black Friday (not a typo) and pay its 12,000 employees to go out and enjoy the great outdoors. As part of this #OptOutside campaign, REI is also encouraging other like-minded companies to join them in what they describe as a stand against the commercial madness that’s blighted the day after Thanksgiving for at least a decade and a half.
Of course, as an agency with a dedicated shopper marketing practice group, we would probably not advise a client to close on one of the busiest days of the shopping year. Especially a company like REI, one of the most powerful forces in outdoor retailing with over $2 billion in sales in 2014. But it’s also a member-owned cooperative (REI’s more than 5 million members pay a one-time fee and contribute some 80% of its sales). As such, according to President and CEO Jerry Stritzke, this new move aligns with REI’s mission that “being outside makes our lives better.” And given all the social media buzz this has generated, REI’s decision is being seen as an authentic, admirable expression of its brand – one that consumers can relate to and respect.
“Our definition of success goes beyond money. We believe that a life lived outdoors is a life well lived and we aspire to be stewards of our great outdoors,” said Stritzke in a statement. “We think that Black Friday has gotten out of hand and so we are choosing to invest in helping people get outside with loved ones this holiday season, over spending it in the aisles. Please join us and inspire us with your experiences. We hope to engage millions of Americans and galvanize the outdoor community to get outside.”
REI has set up an #OptOutside website which enables visitors to search for local hiking trails. The site also provides an opportunity for people to share their outdoor experiences with others.
For those wondering whether REI will shut down its e-commerce site on Black Friday, the company has announced it will display a black takeover screen encouraging customers to #OptOutside and shop another time.
While Black Friday is not as important to overall holiday sales as in the past, nearly 87 million people chose to shop on the day last year, according to the National Retail Federation. Black Friday was also one of the top 10 busiest days of the year for REI.
Wouldn’t it be nice if some other major American retailers followed suit and put their employees (and their brands) above the frenzied consumerist ritual where we descend upon shopping malls to accumulate more things we don’t need – just hours after celebrating a holiday created by our ancestors as an occasion to give thanks for what little they had?