REI Takes Black Friday Off, Embodying Brand Message Of ‘Opt Outside’

It’s a bold move to stay closed on the biggest shopping day of the year. Will other retailers follow suit?

As countless retailers are gearing up their marketing efforts and prepping door busters for the biggest holiday shopping event of the year — Black Friday — one major chain is opting out: Outdoor goods emporium REI will close all 143 of its stores on the big day, encouraging its consumer base instead to “Opt Outside.”

And while about 20 percent of REI’s sales are made on its website, CNN reported, the retailer won’t try to lure online shoppers on Black Friday either. Customers will be able to place orders, but its homepage will try to divert buyers with a “cover screen” also encouraging them to participate in “Opt Outside” — explore the outdoors with family and friends — in lieu of shopping.Screen Shot 2015-10-28 at 12.11.20 PM

Other major stores, including Costco, Staples, and Nordstrom, have also begun to push back against the early-opening Black Friday circus, insisting that they would stay closed for all of Thanksgiving Day. But REI is the first to dare to take all of Black Friday off; others have thus far found the risk of lost revenue to be too great.

It might be tempting to view REI’s move as a merely a clever ploy for attention. After all, REI tends not to be an example on frenzied Black Friday newscasts showing a crush of shoppers pressing against its store entrances and madly grabbing at camping equipment.

But the company notes that decision does come with the significant potential for lost dollars, as Black Friday is historically one of REI’s biggest sales days of the year, a spokesperson from REI told GeoMarketing.

“We aren’t really looking at this with a short-term view,” the REI rep told us. “This is about celebrating and building a lifetime passion for the outdoors. It has, historically, been a big day for REI, but one of the benefits of being a co-op is that we plan and act long-range. [ed. note: the company operates as a co-op, with roughly 5.5 million members who pay a one-time fee for a share of the business. Members contribute to at least 80 percent of REI’s sales.] Our independence gives us the flexibility to do what’s right for the outdoor community. That’s what Opt Outside is all about.”

So far, the message seems to be carrying well. “It seems consistent with REI’s mission and ownership and does a great job making the organization’s values clear to their employees and customers,” said Zeynep Ton, a business professor at MIT, told The Atlantic. “Good for them for standing up for something.”

Building The Brand On Black Friday

Yes, it’s a feel-good effort all around, with REI promoting the theme of outdoor activity and family togetherness while still ensuring that its 12,000 employees get the day as a paid holiday. At the same time — not to be The Grinch — the move is not solely about doing the right thing; it’s a prudent brand marketing strategy.

As Black Friday has grown measurably in size — and door busters have moved earlier and earlier — some consumers have gotten exhausted, feeling that all of the shopping leaves little time for the reflection and family connection that the holiday season is supposed to represent. REI has a good chance to recoup good will and boost brand affinity amongst these consumers.

Additionally, REI’s members (who, remember, make up 80 percent of the brands sales) are likely to be the kind of people who would rather spend the holiday hiking with friends than running frantically through store aisles. Appealing to that demographic with a full day promoting outdoor fun over commerce shows shoppers that REI doesn’t just talk the talk; it embodies the message of adventure that it touts in order to sell products. Being seen as “authentic” and living according to its brand message may well help REI make up lost Black Friday in-store sales with new fans after the fact.

Will Other Stores Follow Suit?

Screen Shot 2015-10-28 at 12.10.18 PM
Consumers rush in the door on Black Friday

So, all in all, it seems like a win-win: The Black Friday craziness gets toned down, people spend time with their families and outdoors, and stores still reap the branding benefits and boost sales in the coming weeks. But will other retailers follow suit?

“This strategy could be potentially beneficial for non-department store retailers who are not focused on door buster type promotions to push foot traffic,” said Madeline Hurley, a retail analyst at IBISWorld. “While [retailers] may miss out on a day of year high sales, they could recover through Cyber Monday promotions. With almost 50 percent of overall holiday spending expected to be conducted online this year, many retailers are expected to put an increasing focus on their online sales channels — but only [when practical.]”

In other words, some retailers might follow REI’s lead, taking a break on Black Friday and potentially putting the focus on Cyber Monday instead. But don’t expect to see the Walmarts of the world closing down; there’s too much risk that their consumers might just run to a Best Buy or Target that chose to stay open instead.

Still, it’s quite likely a positive step for REI and brands of their ilk. Think about it: Wouldn’t it be nice to just take the whole post-turkey day off?

“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,” said Jerry Stritzke, president and CEO of REI, in a statement. “Please join us and inspire us with your experiences. We hope to engage millions of Americans and galvanize the outdoor community to get outside.”

About The Author
Lauryn Chamberlain Lauryn Chamberlain @laurynchamberla

Lauryn Chamberlain is the Associate Editor of A New York City based journalist, she specializes in stories related to retail, dining, hospitality, and travel.