Marketing Bootcamp

Holiday Cheer or Clever Marketing? REI Not So Suddenly Opts Out of Black Friday.

This post was updated with comments from REI on Oct. 27, 2015, at 4:46 p.m. ET.

Painfully early mornings. Obnoxiously long lines. Crazed customers. Pushing. Shoving. Screaming. People are getting fed up with Black Friday bedlam. REI, the world’s largest specialty outdoor retailer, has also had enough.  

In a show of sensitivity carefully plotted nine month ago, the $2.2 billion Seattle-based sporting goods co-op is officially opting out of the shopping madness the day after Thanksgiving this year. In a touching email dispatched to its 5.5 million co-op members yesterday, the company pledged to keep its doors closed on Nov. 27, the day when all hell breaks loose at malls across America, sometimes fatally.

That’s right: All 143 of REI’s retail locations, along with its headquarters and distribution centers, will not be open for business. The same goes for Thanksgiving Day, too. Nary a single REI online order will process either until Sat., Nov. 28. Gee willikers, Charlie Brown would be proud.

Related: REI Ditches Its Lifetime Warranty: Good or Bad Idea?

A spokesperson for REI told Entrepreneur that the company has closed its stores "for years" on Thanksgiving and that it launched its #OptOutside initiative simply to help people connect with others outside, in local parks, trails and elsewhere. "We absolutely want people to hear about #OptOutside," the spokesperson said, "because it is a direct extention of our mission, which is 'to inspire, educate and outfit for a lifetime of outdoor adventure and stewardship.' REI has been helping people get outside for 76 years and we are sparking a conversation about the benefits of living an outdoor life."

“We’re a different kind of company,” REI president CEO Jerry Stritzke said in the email, “and while the rest of the world is fighting it out in the aisles, we’ll be spending our day a little differently. We’re choosing to opt outside, and want you to come with us.” Nearly all 12,000 of REI’s employees will mandatorily opt out of participating in the annual retail frenzy. Instead, they’ll shake a leg in the Great Outdoors to “reconnect with family and friends…” (We’re sure none of them will Netflix and chill, lazily riding out the tryptophan crash, like we can’t wait to do.) Only a small skeleton crew will be on call.

“As a member-owned co-op, our definition of success goes beyond money,” Stritzke wrote in a widely distributed press release promoting the initiative. “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.”

Related: This Company Sold $180,000 Worth of Actual B.S. on Black Friday

Aw, how sweet. Reinforcing its brand identity and attracting countless eyeballs, REI is so full of thanks that it will nobly put its employees and their loved ones above its sales on the hottest retail day of the year. And you bet the marketing masters behind the slick move have the humble hashtag to prove it. #OptOutside is the name of the sticky social game and it’s catching fire fast on Twitter and Facebook, keeping pace with a steady gush of media coverage surrounding the company’s “shocking” jab at over-the-top Black Friday consumerism.

REI, which incidentally overhauled its logo only two days ago, is so proud of its heartfelt #OptOutside campaign that the landing page for its online store is entirely awash in it, strategic link to a specially dedicated #OptOuside web page prominently included. There’s even an animated countdown to its trending Black Friday snub. Thirty days and some odd hours and seconds to go, folks.  

Related: What Happened to the Real Black Friday?


But, before you strap on your snowshoes, skip the mall and skip with abandon into the wild yonder in a month and change, don’t forget to do REI one very important favor, would you? Please “Tell the world” precisely how you plan to opt out on Black Friday (“Hiking”? “Camping”? “Paddling”? “Snowshoeing”?). Shout it from the social mountaintops via REI’s handy dandy social media post auto-generator. That is after you “read, understand and unconditionally agree” to its legally binding social-media agreement, in which you will hereby grant the company to share your personalized #OptOutdoors humblebrags however it sees fit, even in its marketing materials in their many forms.

Related: How Retailers Shot Themselves in the Foot With Early Black Friday Deals

Should you take the “Tell the world” (free, user-generated advertising) plunge, keep in mind that you “grant to REI a nonexclusive, royalty-free, worldwide, perpetual, irrevocable and fully sublicensable license to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, distribute, perform and publicly display the Content you submit, in whole or in part, on REI’s social media accounts, on or in any digital platforms of REI (including websites, apps and e-mail), and on third-party websites and apps for any purpose, including for promotional and publicity purposes.” Ho, ho, ho. How’s that for the spirit of togetherness and non-consumerism at the holidays?

Related: U.S. Holiday Weekend Store Sales Fizzle

In related holiday shopping news, Staples recently announced that it will shutter all of its brick-and-mortar locations this Thanksgiving Day, yet another signal that retailers are cooling out on stretch holiday shopping hours. Or are they latching onto a clever marketing maneuver? “We want our customers and associates to enjoy Thanksgiving their own way,” a company statement reads. However, the sentence immediately following points out that Staples locations will still open at 6 a.m. on Black Friday.

Staples, which festively kicked off in-store holiday sales at 6 p.m. on turkey day last year, isn’t the only big-box retailer bucking the trend of gobbling up in-store sales on the national holiday this year. Lowe’s, GameStop and TJX -- the discount apparel and home goods retailer that owns T.J.Maxx, HomeGoods and Marshalls --  also won’t do business in stores on Thanksgiving. 

But of course not. They want you well fed and rested to shop ‘til you drop the next day, on what could be their most profitable day of the year, Black Friday.

Related: 10 Examples of Companies With Fantastic Cultures

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