Retailer REI gives Black Friday the boot with successful social campaign

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As the holiday season draws ever nearer, lots of things come to mind. Winter weather, cozy nights in, fun times with family and friends, and – last, but not least – shopping. It’s a seasonal ritual most of us eagerly look forward to and others totally dread, or at least leave off until the last minute. Like it or not, however, the chaos is upon us, and right after Thanksgiving dinner comes to an end, Black Friday gives the more ambitious among us a chance to seize on pre-season sales.

In 2003, after years of coming in as one of the busiest shopping days of the year, Black Friday took the lead and has kept its place nearly every year since. Although last year’s numbers showed a 7% decline in spending – down to just over $9 billion in-store – 86.9 million shoppers came out, and retailers have gone to great lengths to gain a competitive edge on them, opening at four or five in the morning or even at midnight on the 27th, at which point stores begin to be literally mobbed with people; it’s true – there’ve been 7 deaths and 98 shopping-related injuries on the day since 2006.

Some would say it’s gotten out of hand, and outdoor and sporting goods giant REI is doing something about it. In a very surprising turn of events – but one that fits the brand so perfectly – the company has decided to close all of its 143 stores on the Friday after Thanksgiving, complete with paid leave for all its employees, encouraging people to instead #OptOutside.

The brilliant campaign is sending shockwaves through the industry with its (in this day and age) truly revolutionary standpoint: instead of shopping, go enjoy nature with your family and friends on your day off. It’s genius because it speaks directly to their customers and broader audience, as well as to its employees and brand mission, and it says something beautiful. “Life is richer, more connected and complete when you choose to spend it outside,” REI company president and CEO Jerry Stritzke announced last week. “We’re closing our doors, paying our employees to get out there, and inviting America to OptOutside with us because we love great gear, but we are even more passionate about the experiences it unlocks.”

The message has definitely hit a chord. Just five days after the announcement, REI reports that almost 1.2 million people have already chosen to #OptOutside via their finely designed landing page Among the various sections of the site, users will find a countdown to the 27th, a smooth interface that reveals a curated list of hiking trails, and a user-generated area where people can share and create inspiration shots of Mother Nature and their own adventures.

“For 76 years, our co-op has been dedicated to one thing and one thing only: a life outdoors,” says Stritzke. “We believe that being outside makes our lives better. And Black Friday is the perfect time to remind ourselves of this essential truth.” But the company does more than encourage the enjoyment of the natural environment – it works to preserve it as well. This year alone, REI has given almost $6 million to over 300 nonprofits that manage and maintain outdoor spaces, and has invested 60 million in the outdoors overall. It’s that kind of consistent commitment that builds a bond and truly resonates with consumers, 30% of which say that “shared values” are a top reason for their loyalty to a brand.

The thing about REI, though, is that it’s not just a brand; it’s a lifestyle. Its customer base is fiercely loyal, thanks to a member co-op program (just $20 for a lifetime membership that includes a share of the business), exceptional and passionate customer service (from staff with the kind of first-hand expert knowledge that’s rare in retail), and the kind of content and experiences (in-store climbing walls and inspiring and informational online information) that keep people coming back for more.

By choosing passion over profit this Black Friday, REI is doing wonders to ingratiate itself with new audiences and position itself as the authentic, trustworthy, reliable brand fans have come to know and love. “We’re a different kind of company – and while the rest of the world is fighting it out in the aisles, we’ll be spending our day a little differently,” the message continues. “We’re choosing to opt outside, and want you to come with us.”

It’ll certainly be interesting to see how other retailers respond to the move, as will it be to watch the numbers come November 27th. Will 2015 see fewer shoppers out and about this Black Friday? Might REI’s end-of-year sales increase, despite missing a day of business? Only time will tell – and as for any die-hard shoppers out there, don’t worry: rei.com is always open.

Anastasia Dyakovskaya
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November 3, 2015
Anastasia Dyakovskaya

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