For the third year in a row, REI has decided to opt out of what every other retail giant does after Thanksgiving by ditching Black Friday Deals. No waiting outside in the early hours of the morning and running through aisles grabbing at discounts. Instead, they are sticking with their #OptOutside campaign and encouraging people to spend time outdoors rather than shop.
A campaign that started as what many believed to be a publicity stunt has turned into part of the companies culture. Not only are they closed, but they pay their staff, even hourly employees, to take the day off. This year, they won't even be processing online orders on Friday. You may think they've proved their point and wonder if this is still all for show. A lot of Black Friday deals are for fun. Many don't even require you to leave from home or extend their sales to be part of the action without making consumers sacrifice sleep or family time. But there are a few hard facts that point REI as a representative of a part of society that has seen consumerism go far enough.
First things first, REI is not a publicly traded company. They operate as a Co-Op owned by over 6 million members. This allows them the freedom to choose not compete with other retailers on Black Friday without worrying about a big hit in sales. They are also resonating with a younger audience as the age of their members is consistently decreasing. Part of this has been the success of the #OptOutside campaign on Instagram. The hashtag that initially started as a one-day-project has since been used 6,044,244 times to date on Instagram, or just over 5,500 times a day on average since it was introduced. That's over 5,500 unpaid advertisements a day for the company. Amazingly, REI has beat out the hashtag #blackfriday which has 4,436,375 posts to date on Instagram.
CEO Jerry Stritzke told Fortune Magazine that "employees and customers would see through that" referring to it all being a marketing campaign. And he's right, it's become something people are passionate about. The business and culture of REI has even become a common case study for students to study in business school.
But what does this mean to you? The employee, student, and consumer? Well, like we said, if you're an REI employee it means a paid day off! For the rest of us it carries insight into what transparency within a company and where the market is trending. You can gain insight into what younger generations want from their employer and from whom they buy. As the line between personal and work life is fading, so is the line between consumerism and character. Desire for companies you are proud to be a part of is a mindset spreading into our holidays, home life, and how we spend not just our money, but our time. Sure, some of this is due to #OptOutside making you look cooler on Instagram than #blackfriday, but REI is doing something big that strikes a cord with many.
REI is taking of advantage of their freedom to lead with bold moves, but they are doing so with a good dose of altruism. As important as the bottom line is, it is equally important for consumers and companies to listen and lead together. A long term approach is proving to work out great for REI. While likely in a different market is does good to question if aspects of what they are doing could help your company too.