While most retailers are pulling out all the stops to prepare for the biggest shopping day of the year – Black Friday — outdoor and recreation outfitter REI is preparing to shutter its doors the day after Thanksgiving. This is in stark contrast to other big retail players who plan to open their doors earlier than ever – including many who will open on Thanksgiving Day itself for the second or third year in a row.
REI President Jerry Stritzke will have none of that this year, he says. And in a bold stroke of marketing savvy that could cost the company short-term sales but has nonetheless earned the chain plenty of praise and publicity, he made the case for closing on Black Friday in a special announcement last week.
“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,” said Stritzke on the store’s website. “We’re choosing to opt outside, and want you to come with us.”
Opting Out of Black Friday Comes at a Cost
More than 87 million people hit the racks in search of Black Friday deals in 2014, notes the National Retail Federation, and the industry trade group expects overall holiday sales to tick up another 3.7% this year.
Last year, an improving economy and a slew of early sales and promotions drew shoppers into a holiday spending frenzy even earlier than in prior years, according to the NRF, and this year may be no different. According to Deal News, which publishes advertised and estimated opening hours for the biggest retailers, many stores – including Wal-Mart, JC Penney, Macy’s, and Target – will open their doors on Thanksgiving evening while most families are still digesting their turkey dinners.
Still, REI isn’t worried about lost revenue — despite the fact that Black Friday has been one of the store’s top-10 sales days in past years, according to CNN Money. Unlike publicly traded competitors such as Columbia Sports, which answer to shareholders, Recreational Equipment, Inc. is held as a consumer “co-op” — owned by a consortium of customers who pay a one-time fee in exchange for an annual dividend.
That vested customer base is responsible for 90% of the store’s sales, according to Stritzke and the company’s books. With loyalty like that, it’s no wonder REI isn’t worried about losing too many Black Friday dollars.
“This business centers [on] the outdoors,” Stritzke told CNN Money. “Thus, we can do something like close our doors on Black Friday, and we’ll have the membership that’ll think that’s cool.”
Closing on Black Friday: Start of a Trend?
While REI is encouraging its customers to spend Black Friday outdoors — and close to 800,000 of them have already pledged to do so — the trend at other retail giants still seems to be heading indoors.
Sears just decided to open on Thanksgiving Day for a second year in a row, CNBC reports, with plans to close for just three hours before opening again for Black Friday.
And while many retailers have taken a stand against opening for business on Thanksgiving Day itself – a practice many shoppers find horrendous – REI is the only big retailer to date who has announced its intention to stay closed on Black Friday as well.
With so many frantic shoppers to go around, it’s doubtful that other big chains will follow suit and close their doors on Black Friday. And really, why would they? As the National Retail Federation’s 2015 holiday spending survey recently revealed, consumers plan to spend more than $800 each this holiday season, with much of that up for grabs during the busiest holiday shopping weekend of the year.
The Bottom Line
Should REI be commended for their selflessness in this situation? Perhaps, and especially when you consider the fact that REI employees will enjoy a paid day off on Black Friday – instead of a day of hurried panic, frantic shelf-stocking, and unprecedented stress.
In a world where the almighty dollar is everything and retail workers are required to work longer and worse hours over the holidays with each passing year, REI’s Black Friday decision is a fresh breath of air.
It’s too early to tell what REI will gain or lose by closing on the busiest shopping day of the year, but at least they’re standing behind their principles. And hopefully, employees at REI’s 143 stores will heed their CEO’s advice and head outdoors instead of spending the day at the local mall like nearly everyone else.
And remember, there are plenty of ways to save money on Black Friday that don’t involve shopping anyway.
If you want to get involved and spend Black Friday outdoors instead of in a stuffy, crowded mall, REI encourages you to get outdoors and share your experience with the world with their #optoutside hashtag campaign. Visit REI’s Opt Outside page, upload or share a photo of your planned experience, and share it on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or Instagram. Or just share a photo on social media yourself with the hashtag #optoutside.
Do you plan to shop on Black Friday? What do you think about REI closing its doors on Black Friday?