REI Closed on Black Friday: Altruism or Mere Marketing Ploy?

Candice Gaukel Andrews November 10, 2015 6
All 143 REI stores will be closed the day after Thanksgiving. The retail co-op wants to encourage all of us to forgo shopping on and spend time outside instead. Will you? ©John T. Andrews

All 143 REI stores will be closed the day after Thanksgiving. The retail co-op wants to encourage all of us to forgo shopping on that day and spend time outside instead. Will you? ©John T. Andrews

In recent decades, the day after Thanksgiving—known as “Black Friday”—has become the biggest shopping day of the year. Although no one seems to be able to say for sure how the phrase originated, some believe it stems from the notion that it’s the day retailers finally go into the black after being in the red almost all year. And, indeed, according to the National Retail Federation, 86.9 million of us shopped in stores or online on Black Friday 2014.

That’s why it came as a bit of a shock when the outdoor gear co-op REI recently announced that it will close all 143 of its stores on Black Friday this year, giving its approximately 12,000 employees a paid day off. In addition, REI launched a campaign on its website that encourages all of us to forgo shopping on Black Friday and spend time outside instead. With the hashtag OptOutside, you are asked to share what you’re doing outdoors on that day on social media.

The company says that its store closings are meant to quell the frenzied consumerism that has come to dominate our holidays. Critics, however, say it’s merely a marketing ploy to increase the stores’ sales.

But if the tactic does get more Americans to enjoy the outdoors for even one more day, does it matter if it also helps REI’s bottom line?

 Are the closings altruistic?

Last year, 86.9 million of us shopped on Black Friday. ©John T. Andrews

Last year, 86.9 million of us shopped on Black Friday. ©John T. Andrews

Not only will its physical stores close on Black Friday, but REI won’t process any online orders until Saturday, either. While in the past other retailers, such as Costco and Nordstrom, have refused to open on Thanksgiving, to date none have given up Black Friday. Although online shoppers will still be able to purchase items from REI the day after Thanksgiving, they will initially be directed to a blackout screen urging them to explore the outdoors. REI justifies the online sales capability by saying it’s easier to leave the website on than turning it off, and only a small handful of its 12,000 employees will be on call.

Some point out, however, that REI’s Black Friday move isn’t all that altruistic. They say that the company’s revenues are already significantly higher than those of its competitors. REI is in its second year of double-digit growth; it ended 2014 with $2.2 billion in sales—three times Patagonia’s revenue and $600 million more than L.L. Bean’s.

While REI will take a short-term financial hit by closing on Black Friday (historically, the day has been one of the company’s top-10 sales days of the year), the decision to close on that day will probably benefit it down the road. The response from the general public, media, professional athletes, REI members and employees has been overwhelmingly positive.

Too, as a co-op, REI is better able to handle a Black Friday closing because it doesn’t have to satisfy shareholders. In a cooperative, profits are treated as a surplus and are redistributed to members or reinvested in the business. REI’s members—more than 5.5 million of them—pay a one-time $20 fee to join. In return, they receive discounts on classes and trips the company offers, have access to a credit card that gives money back on spending and receive a dividend each year that’s equal to 10 percent of the purchases made on full-priced items. Last year, REI paid out $123 million in dividends, credits members must use within two years on REI merchandise.

The smack of a marketing stunt?

At the OptOutside campaign on the company’s website, can enter your zip code to find local hiking trails. ©John T. Andrews

At the OptOutside campaign on the company’s website, can enter your zip code to find local hiking trails. ©John T. Andrews

Feeding the criticism that REI’s Black Friday closings are merely a stunt to actually improve the company’s holiday sales by emphasizing its co-op status and do-goodism is the fact that on the same day the company made its announcement, it launched a new logo that includes the word co-op for the first time since 1983. And last year, it also rolled out an in-store line of apparel called REI Co-Op.

Some believe that an act is not altruistic if it helps you or serves your best interests in the long run. But isn’t that what altruism is: helping others in the hope that they may come to your aid or consider you kindly in the future?

Do you support REI’s day-after-Thanksgiving closings? Has the company inspired you to enjoy the outdoors rather than go shopping on Black Friday?

Here’s to finding your true places and natural habitats,

Candy

6 Comments »

  1. Samantha Overton April 16, 2016 at 1:11 pm - Reply

    I have made a personal commitment not to be a black Friday shopper for years. My sister worked in retail management for 20 + years and it always ruined thanksgiving because she would technically have the holiday off, but need to work late on the Wednesday before come in at 3 am on black Friday which blocked her from fully participating on Thursday and or just staying home due to anxiety of next day. REI definitely gets praises in my book.

  2. Jean Bjerke April 16, 2016 at 1:10 pm - Reply

    I think the motivation is a mix of both, but it is still a good move. The shopping/marketing phenomenon that Black Friday has become is out of control.

  3. Jacquelyn Baker April 16, 2016 at 1:10 pm - Reply

    I think whether or not they did it for attention, the outcome is positive. They probably did know that it would garner positive media attention, but regardless, it aligns with their brand and mission, and it’s got people talking about the fact that there important things than shopping (and missing family time and trampling someone’s grandmother in the process). Plus, I’ve already seen several other brands follow suit!

  4. Wally Elton April 16, 2016 at 12:12 pm - Reply

    Does it have to be one or the other? I like it regardless of what motivated the decision.

  5. Thomas Saywer April 16, 2016 at 12:12 pm - Reply

    “The company says that its store closings are meant to quell the frenzied consumerism that has come to dominate our holidays.” Ah,…… how refreshing-and how important is image for taking such a bold step? Huge! They have my respect……………

  6. Telecat November 15, 2015 at 7:20 pm - Reply

    If workers get a day off, who cares what the company’s motives are?

    Kick back and enjoy the day.

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