REI to Close on Black Friday, Encourages Shoppers to Spend Time Outside Instead

Come Nov. 27, the outdoor retailer will be shuttering all 143 stores and giving its 12,000 employees the day off, with pay.
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Maura Brannigan
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Come Nov. 27, the outdoor retailer will be shuttering all 143 stores and giving its 12,000 employees the day off, with pay.

As you've undoubtedly noticed, Black Friday is rife with big discounts for shoppers and typically generates lots of revenue for retailers. And while it still gets plenty of hype, a backlash of sorts against the blatant consumerism it encourages has emerged. As sales from the weekend continue to slide and retailers increasingly choose to spread their promotions out across several weeks, we wonder: How big is the payoff for those retailers forcing their workers into overnight shifts?

On Tuesday, REI announced that on Nov. 27 (Black Friday), it will close all 143 of its stores and give its 12,000 workers the day off, with pay. The company is encouraging its workers to take that day to do what they, as employees of REI, presumably love most: Spend time outside. That goes for shoppers to. It's launched the #OptOutside social media campaign, which consumers can participate in by heading outdoors and sharing their own photos with the hashtag, which will then automatically populate a user-generated gallery on REI's website. 

In a message to REI's customers, Jerry Stritzke, president and CEO of REI, wrote:

For 76 years, our co-op has been dedicated to one thing and one thing only: a life outdoors. We believe that being outside makes our lives better. And Black Friday is the perfect time to remind ourselves of this essential truth. 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. We’re choosing to opt outside, and want you to come with us.

While an impressive marketing ploy, the company's stunt is not without its financial risks: Black Friday has regularly been one of REI's top 10 sales days, according to Today — but Sucharita Mulpuru-Kodali, an analyst at Forrester Research specializing in retail, is confident that the company has no reason for monetary concern. "For a company like REI, it's absolutely fine," Mulpuru-Kodali told Fashionista over email. "It's interesting that the CEO actually gave interviews about it, because they're not quietly doing this. They're making a statement and associating it with their company's values, which is bold and unique. Maybe in actually making a big deal of it, they actually generate more loyalty in the long run."

Perhaps it's this very idea that has encouraged other retailers, both large and small, to take similar action. Everlane shuttered its operations on Black Friday in 2012 and 2013 — and in 2014 donated all of the day's profits to building a recreation center at one of their factories in Hangzhou, China. After years of opening up shop on Thanksgiving Day, a number of top retailers announced that this year they won't be opening until Friday morning, including Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, Burlington Coat Factory, Costco, Talbots, Dillard's, T.J. Maxx, Barnes & Noble, DSW and more. A Facebook pledge titled "Say No to Shopping on Thanksgiving," though created in 2013, has also been picking up steam with more than 65,000 "likes" to show for the movement.

So, are we moving toward a post-Black Friday retail society? Generally, no; unlike REI, many companies can't afford to — or in the case of the Kmarts and the Walmarts, don't want to — lose such a lucrative day of guaranteed sales. It's clear, though, that many other retailers fortunately no longer feel the need to keep employees and shoppers from eating their Thanksgiving turkey while it's still hot, without having to work (or shop) through the night.