Are You Going to #OptOutside?

Last month REI announced that they will be closing on Black Friday. Since then, a number of other outdoor companies, including big names like Outdoor Research, have decided to close their doors on the most hyped shopping day in America. REI isn’t the first company ever to refuse to take part in Black Friday, but they might be the highest profile to do so (if getting outdoors just isn’t your thing, REI is one of the biggest names in the outdoor retail industry, bringing in over $2 billion last year). So why is REI closing on Black Friday?

REI’s website doesn’t really give a satisfying answer. According to the #OptOutside page, REI is closing all stores on Black Friday because, “REI Believes that being outside makes our lives better. That’s why this Black Friday, we’re closing all 143 of our stores and paying our employees to head outside.”

At first glance, this is easy to get behind. You think, “Oh, outdoors? Yeah, that makes sense.”, you get this warm, fuzzy feeling in your heart that makes you want to hug/shop at REI, and you go about your day thinking positive thoughts about the giant outdoor retail chain. But when you actually stop and think about it, that answer doesn’t seem to tell the whole story.

If you’re a business, it’s hard to close your doors on Black Friday and not have it mean something. However silly it may be, Black Friday is no longer just a day like any other day. It’s a day associated with shopping and spending money. To close your doors on Black Friday is to say, I do not support this craziness. The company isn’t explicitly saying that consumerism is bad, and you shouldn’t get wrapped up in buying things, but that’s the impression that you get.

Black Friday may not be the biggest spending day of the year, but it is one of the biggest, and it’s certainly the day shopping is an extreme sport that can lead to injury. REI’s decision to opt out of Black Friday definitely paints them in a positive light.

If REI were closing simply because they believe that “being outside makes our lives better”, they wouldn’t have chosen Black Friday. They could have chosen the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, and still have provided a 2-day holiday for their employees. They could have chosen November whatever, or the blank of December, but closing on Black Friday does more than promote getting outside.

REI is speaking out against the mayhem and silliness of Black Friday. The company wants its shoppers to spend the day outside with friends and family, rather than join in the bloody forays in the aisles and the parking lots. This is admirable. They’re by no means telling people not to shop, however.

Instead of doing a big sale or promotion on Black Friday, REI is running a 10 day-long online sale, that ends the Monday before Thanksgiving. And of course you can shop at their website any day of the year. Ecommerce makes it easier to take this stand.

Does that mean REI is lying? No. Does that mean that they are being hypocritical? No. Does it mean that REI is taking advantage of all the connotations that come with closing on a day dedicated to shopping? Yes indeed.

But that’s not a bad thing. This isn’t just a cheap publicity stunt. Not only are they missing out on an entire day of sales, but they are also giving their employees a paid vacation day. REI is closing doors at all 143 locations, and is paying 12,000 employees to get outside rather than go to work. They’re also closed on Thanksgiving day.

The company is doing a legitimately good thing. If they happen to receive admiration, and the reputation as a company that puts its own values and employees ahead of mindless consumerism, then so be it. If it turns out to be a good marketing move, so much the better.

Haden Interactive is going to  #OptOutside, too. How about you?

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