Outdoor co-op retailer REI said that it’s reprising its successful #OptOutside campaign, shuttering all 149 of its stores on both Thanksgiving and Black Friday, processing no online sales and paying its 12,287 employees to take those days off and head outdoors instead.
This year, REI is partnering with more than 275 national and local organizations to invite millions of people to participate in the #OptOutside effort, and has launched a new web-based outdoor activity finder to help people reconnect with family and friends and find outdoorsy things to do.
REI dubbed its decision to close on Black Friday 2015 a “movement.” The effort prompted almost a million endorsements on social media when it was first announced, and an accompanying promotional campaign garnered advertising awards throughout last year.
REI shocked the retail world (and even itself) with the success of its #OptOutside campaign last year. The retailer closed on Black Friday and launched a social media campaign to encourage employees and customers alike to spend the day outdoors instead. The concept struck a chord with many in an era when many retailers are moving in the opposition direction, opening on Thanksgiving Day to launch the holiday season, and at least one rival, smaller, Seattle-based outdoor retailer Outdoor Research, followed suit.
At first, not even REI President and CEO Jerry Stritzke was sold on the idea of shuttering on Black Friday, widely seen as the most important sales day in retail. But the campaign proved to be an attention-grabbing success that generated more than 1.4 million hits on social media, with more than 175 organizations joining in and encouraging people to spend Black Friday outside. The retailer also saw online traffic spike 26% during the Black Friday holiday weekend.
“The moment we announced our decision last year, people who build their lives around the outdoors really embraced the idea of reclaiming Black Friday,” Stritzke said in a statement Monday. “It took on a life of its own and became about much more than REI. #OptOutside should be a platform for the nonprofits and public servants who are on the front lines of the outdoor community. They’re the ones who make the outdoors accessible for everyone. That’s why, from today onward, we’re going to lift them up as the official spokespeople for #OptOutside.”
To be sure, unlike other retailers, REI doesn’t have that much to lose in closing on the retail holiday. REI customers, generally speaking, aren’t likely to participate in a frenzy over hiking boots or even kayaks on Black Friday, the way many famously will at Wal-Mart for a big-screen HDTV. Still, making a point of opting out was a marketing coup that helped anyone participating — its customers, employees, and marketers — feel the kind of superiority that can only come from the zen of hiking rather than walking a mall.
In March, REI reported a whopping 9.3% increase in sales in 2015. Same-store sales grew 7%, year over year, and web sales grew 23%. The growth was mainly driven by new co-op membership sign ups and online sales. Membership grew by more than 1 million members last year, a record growth, reaching a total of more than 6 million members.
This story is part of our ongoing coverage of the 2016 holiday shopping season. You can browse our holiday page for more stories.