REI will once again pull the shutters on Black Friday, marking the fourth year of the retailer's #OptOutside program, according to a press release emailed to Retail Dive.
While shoppers flock to their favorite stores, REI will close all 153 of its locations and process no online payments, encouraging more than 12,000 employees to enjoy the day by spending time outdoors rather than behind a cash register.
As with last year, this iteration features a new element from previous years: The outdoor retailer is pledging $1 million to help launch a new research initiative at the University of Washington which would study the link between human health and the amount of time they spend outdoors, according to the release.
REI closing its doors on Black Friday has become an expected, if not quintessential, event for the company. While many retailers have made the move toward closing on Thanksgiving, Black Friday remains an enormously popular shopping event and one that not many retailers are willing to ignore entirely.
Nevertheless, REI has closed every year since 2015 and doesn't seem to suffer from the lack of sales. Last year, the company launched a social search engine with the #OptOutside campaign, encouraging customers to post photos of them and their families enjoying a hike or otherwise spending time outside during the record-breaking sales day. The brand's attempts to interact with both its own shoppers and other outdoor enthusiasts appeared to pay off, with the retailer driving a 14% increase in brand awareness and 3.6 times the foot traffic as a result.
Part of the reason REI's strategy has been so successful over the years is that it stays true to the brand, which in addition to enforcing sustainability standards for its vendors and supporting rewilding initiatives, even offers hiking and camping trips for customers (and others). Not every retailer has a compelling reason to close on Black Friday, and many actually have a good reason to stay open — including Macy's, which plans to open even earlier than Black Friday (5 p.m. Thanksgiving day).
This year, however, REI has shifted its focus slightly. In the past, the retailer has encouraged traditional Black Friday shoppers to head outdoors to spend quality time with family and friends, but this year the retailer is stressing health more than in the past, especially with the promise of a $1 million donation to research.
"The best data we have says that, in any given year, 150 million Americans don't spend any time outside. That's half the country. Day in, day out, we're looking down instead of up, looking at our phones instead of the world around us," REI CEO Jerry Stritzke said in a statement. "We're asking people this year to reevaluate that picture of themselves. To see technology as the starting point to a journey outside, not the destination. And to go explore the world with someone they love — on Black Friday and every day."