In Depth

What’s Behind REI’s Black Friday Boycott?

Though Cyber Monday and a perennially longer holiday shopping season have siphoned some of the traditional hype away from Black Friday, there are still plenty of shoppers who cut coupons and camp out for deals the day after Thanksgiving. However, the number of retailers planning on opening their doors early Friday morning is starting to dwindle.

Outdoor outfitter REI made waves on social media this week when it announced that it would be closing all 143 stores across the country on Black Friday and giving employees a paid day off. Jerry Stritzke, president and CEO of REI, called urged employees and would-be shoppers alike to take a page from the retailer’s product catalog and enjoy the great outdoors instead of waking up at the crack of dawn on November 27.

“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,” Stritzke said in a statement. “We’re choosing to opt outside, and want you to come with us.”

The move is a bold one given that REI is already planning on closing for the Thanksgiving holiday as well. In fact, Fortune explained that almost two dozen high-profile retailers like GameStop, Nordstrom, T.J. Maxx and Staples are all closing up shop for Turkey Day.

Why the sudden outpouring of retailers concerned over shoppers and employees tearing themselves away from holiday dinners to line up early? It’s not as if the well has run dry on consumers’ enthusiasm for Black Friday, as the National Retail Federation reported that Thanksgiving and the day after accounted for $50.8 billion in revenue. Shoppers weren’t sitting at their computers, either – the NRF estimated that Black Friday deal chasers made 233.3 million individual trips to stores.

Those numbers might be down from years past, but that’s hardly a reason for retailers to close for Black Friday and turn their backs on what money is still to be had. However, this dogged pursuit of higher sales and increased foot traffic during the holiday shopping season isn’t necessarily the defining philosophy at REI, the Washington Post explained.

Instead of operating as a privately held or publicly traded company, REI is one of some 40,000 retail co-ops in the U.S. that is collectively owned by “members” – employees and partners who pay a one-time fee and receive redistributed revenue when excesses occur. REI just happens to be the largest consumer-facing co-op in the country, and Ben Steele, chief creative officer at REI, told the Washington Post that the decision to close for Black Friday was made partly out of marketing aims.

“A lot of people know we are a co-op, but don’t know what that means,” Steele said. “We really wanted, in this moment in time, to have something that emphasizes how this organization is different.”

Steele and REI aren’t just flapping their gums about proving they’re different. Lost in the announcement to close stores on Black Friday, REI also released a new logo that prominently features the word “Co-Op” alongside traditional branding. According to the Washington Post, the word was last seen on an REI logo back in 1983.

So is REI’s news strategy paying off? Erbin Crowell, executive director for the Neighboring Food Co-op Association , told the Washington Post that the overwhelmingly positive responses on REI’s Facebook page signal a big win for the retailer.

“Even if an observer called it a marketing strategy, it’s a really intriguing one that points to the fundamental difference between co-ops and traditional public corporations,” Crowell said. “Clearly they’re seeing their social purpose, their cooperative structure, has value again, and it’s something they want to lift up and share.”

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