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REI Ousts Consumerism in Favor of the Outdoors This Black Friday

Black Friday is a tradition that began in 1924 and has only grown in popularity as years have passed. It is called “Black” Friday because the amount of shopping that occurs usually draws companies out of the “red” (a.k.a. debt) and into the “black” (a profitable quarter). This year’s holiday spending is projected to see a 3.7% increase in sales. By such standards, it is natural to assume that Black Friday and its spillover into Thanksgiving is not only here to stay, but will continue to grow as the years pass. Or will it?

Recreational Equipment Incorporated, or REI as it is more colloquially known, is not opening any of its 143 stores this Thanksgiving or Black Friday. Instead, REI is paying its 12,000 employees to opt outside (as in, the outdoors) and is encouraging their customers to do the same.

The reason behind REI’s decision to opt out is explained in a public letter by the President and CEO, Jerry Stritzke: “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.”

In terms of publicity, this strategy has been praised by many, particularly its very loyal customer base. REI’s mission is “to inspire, educate and outfit for a lifetime of outdoor adventure and stewardship.” REI’s decision to opt out of Black Friday shows the authenticity of their mission in practice, something that many corporations fail to actively fulfill.

Furthermore, many consumers are becoming more and more socially conscious of the actions of corporations. Thus, this display of authenticity and social kindness towards employees may have a very positive impact for REI in the long run.

Despite the possible image boosters that may result from this decision, it is natural to assume that REI could face the possibility of profit loss from this decision. However, this will likely not be the case.

For one, REI is offering exceptional deals (30-50% off) for regularly priced items both before and after Thanksgiving. Essentially, they are spreading out the deals one would find on Black Friday over a multi-day period. Moreover, REI’s online store will still be operating through a skeleton crew of employees. As seen during the holidays and throughout the rest of the year, online shopping is becoming a more favorable means of shopping, so REI could break even with their sales by forcing consumers to shop through their website.

More specifically, REI’s business model reduces any monetary risks associated with opting out of Black Friday. For $20, anyone can become a member of REI’s co-op membership program. Many benefits are tied to such membership, including savings on certain services, select ski resort discounts and a 10% member dividend. Ultimately, these incentives help make the membership REI’s most consistent and profitable source of income with members contributing to about 80% of its sales.

Additionally, the end of November is not even REI’s most profitable time of the year–the spring is. The circumstances surrounding REI’s business model mitigate the risk to a such a minimal level that participating in Black Friday seems like the more detrimental choice.

Although REI is the only major player to completely opt-out of Black Friday, other companies are opting out of opening on Thanksgiving. Gamestop and Staples are two companies that will remain closed on Thanksgiving, but will be open on Black Friday. The reasoning for each company is that it is not profitable enough for them to be open on Thanksgiving.

Moreover, the retail stores TJ Maxx, Nordstrom and Marshall’s will remain closed on Thanksgiving, but it is important to note that each these companies have underperformed in the third quarter. Therefore, their decision to opt-out of Thanksgiving could be a detrimental decision in terms of profits, but perhaps positive public reception of their stance can make up for any loss they face.

The future of Black Friday and its spillover into Thanksgiving is ultimately in the hands of consumers. Perhaps in several years, we will finally see a clear division between the day meant for gratefulness and consumption of food and the day intended for profits and materialistic consumption.



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