On Black Friday shoppers across America will run for the malls while REI employees run for the hills.
In a much bally-hoo’d announcement this fall, REI placed core values ahead of core retail expectations. By closing its stores on Black Friday, REI didn’t just thumb its nose at Thanksgiving Day retail creep, it effectively stuck its hiking pole in a place where consumer demands don’t shine. Sideways.
REI’s decision was a call to action—go outside.
The decision to lock the doors on November 27th is more than a YoutTube video on “REI’s Day Off.” It’s actually a clever and strategically sophisticated effort to engage and build followers and solidify its brand as the preeminent outfitter for outdoor discovery.
Since the announcement, REI has launched a multi-channel effort to encourage people to also take Black Friday off with the #optoutside hash tag campaign. (Figure 1) On Twitter, it bought market-targeted tweets with countdown clocks to Black Friday and sent out replies to its followers with a link to the hiking trails near them. During Thanksgiving week, it bought full-page newspaper ads and on Facebook it encouraged followers to post their outdoor plans—it received more than a million engagements.
At the heart of the strategy for REI is brand building. In a retail environment where consumers can buy anything through Amazon and where outfitters such as Cabelas are aggressively opening new stores, REI has to fight to maintain market share. Even discounters such as Walmart and Target are threats with their sporting departments and growing online offerings.
By staking its claim against Black Friday, REI is hoping to reposition itself in the mind of the consumer. It’s strategically telling outdoor enthusiasts that REI is the only brand that cares not just about the outdoors, but also about its employees and customers and therefore occupies a coveted spot in the upper left hand corner of my branding typology in figure 2. That’s a strong brand position to stake because it gives both authenticity and credibility to REI’s #optoutside call to action. It’s about empowerment in much the same way that Nike urges its followers to “Just Do It.”
Granted, REI is a different kind of business model. It’s a co-op owned by members such as myself and not Wall Street investors. It’s a community. But like all retailers it does face the same economic pressures of growth and stability. Still, REI is betting that whatever sales it loses on Black Friday it will gain in brand identification and loyalty. That builds an exponentially more sustainable consumer relationship than by opening its doors a bit earlier on Black Friday—or opening them at all.
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