REI Says Goodbye to Black Friday

Anna Otieno, Head of Research, Strategy & Insights

Carli Gernot, Content Development Specialist

What’s Up

REI announced plans to close all stores, distribution centers and headquarters on Black Friday. The consumer co-op and retailer is inviting everyone in the U.S. to “#OptOutside to reconnect with family and friends this Thanksgiving Holiday” as part of its larger ongoing campaign to encourage more outdoor recreation. On November 27th (Black Friday), the REI site will feature a black screen and a prompt suggesting that customers #OptOutside and enjoy themselves. And just as the largest specialty outdoor retailer has done in previous years, REI will pay its 12,000 employees as if its a regular workday so team members can enjoy the outdoors and spend time with loved ones.

What it Means

As “Christmas creep” causes the holiday shopping season to stretch out farther than ever before, standing out can become increasingly difficult for brands and retailers. Differentiation can come by way of pulling back on traditional holiday shopping norms and letting values drive. REI is aiming to stand out as a retailer which stands by its values — the co-op has been opting out of Black Friday sales for years and now the Black Friday boycott is permanent. We saw a similar move from Lush, when the beauty and personal care brand stepped back from all social media presence last year as a way to prioritize mental health. In the brand’s words, Lush was “logging off until social media is safe for all.”

REI is living out the values the business is built upon, focusing on caring for outdoors, and serving those who love the outdoors. It is also likely to appeal to the growing proportion of shoppers who actively seek to support brands that treat employees well. According to 2022 data from Qualtrics:

  • 57% said they are aware of the brand values of the products and services they purchase or use
  • 36% said they would likely stop purchasing from a brand if they felt disconnected from the company mission, values or stance on societal issues
  • 47% said they would trust a brand more if they took care of their employees

The lesson here is not to pull back from Black Friday — it wouldn’t necessarily make sense for other kinds of brands to reduce the opportunities for shoppers to find deals. REI’s choice to ditch Black Friday isn’t rejection of value. It’s the incorporation of the brand’s values into how REI defines them. The implication for business across industries is that it’s increasingly important to lead with the values of a company when it comes to marketing messages, sales campaigns, and modes of operation. Consumers are choosing to support businesses based on how they treat people — both customers and employees — and other criteria beyond price alone. Now’s the time for brands and retailers to find clear ways to communicate those values to shoppers and truly “walk the walk.”

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