REI declares war on Black Friday with #OptOutside push

REI is committing the ultimate retail sin: It’s closing on Black Friday.

The upscale outdoor gear company said Tuesday the doors will be locked at all 143 stores on one of the busiest shopping days of the year so that its 12,000 employees, who will still be paid that day, “can do what they love most — be outside,” a release said. This is the first time REI has done this.

REI is advertising the day off as #OptOuside, encouraging its employees and shoppers to actually spend time with family and friends instead of at the mall. The retailer is promoting the day with a special website and a social media campaign with the hashtag with pictures proving they’re outside.

Black Friday has ballooned into a shopping spectacle over the past decade, with the holiday starting earlier on Thanksgiving. Exciting shoppers with so-called doorbuster deals and tantalizing circulars, sales across the weekend from Thursday to Sunday totaled $50.9 billion last year.

Yet, the shopping extravaganza has become a “window into America’s class divide, in which high earners have benefited from a booming stock market and rising home prices as many others still grapple with stagnant incomes and lingering financial anxiety,” writes the Los Angeles Times.

Of course, the types of people busting down doors at Walmart are probably not those REI often caters to. It’s no surprise that REI is already winning plenty of plaudits with the social push. Topsy has measured more than 3,000 tweets with the #OptOutside hashtag within the past day, with 70 percent of the sentiment being positive. One customer called the brand “amazing,” and another tweeted at REI saying it now has a “fan for life!”

Online, REI’s website will continue to process orders, but its homepage will have a “cover screen” pointing shoppers to the #OptOutside campaign.

“We think that Black Friday has gotten out of hand and so we are choosing to invest in helping people get outside with loved ones this holiday season, over spending it in the aisle,” wrote CEO Jerry Stritzke.

Shuttering the doors on Black Friday is a risky move to REI’s bottom line considering that shoppers spent $9.1 billion at brick-and-mortar sales on just that day last year. For REI, it’s among the brand’s top 10 busiest days of the year, too.

Stritzke said he’s not worried about the loss since the privately owned company doesn’t have to answer to shareholders. “This business centers [on] the outdoors,” he told CNN Money. “Thus, we can do something like close our doors on Black Friday, and we’ll have the membership that’ll think that’s cool.”

REI joins Staples in fighting off the so-called “Black Friday creep,” in which retailers are opening its doors on Thanksgiving in order to get a head start on the holiday shopping madness. The office supplies stores announced earlier this month it will reverse its decision from years’ past and stay closed on Thanksgiving, while opening early on Black Friday.

Images via REI.

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