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REI Opts Out of Black Friday. so what?

Posted On  October 29, 2015

Outdoor recreation gear and clothing retailer REI just announced their plans to keep their 143 stores dark on Black Friday, giving all of their employees a paid day off and encouraging them, as well as their customers, to spend the day outdoors.

At first blush, this may seem crazy to some. Black Friday is, after all, one of REI’s top ten biggest in-store sales volume days.

REI is not closing because they plan to shift sales online. On Black Friday, the REI website will feature a splash page encouraging their online visitors to “get outside with loved ones this holiday season.” Today, the homepage reads, “For 76 years our passion has been to bring you great gear to get you out too. Join us outside.”

I love this. And, not just because I’m an outdoor adventure nut and REI fan. I love this as a marketing scientist. Here’s why:

#OptOutside aligns REI’s purpose, brand promise and business practice. REI isn’t ignoring Black Friday; they are using it as a platform to draw attention to their belief that “a life outdoors is a life well lived.”  While they may forgo short term sales, REI is walking (or hiking) the talk. #OptOutside is an exercise that will build its brand and support its mission.

 #OptOutside reinforces REI’s brand clarity. Brands that try to be everything to everyone end up standing for nothing to most. In the moment of need, people tend to opt for brands that distinctively deliver on something relevant to them. REI’s decision sends a crisp note of clarity through the retail noise that goes straight to the heart of their customers. We call that having Relevant Clarity®.

#OptOutside fosters identity with the brand. For any given person, there may be many brands they think of favorably and many brands they actually buy. Only a select few brands, if any, get the special distinction of being incorporated into a consumer’s sense of self. Brands that achieve this type of Identity Overlap™ attain a whole host of favorable outcomes in terms of advocacy, purchase frequency and ability to charge higher prices. Like other forms of identity, Identity Overlap is developed through shared history, values, and goals. As REI employees and customers head outside with their loved ones, there’s a strong likelihood that REI will be a part of those memories.

#OptOutside stimulates conversation. In an age where attention is currency, REI earns gold. Most major news outlets picked up the story and, according to our social media analytics team, the social conversation volume has doubled for REI and with overwhelmingly positive sentiments. 84% positive! REI asked customers and employees to tell the world how they plan on spending their day so this story will have legs, including on Black Friday and the days following.

I’m excited to see where this adventure takes REI, its employees and its customers. Now go outside and play!


  1. I too love what REI have done — they’ve reminded everyone of their brand purpose and stood by their principles . . .
    . . . even when these might be deemed “inconvenient” from a sales standpoint.

    Beyond purpose, they hint at the why of the brand, what matters beyond dollars.

  2. There’s a lot of noise within the world of marketing these days. I’m always interested when a see a company zigging when all others are zagging (especially when it aligns with their brand image). Risky, but bold and interesting. Here’s hoping that REI succeeds with this strategy!!

  3. This past weekend, I left my local farmers market with a bag of granola and jar of honey. On my walk home, I though to myself, “why did I buy these just now?” I didn’t need either, they were somewhat pricey, and I in fact had a nearly full store-branded honey sitting in my cupboard. As I reflected, I realized that one of the key motivators was the commitment and passion both artisans had about their product — it actually felt like they cared immensely about the things they were selling (and asked me how planned to use them, etc.). While I know their end-goal was to make money, I felt like the interaction was more of a relationship than a transaction. Over the past few years, I’ve found myself gradually moving from buying occasions that feel transactional to ones that feel more personal, and I’m more than OK to pay a premium for it. Whether it’s moving from Marriott to more boutique/independent hotels, from Ikea to Etsy… these moves make me feel better about the buying experience for the same reasons I ended up with honey and granola last weekend. This #OptOutside campaign is a great example of how a large retailer like REI can garner the same sort feeling, which is quite a remarkable feat in my opinion.


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