Thursday, October 29, 2015

REI Goes Dark - Brilliant or Boneheaded?

The retail world was set abuzz this week with REI’s announcement that they were going dark on Black Friday, and instead were encouraging their employees and their customers to #OptOutside.  It is one thing to be dark on Thanksgiving, but to give up Black Friday as well?  For a retailer - any retailer - losing a Black Friday is significant. and potentially even catastrophic, depending on the outcomes.

Many folks are weighing in on the decision, and it has the potential to be either a move of fantastic brilliance, or a move of boneheaded blunder.  Here is how things could break for the retailer:


  • The announcement has already proved to be a Public Relations coup.  The story is everywhere, and all are talking about REI and their unique stance.  In a highly competitive retail space, garnering that much attention ahead of the critical holiday period is a significant advantage, and, to this point, has cost the company nothing.
  • The move not only is aligned with their brand, but it cements it.  REI customers still feel a deep sense of ownership with "their" store, and it still retains the co-op feel in their dealings and operations.  A move to encourage folks to spend a shopping day outdoors is completely aligned with their customer and their identity.


  • Black Friday is admittedly one of the company's top ten days of the year.  Given the hockey stick of sales that represents fourth-quarter retail, one of those top ten days can represent weeks of sales in a non-holiday time frame.  And, as any retailer who has been struck by being closed a day during that critical holiday period can attest (for a weather event, for example), those sales typically aren't made up in higher daily sales the rest of holiday.  They just aren't. They're lost.
  • The move creates a bit of logical conundrum: if Black Friday is a day to #OptOutside, why not Sundays?  Why not Saturdays?  Why not the whole weekend?  While most folks are rational and realize what would be at stake in doing something so drastic, REI will definitely face some questions as it pertains to their overall store hours due to the rationale they've applied to their Black Friday move.  
  • Say folks take REI's suggestion, and #OptOutside on Black Friday by going for a hike.  Unfortunately, some of those folks will need some last-minute gear ahead of their time outdoors.  With REI shuttered, those sales go elsewhere.  While I recognize those sales might not be significant at all, in terms of "being available" for their customer, I'd argue they're highly significant.

Ultimately, I think REI could have had their cake and eaten it too.  By "closing early" on Black Friday to allow folks to #OptOutside, REI still would have enjoyed a significant PR boon while still salvaging a massive sales day and taking care of their customer in the process.  Depending on how REI fares this holiday, perhaps that becomes the stance they adopt.

Regardless, this is a rare move for any retailer, and will be interesting to watch.

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