REI: Black Friday? No, thanks.

As I’ve scrolled through my e-mails this past week, one fact has become increasingly clear; the countdown to Black Friday has officially begun. When it comes to marketing for the big day, Chief Research Officer of Kantar Media, Jon Swallen, was quoted saying, “If you don’t advertise, you’re not conceding defeat, you’re assuring defeat.” I’ll admit this quote did not surprise me. In my experience, Black Friday can only be described as “huge”. Huge sales, huge lines and huge spending.

So how do you stand out in a massive influx of Black Friday related ads? According to REI, you take a walk.

REI

This year, REI launched its #OptOutside campaign. The company has announced it will close its storefronts on Black Friday and pay the co-op’s 12,000 employees to “go outside”. The REI website will be operating, but the company will not be actively marketing customers to shop online. While the company has not publicly shared its past Black Friday sales figures, REI’s CEO has said that it’s one of the company’s top ten sales days. According to the National Retail Federation, shoppers spent $50.4 billion over the Black Friday weekend last year and $57.4 billion the year prior. So is it really a smart move for the company to close its doors on the kick off to the holiday shopping season?

I would argue yes.

I believe most powerful move that REI has made has been aligning its marketing strategy with the company mission. Per their website, REI is dedicated to “inspiring, educating and outfitting its members and the community for a lifetime of outdoor adventure and stewardship.” The campaign’s commitment to this mission creates a sense of authenticity for REI customers, as the company is actively promoting a day spent outside, rather than a day spent shopping indoors. Once consumers regard businesses as authentic, they tend to assign them a higher value (Carroll et al., 2013).

Secondly, the company has humanised itself. REI is empathising with employees forced to work on Black Friday, and in some cases, Thanksgiving Day. Last year specifically there was an increase in retailers opening on Thursday. I recall my parents discussing how sad it was that companies were tearing employees away from their loved ones on such a family-centric holiday. By rejecting this practice, REI has shown compassion for its workers and their families.

As a result, the company has successfully produced an influx of positive word-of-mouth advertising. I actually found out about #OptOutside through a Facebook post shared by a friend. REI has created a sort of social good campaign that encourages its customers to be active and spend time with loved ones, rather than support consumerism. This publicity will likely generate an increasingly positive brand image for REI and subsequently lead to increased customer loyalty (Belén del Río et al., 2001). As such, the positive brand association produced by #OptOutside will be more valuable long term when compared to the profits made from Black Friday. Customers will be more likely to shop with the company for an extended period of time, rather than just a single day.

Overall, do you support or reject the strategy of REI’s #OptOutside campaign? Was it a smart move? Do you think this type of campaign would work for all retailers?


References

Belén del Río, A., Iglesias, V., Vázquez, R. (2001) The effects of brand associations on consumer response. Journal of Consumer Marketing. 18 (5). Pages 410 – 425. Available from: http://www.iei.liu.se/fek/svp/mafo/artikelarkiv/1.309856/The_effects.pdf [Accessed 11 November 2015].

Carroll, G., Kovács, B., Lehman, D. (2013) Authenticity and Consumer Value Ratings: Empirical Tests from the Restaurant Domain. Organization Science. 25 (2). Pages 458 – 478. Available from: http://pubsonline.informs.org/doi/abs/10.1287/orsc.2013.0843 [Accessed 11 November 2015].

Coleman-Lochner, Lauren (2014) Black Friday Fizzles With Consumers as Sales Tumble 11%. Available from: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2014-11-30/u-s-consumers-reduce-spending-by-11-over-thanksgiving-weekend [Accessed 11 November 2015].

REI Co-op (2015) #OptOutside. Available from: http://www.optoutside.rei.com [Accessed 11 November 2015].

Ziorbo, Paul (2013) Black Friday: How Much They Spent Convincing You to Spend. Available from: http://blogs.wsj.com/corporate-intelligence/2013/12/04/black-friday-how-much-they-spent-convincing-you-to-spend/ [Accessed 11 November 2015].

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