REI is planning to #OptOutside of Black Friday. Why?

Black Friday is looming large for retailers, but REI is taking the day off instead, closing all of its 143 stores on the biggest shopping day of the year. The outdoor equipment company is hoping consumers will join in instead of shopping.

Elaine Thompson/AP/File
Rachel Hartman looks over sea kayaks as she shops for a birthday present for herself at an REI store in Seattle. The outdoor retailer has announced it will buck Black Friday 2015 and close its 143 stores on the day after Thanksgiving.

This year’s Black Friday and holiday season are shaping up to be a battle ground between online and mortar-and-stone retail giants. However, as retailers ramp up hiring and price cutting to compete, some are pushing-back against the near-official national holiday of sales.

Instead of stocking shelves and mobilizing workers for Black Friday, REI, the outdoor equipment co-op, will be closing its stores and giving its employees a paid day off. Additionally, the company has created a website for a new campaign #OptOutside, aimed at convincing consumers to spend Black Friday outside with friends and family instead of indoors shopping. 

REI’s decision to close down on Black Friday may be an industry first; the day after Thanksgiving is among the most important days of the year for retailers. But the promotion makes sense in a way for REI, because people tend to need outdoor equipment for outdoor activities.

“We're a different kind of company—and while the rest of the world is fighting it out in the aisles, we’ll be spending our day a little differently,” REI CEO Jerry Stritzke wrote on the #OptOutside website.

It’s true; REI really is a different kind of company. The retailer was established as  a co-op and is not publicly traded - instead, it has 5.5 million members who pay $20 in exchange for a variety of benefits, including discounts and a tiny share of the company's profits. According to the Washington Post, the decision is likely geared more toward strengthening the bond with those customers than catching the attention of the typical Black Friday shopper.

Even if other retailers wanted to #OptOutside for Black Friday, they may not be able to afford it financially.

According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), an estimated 133.7 million Americans shopped during Black Friday weekend and spent over $50 billion in 2014. The National Retail Federation also predicts that this Black Friday and holiday season (November and December) might be bigger, with traditional retail sales increasing by 3.7 percent and online sales increasing between 6 and 8 percent.

"Black Friday historically is the most important retail day of the year," Ron Friedman, an executive from Marcum LLP, told USA Today. "It's like a national holiday."

Retailers have already begun preparations to capitalize on the increase of sales. Wal-Mart (60,000), Target (70,000), Macy’s (85,000), and Amazon (100,000) have all begun hiring tens of thousands of seasonal workers. Delivery services FedEx and United Parcel Service hare planning to hire 55,000 and 95,000 seasonal workers, respectively, to handle the surge in holiday shipping. 

Consumers are also preparing. Tuesday marked the beginning of one man’s quest to be the first to buy a new television on sale by camping outside of a Best Buy in Florida – 33 days before Black Friday.

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