- Outdoors retailer REI will not be open this Black Friday. CEO Jerry Stritzke says that other retailers hurt themselves by encouraging “rampant consumerism.” REI’s business has ultimately been helped by closing on one of its former busiest days of the year.
REI is staying shut on Black Friday for the third year in a row.
And, while CEO Jerry Stritzke says that originally the decision was a moral one, it’s also great for the outdoor company’s business.
“You don’t win in the long-term by pushing … what I call rampant consumerism,” Stritzke told Business Insider.
While retailers were once able to win over shoppers on deals alone, Stritzke says consumers are now “looking for something more.” Opening on Thanksgiving can hurt brands at a time when they need to build genuine connections and engagement with customers more than ever before.
“I think retail has really moved towards a tipping point,” Stritzke said.
At REI, the “Opt Outside” Black Friday initiative is the “something more.”
Four years ago, Black Friday was one of the retailer’s biggest business days of the year. Then, in 2015, the retailer decided to close all stores and give all employees a paid day off. REI doesn’t even process any online sales on Black Friday, as part of an effort to encourage employees and customers to spend the day outdoors.
At the time, it wasn’t an easy decision – but REI was quickly vindicated.
REI uses a cooperative model, meaning customers can pay $20 to become lifetime members and part-owners of the company. In 2015, REI posted its largest-ever membership growth, as well as increasing revenue by 9.3% to $2.4 billion.
More than 700 organizations have partnered with REI on #OptOutside over the last two years, from the National Parks department to small local businesses. And, this year, REI is launching an “experiential search engine,” featuring photos from people’s #OptOutside experiences.
“It makes it feel like a kind of movement or a consumer sentiment,” Stritzke said.
As consumer sentiment shifts, Stritzke says other retailers are being left behind. Stritzke believes it is “brand damaging” for retailers to open on Thanksgiving. Amongst major retailers, such as Walmart, Macy’s, and Kohl’s, it is now the norm to open around 5 or 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day.
“The whole idea of Black Friday and Cyber Monday … is becoming less relevant as the consumer is generally accustomed to great deals, or at least getting a deal,” Josh Elman, a consumer and retail analyst with Nasdaq Advisory Services, said.
Stritzke agrees. With retailers providing “instant gratification” and impressive deals all year round, it’s more strategic to connect with customers and attempt to build a relationship – and loyalty.
“It’s really more than selling stuff,” Stritzke said. “It’s not just retail. It’s experiences.”