REI breaks Black Friday tradition to #OptOutside

By Nora Zacharski

Staff Writer

Black Friday has long been an infamous holiday. The mere mention of it conjures up images of hordes of over-caffeinated extreme couponers, anxiously awaiting the opening of Best Buy or Macy’s so that they can snatch up the perfect holiday gift—and get the best price on it—for their loved ones.

This year, though, the outdoor apparel outfitter REI decided to take a step back from the madness and close its doors completely for the holiday, encouraging customers instead to spend the day outside being active with friends and family. They used the hashtag #OptOutside, and encouraged people to send in pictures of their outdoor adventures, which they have now assembled into a photo gallery on the company’s website.

On Black Friday the website featured a blackout screen that told visitors to #OptOutside, and would not allow them to do any online shopping. A new website, optoutside.rei.com, was created that suggests places to explore the outdoors based on your individual location. 1,408,117 people chose to spend the day in the outdoors instead of the malls, which makes the day seem pretty successful overall.

Jerry Stritzke, CEO of REI, stated,“We’re closing our doors, paying our employees to get out there and inviting America to OptOutside with us because we love great gear, but we are even more passionate about the experience it unlocks.”

 Willie Weems, ‘19, a member of the Outdoor Club, gave his support of the holiday as well. “Even though the closing may have been just for a marketing campaign, I think that it is great that they gave their staff the day off and encouraged them to get outside, and I hope that other companies follow REI’s lead,” said Weems.

   Many questioned the rationality of the decision, especially because Black Friday is generally a big opportunity for profit. By discouraging its customers not to participate in the proverbial “rat race” of the day, REI caused quite a buzz. The hashtag “#OptOutside” got used thousands of times on Twitter, and people continued to use it after the holiday wasover. In fact, the company plans to take this new campaign even further next year. Starting in January, they will “begin a series of conversations, events, actions and stories that explore what it means to truly opt outside and put the outdoors at the center of a life.”

 It may be difficult for other companies to advertise this way, but REI seems to have found the perfect marketing niche for itself. The denouncing of consumerism leads to the purchasing of their products that encourage people to be active outside, and make the outdoors a bigger part of their lives. But Stritzke made it clear that this was not the entire goal of the campaign: “As a member-owned co-op, our definition of success goes beyond money. We believe that a life lived outdoors is a life well lived and we aspire to be stewards of our great outdoors. We think that Black Friday has gotten out of hand and so we are choosing to invest in helping people get outside with loved ones this holiday season, over spending it in the aisles. Please join us and inspire us with your experiences.”

Photo Courtesy of Chris Burkard

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