REI’s Black Friday Closing

As reported in our previous post on Gray Thursday, a growing number of retailers are now asking employees to work not only on Black Friday but also on Thanksgiving Day. At least one retailer is bucking this trend.

In 2015, progressive outdoor supplier REI paid its 12,000 employees to take the day off and spend it outdoors. This year, REI has chosen to continue the tradition and broadened its campaign urging all Americans to spend Thanksgiving outside with family and friends. And if you think you can simply shop at REI online, think again. As recently reported in Fortune: “Outdoor gear and apparel retailer REI announced that it would again close all 149 of its stores on both Thanksgiving and Black Friday. It would also process no online sales on Black Friday and pay all 12,287 employees to take the day off.”

For many, REI’s 2015 decision to shutter its doors on Black Friday came as a huge shock. After all, what retailer closes on Black Friday, which is widely known to be the busiest retail day of the year? The retailer’s decision turned out to be a risk worth taking. Both employees and customers applauded REI’s decision, but it also appears to be yielding great returns for the company.

REI’s “#OptOudoors” Campaign

When you visit REI’s website, a simple question appears: “Will you go out with us on Black Friday?” The company’s #OptOutside campaign is a call to spend Black Friday enjoying the great outdoors, including the nation’s many national parks. While it is true that REI has much to gain from sending people outdoors (they sell camping equipment and clothing and outdoor equipment from bicycles to climbing gear), its campaign is more than just a ploy to get Americans buying hiking boots and tents. It may be one of the most successful employee engagement initiatives launched by any U.S. retailer in recent years. As stated on their website:

Last year we started a movement for people to reconnect outdoors over the holidays. We closed on one of the most popular shopping days of the year, paid our 12,000+ employees to spend time outside, and invited America to join us. The response was overwhelmingly positive. More than 1.4 million people and 170 organizations chose to #OptOutside. REI is committed to helping people tap into the joy, renewal and connection that comes from spending time outside with friends and family. This year, we are again closing our doors on Black Friday and paying our 12,000+ employees to spend time outdoors.

The Reaction to REI’s Decision to Close on Black Friday

While many in the retail industry were shocked by REI’s decision to shutter its doors on Thanksgiving, the move was far from impulsive. 49% of consumers do not approve of stores opening on Thanksgiving and 34% are neutral about the idea. The idea of closing on Black Friday, however, is tapping into something else: a growing desire among retailers to engage in “shared-value” branding.

Simply put, more and more brands are realizing the value of “psychographics,” which aim to connect with customers on an even deeper level. Brands such as Delta, which openly announced their support for the LGBTQ community in the wake of the shooting deaths at a gay night club in Orlando this past June, were engaged in such branding, and REI’s ban on Black Friday falls into the same category. It’s an attempt to reach would-be customers by connecting with their values before connecting with their pocketbooks. But it also has a positive pay back in terms of employee engagement.

What Other Organizations Can Learn from REI’s Decision

In 2016, REI ranked among the nation’s top 100 companies to work for in Fortune‘s annual survey (indeed, it jumped from 58 to 26 in the ranking this past year). Notably, REI is also one of only two retailers listed among the top 30 best companies on Fortune‘s list. Of course, the decision to give employees paid holidays on both Thanksgiving and Black Friday is only part of a broader strategy that continues to give REI top marks when it comes to employee engagement. What matters is that by valuing employees and valuing them enough to also value their lives outside of work, the retailer is gaining in terms of employee loyalty and building a brand that employees and consumers alike feel is in keeping with their values. For other organizations worried about employee engagement, REI’s success may hold a valuable lesson.

November 19, 2016   Updated :November 19, 2016      

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