Death Knell For Black Friday?

It’s hard to believe, but Black Friday in its current gonzo incarnation has been around less than a decade. It was in the mid-2000s when big box retailers like Target, Walmart, Kohls, Best Buy and Macy’s began tinkering with the carved-in-stone formula of beginning the official Christmas shopping season at 6 a.m. on the day after Thanksgiving. It was then that the stores began opening their doors at midnight on Thanksgiving Day. Giddy at the results, both in terms of sales but as importantly, media coverage, these nationwide retailers in 2012 began opening at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day itself — sheer blasphemy in prior times.

Now comes REI (Recreational Equipment Inc.), which is spearheading a counter-revolution in holiday shopping with its announcement last week. It not only will refuse to open on Thanksgiving Day, but is closing all 143 of its stores on Black Friday itself, traditionally the largest shopping day in gross sales in the U.S.



Call them crazy … like a fox.

Make no mistake, REI is exactly on trend. The retailer has always been a maverick with its 100% satisfaction guarantee, commitment to employees and communities, and member-owned co-op heritage. (Customers pay a $20 fee to shop there and receive a variety of membership perks, including a share of the company’s profits.) That is to say, the retailer shrewdly is playing to its core audience.

Beyond the savvy announcement — instant media coverage — the company launched a companion website (#OptOutside) to reinforce its brand and position it as a trendsetter. The site strongly urges families to spend Black Friday together in an outside activity instead of indoors shopping (and if they need some outdoor equipment to really enjoy it, they’ll know where to find it).

While the brand is burnishing its image as an outsider that stands for the people, REI isn’t alone in this movement. For the last few years, we have seen a growing backlash against BlackFriday and its encroachment into Thanksgiving Day, as well. Online retailers are extending deals before and after the Black Friday date, further diluting its impact. (Black Friday sales fell 11% in 2013.) 

Moves have been taken in the past to push against Black Friday. In 2014, the Black Lives Matter movement launched #BlackoutBlackFriday and #NotOneDime, piggybacking off the Ferguson movement to refocus holiday shoppers on more important issues. That same year, Nordstrom, Publix, Costco, and Marshalls led the charge of nearly 50 retailers who closed their doors on Thanksgiving Day.

If REI isn’t the first retailer to take this step, why is it getting so much press for this decision? It isn’t a coincidence that the company announced this plan precisely one month before Thanksgiving. By coming out first with a bold declaration, REI can get ahead of the trend and look like a leader. Any other brand that takes a similar approach this year will be compared to REI.

Interestingly, and perhaps even counter-intuitively, Millennials made up the largest contingent of Black Friday shoppers in 2014. (Wouldn’t you have guessed that they were saving all of their bitcoins for Cyber Monday, instead?) So, what does this all mean? Are the digital natives going to shut down this trend towards sanity? Not necessarily. While Millennials are heavy shoppers, they are also deal hunters who will pursue Black Friday specials in this tight economy. But, Millennials are also extremely eager to revamp the retail experience to match their digital lives. Interest in online purchases that can be picked up at the store is rapidly growing. With the growth of digital, the single day of retail door-busters is on the decline, and Cyber Monday will begin to dominate.

Perhaps the biggest factor rewarding REI for its bold move is something intangible in the air during this pre-election year. With both Democrats and Republicans finding rare common ground that income inequality is a real problem that will need to be addressed by the next President, REI’s move to give its workers a break during the holidays simply is the right message for the right time.

1 comment about "Death Knell For Black Friday?".
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  1. David Mountain from Marketing and Advertising Direction, November 4, 2015 at 9:31 a.m.

    There's also this: media coverage of the people who shop on Black Friday makes the consumers look abhorrent, rather than savvy. Combine that with the possibility of being trampled in the American answer to the Mecca stampedes, and suddenly being at Wal-Mart pre-dawn doesn't seem like very much fun.

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