Opting to Put Purpose First

Where were you on the Black Friday 2018? 

If you answered 'shopping,' you were just one of the millions of consumers to flood the aisles of Target, Walmart, and other retailers. This year consumers doled out a whopping $717.5 billion on Black Friday deals and promotions.

One store that broke tradition and opted out of Black Friday was REI. 

The outdoor recreational retailer is committed to promoting both environmental and member wellbeing. As a result, the member co-op shut its doors on November 23, 2018.


And this is not the first year that the chain has temporally seized sales. In fact, it's the fourth.

In 2015 REI launched #OptOutside, a national movement and campaign which encourages members, employees, and the world to embrace mother nature over consumerism on Black Friday.

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The campaign calls for REI to close all of its 153 stores and give all of its employees paid time off for that Friday.  

Prior to #OptOutside, REI scored in the top 5 Black Friday sales. So why ax such a profitable sales day? 

The answer for REI president and CEO, Jerry Stritzke, is simple. He says the longterm payoff has and continues to be invaluable.

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It's not to say that REI hasn't benefitted in other ways. In 2016 the #OptOutside movement attracted 6 million participants, processed no online sales, and paid its 12,000 employees to take the day off. REI also launched an “experiential search engine” on their website, which enables users to find nearby parks and trails, research ongoing eco-friendly programs and events, and-of course- share photos of their outdoor adventures.

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With #OptOutside, REI has generated a further sense of brand leadership and trust as well as exponential revenue growth. Last year, the company reached $2.56 billion in revenue. Within OptOutside's first year alone, it was reported that REI.com saw a 26% leap in web traffic. Nearly 8 million people and more than 700 organizations have participated in #OptOutside.

This is sophisticated marketing that illustrates what it means to be "purpose-driven". Brands that stand for something usually get rewarded, especially if they are courageous enough to be bold, audacious and highly-differentiated. REI is not a crowd follower. In turn, their crowd has shown to follow them most anywhere, even outdoors on Black Friday. And the economic lift indicates its a lucrative – and authentic – strategy.

Those to hop aboard the #OptOutside train include state and national parks, schools and corporate partners such as Subaru, Google, Meetup, Upworthy along with several outdoor brands such as Burton, Keen, Yeti, and Patagonia.

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Thus far, REI has successfully retained member trust and engagement with campaigns like #OptOutside. The 4 year old campaign and free activity promotes both the wilderness and brand without capitalizing on specific product sales and deals.

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Ultimately, REI's decision to temporality seize production on Black Friday reflects its fundamental empathy for its customers, and adherence to its purpose – fueling (or rather sustaining) a more agile and successful brand experience. Do you favorite brands take purposeful stands like this?

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