REI closes doors on Black Friday to ‘opt outside

Five years ago, REI, a company dedicated to the sales of sporting goods, camping equipment and other outdoor products, devised a plan so wild market strategists were left speechless: they were going to close their doors on Black Friday as part of a campaign they christened “Opt Outside.” As the company describes it, “it started as a moment and turned into a movement.”

The idea was simple: close doors on one of the largest shopping days of the year and allow employees to spend time with their families in the great outdoors. Not only that, but their 13,000 employees got paid for the day off. 

This Black Friday was the company’s fifth year participating in the movement. This year, they wanted employees and customers alike to do more than just opt out of Black Friday; they wanted them to take that time to care for nature. REI encouraged everyone to take the holiday reserved for consumerism and materialism and instead redirect that energy to cleaning up local parks, rivers and forests. 

REI Chief Customer Officer Ben Steele explained that the movement is evolving. “Consumerism was spinning out of control, in a frenzy of consumption—I’ve got to have it, I need it, I’ll leave Thanksgiving dinner early to go get it,” Steele said. “This year it feels like the cultural context has changed. Now choice is something we talk a lot about. Choice in terms of the notion of our relationship with technology—are we using it to springboard toward the things we care about, or is it distracting us from those things?”

Eric Artz, current CEO of REI, addressed consumers about this year’s Opt Outside campaign. “The co-op has been around for an amazing 81 years and it’s my privilege, as REI’s eighth CEO, to serve you and our 13,000 employees. My job is to steward the co-op, and the outdoors, on your behalf—and on behalf of the generations who follow us,” Artz said. The idea of being a steward to the outdoors, or, better put, creation, is a sentiment commonly expressed at JBU. 

According to Bri Leamon, a psychology major and avid hiker, “Black Friday holds a lot of distractions for the common shopper and it would be a unique and enlightening experience to opt out of shopping at least once to do something in nature, whether that be generally enjoying creation or doing something proactive to help it.”

In 2015, the impact of REI’s idea got major press. Jeff Beer, a writer for business magazine Fast Company, said that “#OptOutside spread like wildfire, with the brand’s social media impressions skyrocketing by 7,000%, including 2.7 billion media impressions in 24 hours. Overall, in that first year, the campaign attracted 6.7 billion media impressions, 1.2 billion social impressions and got more than 1.4 million people to spend the Black Friday outdoors. More than 150 other companies joined REI to close their doors, with hundreds of state parks opening up for free. It ultimately won the Cannes Lions Titanium Grand Prix, one of the ad industry’s highest annual honors.”

“We often think we need to shop on Black Friday because of all the sales, but, in reality, we don’t need most of the things we buy,” senior art and illustration major Brooke Bowlin said. “While it is a great opportunity to buy gifts for loved ones, you could use that time to actually go do something with those that you love. It’s important to consider why brands are able to slash their prices so significantly and it’s often because of exploitative labor and supply chain practices. So instead of engaging with those brands, engage with those you wanted to buy the gifts for!”

REI is looking to expand their mission into more than one day a year, launching a new initiative known as the Opt to Act Plan. The plan looks to get people out and working to reduce their impact and get active. It establishes 52 weeks of simple challenges for helping people achieve just that.