REI Black Friday Disrupter: Will it Pay Off?

rei closed black fridayREI (Recreational Equipment Inc.) announced it would be closed on both Thanksgiving and Black Friday, urging customers to enjoy their families in the great outdoors. And they are even giving employees a paid holiday. They initiated a social media campaign using the hashtag, #OptOutdoors, to encourage posts of outdoor adventures.

REI shoppers know that REI has always done things a little differently. As reposed in Forbes, “They don’t have a typical business model. First, REI is actually a co-op with members, rather than customers. They have 5.5 million members who enjoy buying their outdoor apparel and recreational gear and equipment (camping, biking, fishing, etc.). In addition to reasonable pricing for good quality merchandise, their members get a “dividend” check at the end of each year to be put toward future purchases.”

REI introduced this news in a letter from Jerry Stritzke, President and CEO of REI, says it all: “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 so we are choosing to invest in helping people get outside with loved ones this holiday.”

California and Minnesota state parks even tagged onto this campaign, announcing free admission on Black Friday, further encouraging non-retail experiences. Many other smaller retailers with similar environmentally-focused missions joined in. However, as you might expect, none of the major Black Friday retailers (e.g., Walmart) jumped on the “don’t shop on Black Friday” bandwagon.

So, even assuming that this is a brand play for REI, you have to wonder about the impact this will have on shopper intentions to patronize the store in the future. Black Friday is an American tradition, and many, many shoppers flock to the stores after feasting on Thanksgiving dinner. While there are certainly those who choose not to shop on Black Friday, one of the reasons for this is the rise in online shopping. And REI will be open online on Thanksgiving as well as Black Friday.

So we used Google Consumer Surveys to ask a sample of Americans what they thought about shopping at REI in the future. To be successful, the campaign would have to convince current REI shoppers to shop there more often, and not convince any current REI shoppers to shop there less often. And ideally, the campaign should convince non-REI shoppers to give the store a try. Did it?

First, only 36% of respondents shop at REI now. Given the chain’s distribution as well as their merchandise mix, not surprising.

REI data 1

REI shoppers seem to be right on board with the co-op’s strategy: 48% of them said they will shop at REI more and only 8% said they will shop at REI less than before this announcement. (Hey, some people REALLY like Black Friday!)

REI data 2

Most surprisingly, fully 19% of non-REI shoppers say that they will shop there in the future.
REI data 3

Now, we know that surveys are not always great at predicting what people will actually do. And yes, we understand the limitations of Google Consumer Surveys in terms of representative sampling as well as survey design, but the price makes them a great tool for quick information (more on that in a future blog). Marketing research purism notwithstanding, the data definitely point to a big win for REI.

It may be the boldness, the creativity, and the chutzpah that makes shoppers respond to this campaign, but whatever it is, it looks like it will pay off in the long-run. So what about you?

Does REI’s being closed on Black Friday impact your intentions to shop there in the future?

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