REI’s Bold Strategy to Remain True to Its Social Purpose

Every Thanksgiving weekend, over 130 million Americans shop at retail outlets across the US.

In addition, billions of dollars are  spent by online shoppers.

In fact, Shopify reports that over that holiday weekend, it processes sales of approximately $1 million every single minute.

So why on earth would a major retailer go dark during the busiest shopping time of the year?

Well that’s what outdoor equipment giant REI has done for three years in a row. Every Thanksgiving and Black Friday, it closes its 151 stores, and shuts down its website.

What motivated them to take this bold move?

Simple. They want their 12,000+ employees and 6 million co-op members to be able to stay true to their outdoor roots, and #OptOutside.

Marketing Stunt or a Principled Stand?

When REI first did this, many dismissed the move as a marketing stunt.  

But the retailer has remained committed to continuing the movement year after year. This decision is testament to a sound set of corporate values and an unshakable purpose-driven business strategy.

REI’s mantra is ‘to inspire, educate and outfit for a lifetime of outdoor adventure and stewardship.’ To that end, REI annually donates millions of dollars to conservation efforts across America. It assembles and sponsors teams of volunteer members, customers and REI employees to go out and build nature trails, clean beaches and restore habitats across the country.

The annual moratorium on Black Friday and Thanksgiving has turned REI’s purpose-driven business agenda into conversations around dinner tables, and on America’s social media channels. Here’s what some people have said about it:

“Talk about a purpose-driven brand. REI exemplifies one. They live their mission, even when it’s risky and controversial. That’s what people love about the brand. Will they suffer because of it? Doubtful.”

Celeste Giampetro. VP Marketing, Pebble Post

“#OptOutside has made it to No. 11 on the Top 15 Twitter trend list.”

Laurie Sullivan, Media Post

“If you declare that you value something, take actions that prove it. There is a distinct power in doing so, and, as REI has proven, the world will take notice.”

Hannah Elise Jones, Fortune Magazine

A Unique Brand Relationship

Ultimately, to the chagrin of its traditional retail competitors, and to the vindication of purpose-driven strategy advocates, REI’s rebellious boycott of the year’s biggest shopping bonanza did not hurt their numbers. To the contrary, in their first year of this effort, their holiday sales grew 6%. In the second year, holiday sales grew 13%.

But here’s the important thing: for REI, it’s about staying true to their social purpose brand. Their decision to close is in response to what their CEO, Jerry Stritzke, describes as ‘rampant consumerism.’ This attitude is very much in alignment with his members’ and customers’ belief systems, and promises a much more valuable, mutually rewarding and everlasting brand relationship.

And really, that’s not only the most important way to build your brand, but it also creates a bit of positive change in the world.

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