REI’s Black Friday shutdown winning employee loyalty

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REI’s decision to close stores nationwide for Black Friday not only is winning accolades from employees and customers, but it’s an online sensation, going viral in a campaign that marketing dollars simply could not buy.

By choosing to close 123 stores on the day after Thanksgiving and giving a paid day off to its 123,000 employees, the outdoor retail giant took a gamble that’s already paying off.

A lot of companies talk the talk about keeping good employees. But it looks like REI just hit a home run in that department.

By promoting the hashtag #optoutside and tossing in a few John Muir quotes, REI is winning social media love on both Twitter and Facebook. Other brands already are jumping on the bandwagon. Clif Bar, Gregory Packs and Outdoor Recreation have joined in, knowing a good thing when they see it.

Instead of shopping, REI told customers to get outside and have a good time. REI’s web site gives users outdoor destinations like hiking or biking trails by entering their zip code. The campaign is giving an immense boost to both brand and employee loyalty.

Just as REI suggested, people already are tweeting what they’ll be doing instead of shopping, and no doubt thousands of photos, many including REI gear, will be posted online as well. The move was a stroke of marketing and HR genius.

“We’re absolutely open to other (retailers) wanting to be a part of this,” said REI Chief Creative Officer Ben Steele. Some will, but most won’t.

The largest retailers and small independents aren’t willing to walk away from the biggest shopping day of the year. Even REI, with revenues of $2.2 billion, may take a short-term financial hit.

But REI, set up as a co-op that pays back dividends to its 5.5 million members, is scoring points not only with members and employees, but with media and many in the general public who will now decide to pay the coop membership fee.

Several big retailers, like Staples and Costco, are closing on Thanksgiving (but not Black Friday), reclaiming the day for family time.

REI, which created a dedicated #optoutside web site, won’t do any Black Friday promotions and won’t process online orders until Saturday.

Its workers, after all, will be enjoying their day off – a lot of them in the outdoors!

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