retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

Over the past few years, the overwhelming trend in retail has been to not just compete aggressively on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, but to open earlier and earlier on Thanksgiving, as well. The idea is that the earlier you open, the more competitive it will make you during the end-of-year holiday shopping season.

Outdoor retailer REI is taking a different approach. Not only is it staying closed on Thanksgiving, but REI also has decided to close all of its stores on Black Friday.

Here's what Jerry Stritzke, President and CEO of REI, says about the decision:

“REI is closing on Black Friday. You read that correctly. On November 27, we’ll be closing all 143 of our stores and paying our employees to head outside.

"Here’s why we’re doing it. For 76 years, our co-op has been dedicated to one thing and one thing only: a life outdoors. We believe that being outside makes our lives better. And Black Friday is the perfect time to remind ourselves of this essential truth.

"We’re a different kind of company—and while the rest of the world is fighting it out in the aisles, we’ll be spending our day a little differently. We’re choosing to opt outside, and want you to come with us."

REI merchandise will be available to people who can't take 'no' for an answer - its website will be online, staffed, reportedly, by a skeleton crew.

It is a fascinating decision, and while on first blush it may seem counter-intuitive for a retailer to be closed on the busiest shopping day of the year, I think it seems entirely in character ... and a great way for REI to reinforce its essential authenticity - it is not about the stuff it sells, but the lifestyle that it represents.

That's an important message, and I think that its core customer base is one that will treasure this decision. Some may see it as inconvenient, but I think its core shopper will decide to shop there on Saturday, Sunday, or some other day.

"You've got to stand for something, or you'll fall for anything," John Mellencamp sings. It is a tune that REI seems to take very seriously, and it is an Eye-Opener.
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