REI #OptOutside: How Knowing Your Customers Helps You Take Risks

By Bill Coletti, CEO, Kith


Critical Takeaways:

  • It’s important to stand out in a cluttered world. Companies are constantly trying unique things to differentiate themselves from competitors.
  • Knowing your 3 Cs helps you take calculated risks that will help you stand out while impressing your customers and communities.

REI OptOutside

While retailers look forward to Black Friday, and shoppers have come to anticipate the sales that take place the day after Thanksgiving, the phrase “Black Friday” has become a catchphrase indicating egregious consumerism. Each year there are stories of people lining up early in the morning, and at times even causing injuries to other shoppers in the crush to get the most desired items.


Does anybody even like doing this? Probably not. But the risk of overpaying seems to trump the basic logic of sleeping in on your day off or avoiding crowds when shopping.


Last week, outdoor goods purveyor REI announced that they would be closing all of their stores on the Friday after Thanksgiving, while paying their employees for a full day’s worth of work.


Why would a nationwide retailer close all of their stores on the biggest shopping day of the year?


Because doing so speaks directly to their customers and community, adding to their authenticity of their brand.


If you’ve met anyone who is a member with REI, you probably know that the person loves the outdoors, and may have a borderline cult-like devotion to the store. Employees of the store are similarly minded; each store features pictures of their employees pursuing their outdoor hobbies. REI’s social media campaigns always generate a massive amount of participation, which feeds their content with user-generated images and videos. The #optoutside campaign is no different, having already generated hundreds of thousands of social posts from users lauding the company for the decision.


#optoutside instagram


In hindsight, it seems obvious. REI likes people being outside. REI employees like being outside. REI shoppers like being outside. So let’s give everyone the opportunity to go outside instead of shopping on what is a near-universal day free of work. REI understands its customers and community so well that they can do something seemingly counterintuitive and generate enough brand affinity to almost certainly counteract the day’s lost sales and wages.


It should be noted that while stores are closed, the online shopping portal will be open. However it is still a risk given that 78 percent of customers still prefer to shop in-store.


REI has developed a relationship with their community and customers to the point where they are almost all part of the same kith. Employees and customers influence the decisions made by leadership, which engenders a sense of community within the stores, online and out in the real world. REI’s decision to “opt outside” is an innovative approach to pleasing the customer, and will wind up benefitting REI’s bottom line as well.

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