#OptOutside: How a Scary Idea Delivered Big for REI

Since 2005, Black Friday is consistently the biggest retail shopping day of the year. In fact, the shopping “holiday” is so named because it represents the point in the year when retailers begin to turn a profit, going from being “in the red” to “in the black.”

So what would you call it when a national retailer decides that instead of opening while it’s still dark outside and enticing consumers with unbelievable deals, it actually closes for the day? That’s exactly what REI did in 2015. The outdoor recreation retailer announced it would close its doors on Black Friday, giving all employees a paid day off and encouraging them to enjoy it outside.

Closing on the biggest sales day on the year wasn’t just a huge risk, it was completely unheard of. If that’s not fearless marketing, we don’t know what is.

Black Friday 2015 came and went. And REI didn’t make a single in-store sale. But it did start a movement: #OptOutside.  According to AAAA, “1.4 million people chose to spend Black Friday outside with REI…Hundreds of parks opened their gates for free. The campaign earned 33 straight days of media coverage with 3,423 placements leading to 6.7 billion media impressions.” #OptOutside was trending on Twitter and Instagram for days. Even job applications to work at REI were up 92%.

And we know what you’re thinking: All of that fearlessness doesn’t do you any good if you don’t have sales to back it up. And that’s the kicker. Despite the fact that the campaign goal wasn’t focused on short-term sales, revenue went up double digits year over year. And more than 1 MILLION new brand advocates signed up to become REI members.

This fearless move worked for REI because it resonated with its target audience; it lined up PERFECTLY with the core values of the brand; and it had never been done before. This year will be REI’s fourth year opting out of Black Friday, and we hope the fearlessness continues to be rewarded.