More Retailers Should Consider Going Dark For Black Friday

Trent Johnson
Account Director

For the 5th year in a row, outdoors retail leader REI will be closing on Black Friday giving their employees an extra day off for the holidays and encouraging their shoppers to use the time to step outside, or #OptOutside. This may seem like an extreme business choice to some retailers, but perhaps others should look into closing on Black Friday and avoid the crazy day altogether.

#OptOutside has generated 12.5 million posts on Instagram and 834,600 tweets over the previous four years, but this year the retailer is requesting that its members engage in a "nationwide clean-up effort" in November and sign up for a year-long action plan to reduce their environmental footprint over the next year.

"It's our biggest megaphone," Executive Vice President and Chief Customer Officer Ben Steele said of Black Friday. "We as an organization and as a brand have, over the course of the last four years and going into this fifth year, gotten the attention of the industry, gotten the attention of the consumer, gotten the attention of our membership, by being willing to do something different on that day and something hard for a lot of businesses."

This is a move that is perfectly on-brand for a company like REI and its 154 retail stores. Several other smaller retail outlets are also closing on Black Friday, including Patagonia and Brooks Running. But as Black Friday and the holiday shopping season is evolving, what would it look like if one of the brick and mortar giants also closed on Black Friday to promote something good for its customers.

Target could close on Black Friday to promote spending an extra day of family togetherness for the holidays. Or Best Buy could take a leap and promote turning off all electronics on Black Friday. Encouraging everyone to start a new tradition by spending the day after Thanksgiving off of their devices, even offering online discounts in the days following Black Friday.

Both would give each brand a great PR story and would get a lot of traction of social media, but could each company stand to lose the foot traffic and news coverage on their biggest sales day of the year?

The trends say that they could. 2018 Black Friday in-store sales declined 9 percent from 2017, while the day pulled in $6.22 billion in online sales, up 23.6 percent from 2017. With $2 billion of those sales coming specifically from smartphones.

This might be an obvious statement, but more purchases are occurring online, even on the busiest shopping day of the year. Free shipping and Cyber Monday deals encourage shoppers to stay away from the Black Friday rush and wait a few days to cash in on the great sales.

So as a brand, why not take the opportunity to message something good for your consumer base and close on Black Friday? The revenue might still come in online sales, and staying closed for a good cause may even sway a purchasing decision for some holiday shoppers. Plus, active engagement and earned media through social channels would be added bonuses for a brand’s profile.

One last thing to consider are these retailers’ employees. Black Friday is notorious for crowd rushes, rood customers, out-of-stock items and one of the worst working experiences of the year. What a morale booster and kind gesture to give employees the day off and have them enjoy the holidays with friends and family, instead of dreading the masses with their employer.

I have never been one to go out and fight the crowds on Black Friday. My body needs that extra time for recovery after a day of gluttony. I am notorious for waiting to the last minute to holiday shop, frantically looking for the best deals with minutes to spare. But the term “value” is starting to change for more consumers, including myself. Brands’ beliefs and morals are starting to play into my purchase decisions. And companies like REI, who are taking a stand on something, are becoming more valuable to me than any low-price sale.