- December 7th, 2015
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Shopping Takes A Trek: What REI’s Black Friday Shuttering Could Mean For Retail
REI’s decision to boycott Black Friday is delivering positive near-term results. The longer-term implications depend on how well it will continue to understand what resonates with its shoppers. Three keystones of relevance should ensure that it will.
For most retailers, the mile markers of performance come in the form of register receipts, but for outdoor-gear chain REI, they are coming in the form of social registers.
REI is the chain that caused many of its rivals to blink – twice – when it boldly announced it would not open its stores on Black Friday. Instead, REI urged its customers to go outdoors and record their experiences on its #OptOutside. Before Black Friday, REI had attracted nearly 1 million endorsements on social media, prompting President and CEO Jerry Stritzke to call its boycott a “movement.”
Whether that movement will move sales long-term is yet to be seen, but the leaders of the Seattle-based chain clearly considered what resonates with its customer base when making their headline-grabbing decision. And that is a good sign.
As evidence, let’s look at the short-term results. While Seattle-based REI’s physical stores were closed, its digital aisles were teeming. Traffic on REI’s website rose by 10 percent on Thanksgiving Day and 26 percent on Black Friday, according to GeekWire, citing SimilarWeb. (While its site was up, REI did not process any online orders on Black Friday.)
Traffic elsewhere indicates that perhaps a movement is afoot, as other stores that remained closed on Thanksgiving saw a bump, or leap, in online traffic, according to the GeekWire report (again citing SimilarWeb): At GameStop, Thanksgiving Day traffic rose 132 percent; at Staples, 120 percent; PetSmart, 69 percent; and at Nordstrom and Pier1, 54 percent.
Shop The Insanity
The decision to keep stores closed on Thanksgiving (and Black Friday) can be considered a call for sanity. Holiday hawking is approaching full-tilt, from the carols that were piped (loudly) into coffee shops in the first week of November to the major chains that opened their doors on Thanksgiving Day, oftentimes before the turkey had gone cold.
This is a retailer’s choice, and I do not criticize any decision to be open if people want to shop and employees want to work. But the fact that more consumers shunned the stores may be indicative of promotional fatigue (the sheer number of offers can be paralyzing). Or perhaps some people felt that the lure of materialism has wrecked enough family afternoons, so they latched themselves to their couches, albeit with tablet in hand.
True enough, the call for family time is gaining volume. An October report by Search Institute, a nonprofit children’s advocacy group, emphasizes the importance of family time for healthy child development, stating: “Developmental relationships in families contribute 42 percent of the difference in parents’ reports of key character strengths.”
Yet parents struggle to find the time. About four in 10 (39 percent) of full-time working mothers and half of all full-time working fathers feel they spend too little time with their kids, according to recent findings by the Pew Research Center. About half of all parents, working or not, feel they do not have enough leisure time.
So, many parents may have asked themselves, why spend an added day off in a harshly lit, chaotic superstore? Sure enough, BloombergBusiness reported that online spending on Black Friday morning outpaced the year-before figure by 15 percent.
These figures and research indicate REI was on to something that many major chains, despite their wealth of resources, might not have noticed, and that is what makes the holidays important to its shoppers.
REI, and other retailers that remained closed, succeeded because they recognized and acted on a few key cornerstones of relevance. Among them:
- Opting for best, not bucks: Retailers that chose to remain closed based their decisions on what they felt is best for their customers, not necessarily on what is best for their products and performance. In doing this, they thought about their businesses from a fresh perspective and, I assume in some cases, will use the resulting data to make product and operational decisions that will lead to deeper, more engaging experiences.
- Answering clear needs: If the siren song of materialism is deafening, then the only notes that will rise above the noise are those that offer solutions to specific customer needs. For specialty merchants, this means aligning operations with the company mission, always. In REI’s case, the mission includes getting people outdoors. Data from its shopper membership program (REI is a co-op) can further help it identify personal interests and customer life stages, so it can send communications that resonate with their preferences – even if the messages do not involve shopping.
- Appreciating emotions: Most retailers with access to data can capture a general idea of their target customers and what makes them tick. Unfortunately, not all retailers know how to optimize the data they have, oftentimes because they have more than they need and the insights get clouded. The most successful retailers are those that consistently reinforce the brand mission with the kinds of experiences their customers treasure, based on the required insights and nothing more. They understand their ideal customers’ main interests, assign value to them and then connect with them in ways that say, “Hey, I know who you are, and I understand your needs.”
This is the message REI sent to its members when it encouraged them to eschew shopping and share their outdoor experiences on #OptOutside. Post-, pre- and present-Thanksgiving Day shopping has for many become a noisy, immense undertaking. Retailers, in tinkering with Black Friday and pulling it into Thursday, may have overstepped.
But even if they had not, digital shopping was already poised to take over the temptation of great deals. REI just supplied the headsets.
This article originally appeared on Forbes.com, where Bryan serves as a retail contributor. You can view the original story here.