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Megan Amrich headshot

REI Makes Black Friday a Permanent Paid Holiday for Employees

REI is once again encouraging employees and consumers alike to spend Black Friday in the great outdoors rather than in department stores.
By Megan Amrich

Ask anyone who has ever worked retail on Black Friday, and they will tell you what an exhausting experience it can be. When those store doors open, it can often resemble a scene out of the TV reality series Survivor, complete with obstacles, races, strategizing, alliances and rewards.

REI Co-Op is once again encouraging employees and consumers alike to keep the post-Thanksgiving adventures in the great outdoors rather than in the department stores. Think more “rock climbing” and less “sprinting to get the last discounted toaster oven.” 

Last week, the Seattle-based outdoors outfitter announced it would remain closed every Black Friday from now on to give its 16,000-plus employees a paid day off. The holiday applies not only to REI’s 178 store locations, but also its corporate headquarters, call centers, distribution facilities and activity centers.

This is the eighth consecutive year REI will not be open for business on what is commonly regarded as the busiest shopping day of the year. The paid holiday is a key component of REI’s Opt Outside initiative, which promotes meaningful, inclusive experiences in nature. 

“Opt Outside has always been about prioritizing the experience of our employees—choosing the benefits of time outside over a day of consumption and sales,” said Eric Artz, REI Co-Op president and CEO, in a press release announcing the permanent change. “Making Opt Outside an annual observance will serve as a yearly reminder of this commitment to doing the right thing for the co-op community.”

REI: Standing out by staying closed  

When REI first announced the company would stay closed the day after Thanksgiving in 2015, consumers and industry insiders immediately took notice

Some experts said such a move was only possible because REI operates as a cooperative of like-minded stakeholders with similar values — customers pay a one-time membership fee for a share in the business   as opposed to a publicly traded company with fiduciary responsibilities. (REI currently has more than 20 million members.) 

“REI is taking direct aim at the frenzied consumerism that dominates the holidays with a message to do the exact opposite of what Black Friday demands,” USA Today’s Hadley Malcom wrote in a November 2015 article about the launch of Opt Outside. 

Indeed, REI’s Opt Outside message was a refreshing change of pace from the “race to the bottom” mentality of retailers on Black Friday in the mid-to-late 2010s. Starting in the 1990s and early aughts, stores began opening earlier and earlier the day after Thanksgiving, responding to the introduction of “Cyber Monday” competition. Soon it was common for stores to be open Thanksgiving, too, as brick-and-mortar retailers fought for every possible advantage over online shopping. 

Is Black Friday still relevant? 

Since the pandemic, some stores – including Target, Walmart and Kohl’s – have returned to remaining closed on Thanksgiving. 

There is also an industry-wide shift away from the laser-focused attention on Black Friday as the best day for deals, as retailers continue to create their own discount “holidays” to start the shopping season in October or earlier, competing with Amazon Prime Day (which is now not only multiple days, but several times a year).  

So is Black Friday even still relevant in today’s retail climate? Different projections show different answers. 

The National Retail Federation (NRF) points out that for many people, shopping after Thanksgiving is a chance to bond with family and friends, and after the past two years of COVID restrictions, people are eager to return to pre-pandemic traditions with loved ones. Indeed, 45 percent of respondents said they are likely to shop on Black Friday this year, according to a poll conducted last month by the NRF in conjunction with Prosper Insights & Analytics. 

In PwC’s Holiday 2022 Outlook, meanwhile, only 20 percent of participants polled said they would shop on Black Friday, compared with three times that amount in 2015. 

It is interesting to note that regardless of these findings, REI remains one of the only large retailers to keep doors shut on Black Friday, however.

Now, according to PR Daily, “there is a growing backlash by younger Millennial and Gen Z consumers against Black Friday, but REI was a trendsetter in the movement by closing stores on the day after Thanksgiving.” 

And by the sound of last week’s announcement by REI, that trend will continue for years to come. 

Image credit: Dusty Barnes via Unsplash

Megan Amrich headshot

Megan is a writer and editor interested in sharing stories of positive change and resilience. She is the author of Show Up and Bring Coffee, a book highlighting how to support friends who are parents of disabled children. You can follow her at JoyfulBraveAwesome.com.

Read more stories by Megan Amrich