We all lament the commercialization of the holidays, the genuineness of giving and charity replaced with marketing ploys and aggressive shoppers elbowing cohorts for the next Tickle Me Elmo. As retailers, we stand at a unique crossroads. Do we invest our marketing in Black Friday, the single biggest shopping day of the year, or do we adhere to those traditional tenets of good will and family, of gratitude and simplicity? For decades, the solution has been solely to vest in the former: employ those consumer’s cries of “buy, buy, buy!” to our advantage and compete with other retailers to reel in customers on the big day. But last year, an unlikely liberator set us all, especially us in the outdoor retail sphere, free with a simple hashtag: #OptOutside.
It’s a campaign that hails from one of the most seemingly esurient retailers in our field, the giant REI. Last year REI’s leaders sent a letter to their 5.5 million members with a shocking revelation: on Black Friday, they would pay their 12,000 employees not to work. Instead, they encouraged their employees, members and customers to do what they love most: be outside. They used the alliterative hashtag “#OptOutside” to inspire their community to reconnect with family and friends over the holiday weekend while simultaneously investing in nature.
It’s an inherently precarious ploy. It appeals to the nostalgia of its community—“remember the days before Friday was so black?”—but it also eliminates one of the most profitable days of the entire year from it’s itinerary. But in a symbolic representation of the goodness that still lies at the heart of we commercialized Americans, it worked. Not only did REI inspire folks to get outside, on Black Friday and every other day, they also helped those who felt alone on Black Friday to reinvest in a new kind of community. A community that values the good ol’ outdoors over cloying consumerism—but still needs gear, and a place to buy it.
This year, the little hashtag that could is bigger and better than ever. REI has recruited over 365 organizations and 1 million people to stand beside them in their intentional rebuttal of the rapaciousness of a 21st century Black Friday. Slogans like “trails over sales” have encouraged a huge portion of the outdoor community to get outside and work off some of that pumpkin pie.
““#OptOutside has provided the outdoor community and our nonprofit partners an incredible platform to share the transformative power of the outdoors,” says Jerry Stritzke, REI CEO and president. “The response it’s received in its second year is a powerful reminder of how this idea connects with people at an individual and emotional level.”
Nonprofits, including state parks in Colorado, Delaware, Kansas and Minnesota, are hosting events or opening for free to encourage a healthier binge on Black Friday. The Massachusetts Audubon Society and Michigan’s Huron-Clinton Metromarks will host birding events, while the National Interscholastic Cycling Association encourages their 600 teams to go for a ride. It’s a heartening movement that captures the true spirit of the season.
#OptOutside is also a unique inspiration for retailers. Although we always encourage the development of profits, at the Mann Group we preach—above all else—the importance of relationships with your customers. And what better way to exemplify how much you value that relationship than to literally and figuratively say, “Get outta here, and go have fun.”
So whether you choose to #OptOutside or come up with a slogan of your own, reconsider how you do business this Black Friday. It’s the relationship with the customer, not the specific sale, that will last.