The Death of Black Friday?

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On REI’s homepage, visitors are greeted with a pronouncement:

“875,256 will #OptOutside this Black Friday.”

And the number just keeps growing.

(Seriously, check the site—the number of people opting out goes up every few minutes.)

This year, REI won’t be participating in Black Friday.

In a surprise move, the venerable vendor of outdoor gear announced that it will be closing all 143 store locations on Black Friday, one of the biggest shopping days of the year for retail businesses.

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Do you plan to #OptOutside?

Their reason?

To encourage their employees, as well as potential shoppers, to get outside and enjoy the outdoors, rather than standing in endlessly long lines and snatching up discounted gadgets.

“For 76 years, our co-op has been dedicated to one thing and one thing only: a life outdoors,” says CEO and president Jerry Stritzke in a press release. “We believe that being outside makes our lives better. And Black Friday is the perfect time to remind ourselves of this essential truth.”

According to Stritzke, while everyone else is “fighting it out in the aisles,” REI employees will be compensated and spending the day exploring the outdoors, in keeping with the company’s style and mission.

This is an attitude REI hopes others will adopt by avoiding the mayhem and breaking with tradition. Participants are invited to use the hashtag #OptOutside to share their experiences.

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REI’s new #OptOutside landing page, counting down the days until the Friday after Thanksgiving.

First comes one, then come many

It’s a trend in the making, though maybe not one to gather speed quickly.

Following REI’s lead, other retailers are also shutting their doors on Black Friday.

British retailer ASDA has made the decision to remain closed, and local Austin-based hardware retailer Treehouse also plans to avoid Black Friday—and they’re not alone.

However, the madness doesn’t begin and end just on Black Friday; in recent years, retailers have begun opening their doors earlier and earlier, with stores opening in the wee hours of Friday morning, and even as early as Thursday night.

While REI might be in the minority when it comes to closing shop for the day itself, other businesses are following suit and refusing to be open on Thanksgiving day.

Stores like Nordstrom, DSW, and Costco are among those who have voted to put their employees first, and let them celebrate the holiday with their families.

So, while REI is still in the minority when it comes to closing on Black Friday itself, they might just be ahead of the curve, as it seems like the way the wind is blowing.

Why close on Black Friday?

If Black Friday is one of the biggest, most profitable shopping days of the year for retailers, why not take advantage?

Why has REI decided to shut its doors, and why are other businesses shunning the steady creep of Black Friday, as businesses are now expected to open on what is technically still Thanksgiving day?

While REI credits their closure to a simple desire to encourage their employees and customers to get outside, criticisms of this most consumer-driven day of the year run deeper than that.

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Lines outside of retailers such as Best Buy can get a little out of hand. Source.

The increased expectation for retailers to be open earlier and longer results in less time for employees to spend with their families, an approach that some find problematic. The earlier stores open, the less time workers have to enjoy the holiday, which strikes some as unfair and not in keeping with the spirit of the day.

Not only that, the Black Friday madness has resulted in actual casualties, from pepper spray incidents to deaths. In one memorable (and, frankly, rather horrifying) incident, shoppers charged the doors of a New York Walmart, which resulted in two deaths.

While these are extreme examples, Black Friday lends itself to extremism, a fact that has raised some questions about the ethical nature of the day.

From forcing employees to work lengthy hours on a holiday, to crowds so unruly that injury is frequent, and the inherent focus on buying, buying, buying—it’s not surprising that retailers and consumers alike are beginning to question whether or not participation is a good idea.

A drop in popularity

If you’d rather leave the question of ethics to Kant, let’s look at the stats:

When it comes to sales, Black Friday is losing steam.

In 2014, combined sales from Thanksgiving day, Black Friday, and the following weekend saw an 11 percent drop from the year before.

Ultimately, an estimated 1.8 million fewer shoppers turned up for last year’s Black Friday deals.

The reason for the low turnout isn’t certain.

While lower sales have been attributed to the fact that retailers are now offering sales sometimes a full week leading up to the day, and that Cyber Monday has replaced a large amount of Black Friday spending, there is also the possibility that consumers are less enthused about Black Friday in general.

What should your business do?

Should you open your doors on Black Friday?

Ultimately, it’s a personal choice.

Do you feel that the potential for added sales would benefit your business? Would your business actually make a profit by cutting deep discounts?

The realities of how offering Black Friday deals will affect your bottom line should not be ignored. While larger chains may be able to offer huge discounts—sometimes up to 70% off—and absorb their losses, your small business may not.

And, furthermore, does being open on Black Friday (and often on Thanksgiving evening) align with your company culture and principles?

If you answered yes, carry on—just make sure to track your metrics, so that you can determine later on if it was worth your while, and what to do more of, less of, or differently next year.

(And, maybe consider letting your employees spend as much time with their families as possible, and save the opening until Friday morning).

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Small Business Saturday can be a great alternative that encourages customers to shop local.

An alternative: Small Business Saturday

If you’re not sure Black Friday is for you, never fear—it’s not the only option.

Small Business Saturday is another way for smaller businesses to take advantage of the holiday shopping melee in a less overwhelming—and potentially costly—way.

Conceived by American Express, Small Business Saturday is to small businesses what Black Friday is to big box chains: a chance to offer discounts for holiday shoppers.

Even though American Express no longer offers incentives for shopping at small businesses on the day, Congress has recognized November 28th, 2015 as Small Business Saturday, a move which further embeds the “holiday” in the seasonal shopping mix.

If you’re a small, local business, consider Small Business Saturday as an alternative to Black Friday.

Not only do you get to avoid the mess (and potentially follow REI’s advice and get outside for the day), you’ll be encouraging customers to shop local and support their neighborhood retailers.

My recommendation?

Follow REI’s advice and get outside, preferably with your friends and family, and take advantage of Small Business Saturday and offer some deals to your customers.

Your employees will thank you, and you’ll be connecting with your community.

So sit back, relax, and grab an extra slice of pie on Thursday evening—no long lines or angry mob required.

Briana Morgaine
Briana Morgaine
Briana is a content and digital marketing specialist, editor, and writer. She enjoys discussing business, marketing, and social media, and is a big fan of the Oxford comma. Bri is a resident of Portland, Oregon, and she can be found, infrequently, on Twitter.
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