Column: REI opts out of Black Friday and the world applauds

Customers set up camp outside of Best Buy on Thanksgiving night to stake out territory before Black Friday begins at 5 a.m. the following morning. REI has opted out of Black Friday this year, instead urging customers to go outside with their #OptOutside campaign. (David Haines/Flickr)

Imagine a multi-billion dollar corporation that had certain principles and actively strived to meet such principles despite any potential negative consequence to its bottom line.

You don’t have to imagine anymore.

In a bold move, outdoor gear and sporting goods retail giant, REI, has opted to close all stores for Black Friday this year, according to USA Today. Their alternative campaign #OptOutside encourages their patrons to spend time outdoors and share any adventures or events on social media with the hash tag. 

Planning to have just 12,000 employees on call, the rest will get a paid day off. This is a shocking on REI’s part, as it will exponentially affect their dividends. According to USA Today, Black Friday is one of the company’s top-10 sales days. Granted, REI is in a better position than most, because it can afford to give up the sales day.

However, one must also consider that simply because a company can afford to do the right thing doesn’t make it any less worthy. If anything, the fact that REI is willingly incurring the extra expenses of no profit added to the paid leave all employees receive on this day can make a dent in any corporation. 

It’s not only about the bottom line, but the bigger picture that CEO and REI President Jerry Stritzke is pushing.

Violence is becoming a more apparent trend for Black Friday shoppers as any viral video of shoppers assaulting each other can attest to. Masses of what should be emotionally and mentally competent human beings devolve down to use a primal instinct over the most insignificant material possessions. Even our primate ancestors fought each other for more valuable resources like food, shelter and power. 

The ones responsible for the consequences of these actions are those poor souls working the day before and on Black Friday. Preparing the store for such overflow of people is one venture, but to proof the store in an attempt to protect it from the insanity that comes with whatever qualifies as a “great sale” is nearly impossible. 

REI is not even planning on compartmentalizing the Black Friday sales to online merchandise. It is simply shutting down the existence of such sale at all.

In a way, one could argue that this could be REI’s way of skirting the annual discounts, crowds, and overtime employees who would need to be reimbursed. However, in this situation, I believe that despite any underlying pay-off the company retains from this move, whether it’s a slight increase in profit, free marketing due to articles such as this one or an annual decrease in chaos, the end justifies the means REI takes. 

Black Friday has both immediate and long-term negative impacts on our society.

The violence that emerges sets a tone for mass hysteria and group polarization to occur over 40 percent off a TV that you probably don’t need. Oftentimes the sales offered during Black Friday are not exceptional to other sales offered during the year.

Another problem is that derivative merchandise is sometimes made with lower specifications thereby they are simply selling you a lower quality product for a lower price. The long-term impacts are more about the development of our society as a whole. With “Brave New World” undertones depicting a society so crazed by material possessions and so easily turning a blind eye to societal problems, phasing Black Friday sales out is one of the ways to take away the multitude of distractions that are already offered.  

In the end, REI’s #OptOutside campaign is rooted in sound values, ones that are laudable on many levels.

Encouraging people to spend time outside and with their families after Thanksgiving rather than waking up at godforsaken hours to enter into a frenzy of people to shop is surprisingly a rarely expressed counsel.

Thankfully, phasing out the atrocities of Black Friday first started with the advent of the sales extending to online purchases. This may have helped to diminish the crowds at the stores themselves, but did not fully prevent mishaps. Someone needed to take this step, and given the affect it would have on profits, it was a step I did not think I would ever see. Hopefully, other corporations follow suit and do the same as REI. 


Jesseba Fernando is a staff columnist for The Daily Campus opinion section. She can be reached via email at jesseba.fernando@uconn.edu.