Outdoor gear retailer REI made headlines when it announced that it would close all of its 143 stores on the day after Thanksgiving – the day that has become known as “Black Friday” replete with middle-of-night store openings and long lines of shoppers jostling for special deals. Viewed through the lens of Higher Ambition, this move appears as insightful as it is bold.
Central to the craft of Higher Ambition leadership is the “simultaneous solve,” finding innovative and powerful ways to create win/win/win solutions that meet the needs of multiple stakeholders at once. Closing on Black Friday allows REI executives to simultaneously solve for three critical strategic questions: How can they best serve their customers? How can they build their business? How can increase employee loyalty and enthusiasm? It may be that turning out the lights for a day may be just the right answer.
Shutting the doors on one of the busiest shopping days of the years is risky. Once only an industry term, Black Friday traditionally marked the beginning of the final 30 shopping days before Christmas – a period so critical that it could make or break a retailer’s performance for the year. In recent years, Black Friday has become a mega-event with stores competing to see who could open earlier, offer more alluring deals, and attract more frenzied shoppers. It also came with consequences that have dampened enthusiasm for some shoppers: there have been seven deaths and 98 injuries related to Black Friday activities since 2006.
It appears, however, that REI is not taking undue risk. It is actually being pretty savvy. The store is encouraging customers and employees to get active outside on Black Friday. It is using #optoutside as both the Twitter hashtag and tag line for the event. This shows that the store is aligned with the values of its customers – they would rather be hiking than battling checkout lines. REI’s generally upscale customers may also be less likely in general to succumb to Black Friday mania. When these customers get outside, they will be using the kind of gear that REI sells and may even acquire something new in advance of their Friday adventures or add something to their holiday wish lists. That’s win number one.
Win number two is deepening their engagement with and appreciation of their employees. A fair amount of what REI sells – tents, bicycles, kayaks, skis, snowboards, and all of the related gear – requires associates with specialized knowledge and superior customer-interaction skills. These are valuable people likely in high demand from their competitors. In giving them Black Friday off with pay, the company provides a tangible thank you to the workforce. Not only will they also have Friday to get outside and enjoy, associates can be more relaxed with their friends and families on Thanksgiving Thursday as well. They’ll return rested and enthused for selling on the weekend and through the season.
Finally, there is the win of differentiation from their competitors. REI has received extensive national publicity for closing on the biggest shopping day of the year. Stories have appeared in USAToday, the Atlantic, Forbes, and local outlets such as the San Francisco Chronicle and Boston Public Radio. In the latter every caller to this talk radio program indicated a heightened desire to shop at REI because of the Black Friday closure. While it will not be replicable year after year, this publicity carries tremendous value.
Is REI making the right move? We’ll be watching – from outside, of course.
Photo: Wikipedia Commons