While REI’s decision to close its stores on Black Friday as part of its #OptOutside social campaign prompted debate on whether it was a smart business move, the retailer’s year-end results indicate that the campaign has certainly paid off.
REI reported a 9.3% increase in revenues and a 7% increase in comparable store sales in 2015, but its biggest accomplishment was a 23% uptick in digital sales.
It may seem ironic that a company encouraging consumers to go outside would have such a dramatic improvement in digital revenue. But the sales lift indicates that REI is relating to its consumer base extremely well via its social media pages, which serve as an extension of the REI e-Commerce brand. By encouraging its consumers to #OptOutside, the brand showed confidence in its own brand offering and gave customers a reason to engage back and forth with them to share photos via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
The customer engagement aspect of the campaign was tremendous, with REI reporting that 1.4 million people posted the #OptOutside hashtag on their social pages. In a further example of the company’s ability to relate to the outdoor shopper, the members-only retail co-op also announced that more than one million new members joined the company in 2015.
If any lesson is to come from this, it would be that retailers need to represent their brand experience earnestly if they are truly seeking a loyal fan base. Although the #OptOutside campaign appeared to be a risk from a business perspective, the sincerity of the brand — particularly in giving all of its employees a day off for Black Friday — showed that risky campaigns can reap rewards, as long as they are deployed tactfully and with the understanding of the consumer in mind.
Given how embedded Black Friday shopping has become as part of American culture, consumers certainly took notice of REI’s actions. It’s likely they kept them in mind for future online and offline visits to the retailer. With REI continuing to emphasize a positive impact among the outdoors community, more shoppers with the same mindset will look to engage — even if that means shopping within the comfort of their homes.