Editorials

REI plants a flag in the sand against holiday sales creep

A customer looks over sea kayaks at the REI store in Seattle. The Kent-based outdoor retailer will buck Black Friday 2015 and close its 143 stores on the day after Thanksgiving, giving workers a paid day off.
A customer looks over sea kayaks at the REI store in Seattle. The Kent-based outdoor retailer will buck Black Friday 2015 and close its 143 stores on the day after Thanksgiving, giving workers a paid day off. Associated Press file, 2006

REI ’s announcement that it would not do business on Black Friday – the huge shopping day after Thanksgiving – elicited cheers from most quarters. Others sniffed that REI could afford such a move because it is a cooperative, not a publicly traded company beholden to shareholders.

The Kent-based outdoor retailer isn’t just fighting holiday sales creep; it’s blowing it up. It will give its 12,000 employees the day off with pay and won’t even staff its online store. As it does with its “Yay Day” policy of giving two paid days off a year (in addition to holidays and vacation), REI is encouraging workers to enjoy the outdoors. Customers, too, are urged to get outside and be active instead of shopping. “OptOutside,” is how it puts it.

REI employees also get Thanksgiving off, something workers at a growing number of other retailers can only dream about. Many employers are now opening their doors that Thursday – trying to get a head start on reaping those holiday shopping dollars. The thinking is that consumers have a fixed amount of money to spend on gifts; whoever gets to them first wins, hence the Thanksgiving Day openings.

Among the national chain stores that will be open on Thanksgiving are Macy’s, Best Buy, Walmart, Target, K-mart, JCPenney, Sears and Bass Pro Shops. Those giving their employees the day off include Costco, Home Depot, Lowe’s, Nordstrom and Staples.

Here’s to the holdouts, those retailers that see value in letting their employees have a day off with their families to give thanks, watch a football game or, heaven forbid, go shopping at one of the stores that will be open. Those employers have decided that whatever is to be gained by being open on Thanksgiving isn’t enough to warrant making their employees work that day.

Even Black Friday isn’t what it used to be. Shopping on that day – the traditional holiday season opener – used to have some cachet attached to it, with people camping out on the sidewalk in front of stores, eagerly waiting to be first through the doors to grab up a limited number of real bargains. While there was excitement, there often was also trouble: customers or employers injured in the opening stamped and fights breaking out over merchandise.

Every year there were widely publicized incidents. And to what end? Retailers had begun diluting the thrill of Black Friday by opening on Thanksgiving and by offering Black Friday-like specials online. Why risk the store crush when the same values might be available in the comfort of your home? Shoppers who braved Black Friday crowds only to find even better deals in the following weeks might be reluctant to get burned again.

We like what Brian Harrower, a store manager at a Minnesota REI, had to say about it: “Somebody has to be the one to kind of put their flag in the sand and say enough is enough.” There are many other days to get the same deals, he noted.

Amen, and thanks, REI.

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