REI’s #OptOutside campaign, in its fifth year, goes even further in 2019, encouraging employees and consumers to clean up the outdoors instead of shopping on Black Friday.

Sporting goods and apparel retailer Recreational Equipment Inc., or REI, is again launching its #OptOutside campaign for the holiday season, in which it is closing its 157 stores on Black Friday and not processing payments on its ecommerce site.

Instead of shopping or working, REI will pay its employees while encouraging them and consumers to spend time outside and “think more deliberately about their consumption habits.”

The campaign, in its fifth year, goes even further this year by encouraging its 13,000 employees and 18,000 co-op members to “opt to act,” a step beyond “opt outside.” Instead of just enjoying the outdoors, REI suggests its employees and consumers should join an organized environmental cleanup effort.

If consumers can’t join one of the 11 organized events throughout the U.S. that REI lists on its ecommerce site, REI CEO Eric Artz encourages them to pick up trash on their hikes, “leaving our trails and outdoor spaces better than you found them,” he writes in a letter to co-op members published on the REI.com blog.

“As a single company, our impact is limited, but as a community, we can drive change that powers meaningful action beyond our walls,” Artz wrote. “As a co-op, we know that many people taking many small steps together can add up to big changes. Collective intention will drive collective impact.”

advertisement

Black Friday is the day after Thanksgiving and is routinely one of the largest U.S. shopping days, both in stores and online. Adobe Digital Insights Inc. estimates that the single day in 2018 brought in $6.2 billion in online sales in the U.S.

Online, consumers can still visit REI.com on Thanksgiving and Black Friday, add items to their cart and place an order, but REI will not process them until the following day, an REI spokeswoman says. The retailer does not publish how much it loses on Black Friday, but in the past, the shopping day was one of its largest sale day of the year, the spokeswoman says.

However, the retailer may recoup the losses from being closed on these days on other shopping days during the holiday season, says Paula Rosenblum, co-founder and managing partner at firm Retail Systems Research.

REI, however, is not interested in the business value of the #OptOutside campaign, the spokeswoman says.

“We’ve actually made a really concerted effort not to tie this initiative to business results,” the spokeswoman says. “It’s about our employees, first and foremost, and living our values.”

advertisement

And the #OptOutside does just that, Rosenblum says, as it reinforces REI’s core values and showcases it “cares more about their customers than immediate profits.”

Additionally, the campaign fosters loyalty to the brand, especially because the retailer is a co-op, says Lauren Freedman, senior consumer insights analyst for Digital Commerce 360.

“They’re putting their money where their mouth is, and their customers will follow suit,” Freedman says. “Both are passionately committed to the environment. Co-op members in particular share their value systems and will support them in this effort and future shopping trips, making them the ultimate in customer loyalists.”

Data supports this as well, as 53.4% of REI.com’s customers are repeat shoppers, according to Top500Guide.com. This is much higher than the median for retailers in the Internet Retailer 2019 Top 1000, at 37.8% repeat shoppers, and still higher for the 73 sporting goods retailers in the Top 1000, with a 47.6% median of repeat shoppers.

Along with this campaign, REI also announced several other sustainability initiatives, such as “a substantial reduction” of its use of polybags, or the plastic used to package apparel. Plus, it will continue to build up its gear rental and used gear buy-back program. These programs maximize the number of times a product is used, which lowers a product’s environmental footprint, REI says.

advertisement

REI’s goal was for its headquarters, warehouses and stores to operate as a zero-waste facility, meaning diverting 90% of waste from landfills, by 2020. REI says it has made “significant progress” but will not meet this goal by 2020, although will continue to work toward it.

Besides REI, other sporting gear and apparel retailers Patagonia and VF Corp.’s The North Face also have campaigns promoting environmental sustainability. At the start of 2019, for example, Patagonia changed its mission statement to, “We’re in business to save our home planet,” and has turned its environmental mission to politics. It endorsed senators that align with its values and openly criticized the Trump administration on its tax cut and public land policies.

While many retailers would be nervous to take a political stand, Patagonia CEO Rose Marcario said this is in line with its brand mission and what its customers expect.

“For us, it hasn’t been a big risk,” she said at the National Retail Federation 2019 conference. “We know our customers. We’ve never been a mass advertiser; we don’t do commercials. People find the brand, and they are interested in the product… Customers come to us with some connection to the outdoors, they get to know us and have a relationship with us.”

Besides fostering loyalty, these types of initiatives may attract new customers that have similar values, as 33% of online shoppers say they have purchased apparel from an online retailer based on its sustainability or pro-environmental stance, according to a 2019 Internet Retailer/Bizrate Insights  survey of 994 consumers. Plus, a 2018 survey by advisory firm Accenture found similar results, as consumers said their purchasing decisions are influenced by the words, values and actions of a company’s leaders.

advertisement

REI’s 18 million co-op members is the number of consumers who have ever paid its one-time membership fee of $20. Membership has increased 31% since 2014, says the REI spokeswoman.

REI has 157 stores and it ranks No. 96 in the Internet Retailer 2019 Top 1000. Internet Retailer estimates 2018 web sales grew 15% year over year, and its five-year compound annual growth rate of 20.0%.

Favorite