Over the past couple of years, outdoor gear retailer REI has started a new tradition that has turned into a full-blown movement. In both 2015 and 2016, the company elected to close all of its stores and website on Black Friday – one of the busiest shopping days of the year – to encourage its employees and customers to go outside instead. This year, they’re doing it once again, and they’re launching a new tool that will make the #OptOutside experience even better.
Later this month, just in time for the Thanksgiving holiday weekend here in the States, REI will launch an experiential search engine on its website that will make it easier than ever to discover new places to explore. A preview of this search engine is already available, but when it goes live in a few week’s time it will allow visitors to the site to see realtime Instagram posts from those who are using the #OptOutside hashtag. But in addition to simply displaying those photos, the search engine will also automatically add information about a trail being hiked, including where it is located, directions to the trail head, tips for hiking it, and more. This turns the usual social networking experience into a more useful tool for outdoor enthusiasts.
When the #OptOutside story first broke a couple of years back, there were some cynical folks who felt that it was just a publicity stunt from the management team at REI, and they gained far more attention for the ploy than any advertising dollars could ever buy. That may be true, but the company has stuck with this program and continues to grow it each year. This isn’t just some marketing stunt, but something that the retailer truly believes in, which is why it continues to stand by the policy and grow the experience each year.
This year, all 151 of REI’s stores will be closed, as will its website. No sales will be made on what is often a make-or-break day for retailer outlets. While many Americans will be battling each other to get the best deals possible, REI’s 12,000 employees will all get a paid day off. I think that remains a great story, and deserving of a salute. I know I’ll #OptOutside again this year.