REI Taking the Customer Experience Outdoors on Black Friday

Customer Experience has become so synonymous with the retail industry that it’s hard to imagine a company not thinking about the in-store and online experience. However, REI’s recent announcement that it will be closed on Black Friday takes experience one-step further – connecting with consumers in an unexpected way, but in a way that also keeps the REI customer experience at the center. REI’s focus on improving the lives of customers outside of direct retail interactions is moving them into a new frontier: the Human Experience. The Human Experience extends beyond omni-channel operations, customer loyalty programs and frictionless transactions to enable a brand to connect with consumers on a personal level that is in alignment with their core values.

In many ways REI is raising the culture bar, sending a very different message than their competitors. REI is taking a stance that to the outside observer seems to be ‘very expensive’ (lost sales and paid employees wages). But to executive leadership, the cost of not opening on Black Friday will be paid back in employee productivity, loyalty and positive brand messaging to consumers – it’s a long-term play. This is what a truly CX-centric organization does to be successful, as noted in our recent whitepaper “Optimizing your Customer Experience Organization: An Actionable Guide.” In the whitepaper, we address three building blocks for a customer-centric organization, the first being to prioritize CX across the organization, from the boardroom to front line employees. The key to REI’s Black Friday message wasn’t just that it was closing, it was that it’s encouraging employees and customers to go out and experience the world – a theme central to CX at REI.

While the financial results of REI’s decision are yet to be seen, clearly, this announcement appeals to the store associates first and foremost, and reminds employees that it’s not only the customer experience that matters, but also the employee experience.  On the consumer side, this move will have almost universal appeal – who is going to outwardly blast a company for treating their employees well?  How companies treat their workforce and behaves socially matters to younger customers, a core demographic for REI.  According to a recent survey by TBWA/Worldwide and TakePart, “4 in 5 millennials said they’d be more likely to purchase from a company that supports a cause they care about, and 3 in 4 would think more highly of a company that supports a social cause.”

Closing on Black Friday isn’t the right move for every retailer – and that’s where knowing your customer becomes key. This works for REI because they are a retailer who has built their loyal customer base not by having the lowest price, but by providing a best-in-class customer shopping experience through knowledgeable associates, an innovative store environment and top-notch customer service. Customers who align to this value proposition will not shun REI’s decision to give employees an extra day with family and friends; quite the opposite actually. On the other hand, retailers who draw in customers through highly competitive pricing must continue to run deep Black Friday promotions to meet financial goals.

This move once again signals the importance of CX being central to a retailers’ behavior and strategies, and how if you put your customer at the center, it’s hard to go wrong.

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This post was co-authored by Brett Dahlin. Brett is a Senior Consultant with the North Highland Company.  Brett has 5 years of experience  within retail, consumer products, healthcare, and information technology. Brett has served a multitude of global clients, including Fortune 100 Retailers and Consumer Products Companies, National Non-Profits and one of the largest Pharmaceuticals companies globally.  Specific areas of expertise include Project Management, Retail Merchandising, Merger Integration, System Implementation, Financial Assessments and Process Improvement.

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