Retailers avoid sales day chaos

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Every year, the U.S. celebrates its largest annual sales bonanza during Black Friday. The event traditionally begins the day after Thanksgiving and marks the start of the Christmas shopping season.

However, as consumer demands increase and online shopping becomes more and more prevalent, sales have been pushed further and further forward until they have encroached upon Thanksgiving holiday hours. The one-day shopping holiday has morphed into a five-day event spawning Grey Thursday, Small Business Saturday/Sunday and Cyber Monday.

“The U.S. shopping holiday is a cash cow for retailers, a sporting event for deal hunters and a stressful day for most shoppers,” said Sarah Mitroff, CNET associate editor, in a recent CNET article.“What was once the start of the holiday shopping season has become a mess of traffic jams, long lines and ravaged stores. Every year, it’s looking better to just stay at home, and that might be the smartest move.”

According to the annual National Retail Federation survey, 99.8 million people intended to shop on Black Friday this year, as opposed to the 95.5 million shoppers who said they would go last year. Furthermore, 78.5 million people intended to shop on Cyber Monday.

“Retailers have done a tremendous job meeting the customer in the middle this holiday season, giving them both an unforgettable in-store experience that is still critical to any retailer’s success, and a unique opportunity to find great deals without ever having to leave home through mobile and online promotions,” said NRF president and CEO Matthew Shay.

However—and in spite of increasing reports of injuries—86.9 million people actually did make it out to the sales in the lowest numbers since the 85 million who made it out in 2011.

Many factors have contributed to this decline in retail interest. Everything from credit card debt to recurrent government debt crises have been blamed; however, some retailers believe increasing disenchantment is the real problem, and frenzied consumerism the true culprit.

In an uncommon move, outdoor gear and sporting goods retailer Recreational Equipment, Inc., decided to “cancel” Black Friday this year by closing all 143 stores and launching a campaign that encourages people to spend time outside instead. REI gave most of its employees a paid day off and asked customers to share their Back Friday adventures with the #OptOutside hashtag.

REI president and CEO Jerry Stritzke said he was initially hesitant about closing, as Black Friday has consistently been a top 10 sales day for the company.

“Any retailer that hears this will be startled by the idea,” he said. “As a co-op, we define success a little differently. It’s much broader than just money. How effectively do we get people outside?”

The overwhelmingly positive response to Stritzke’s decision caused several other outdoor- focused companies to follow suit. Outdoor Research, Clif Bar and Gregory Packs were some of the companies who decided to give their own employees the day off and encourage their customers to enjoy the outdoors with REI’s #OptOutsidehashtag.

The campaign was massively successful and reached over a million people. On its website, REI said more individuals, organizations, park systems and outdoor companies are signing on every day, and the campaign’s success has inspired them to “begin a series of conversations, events, actions and stories that explore what it means to truly opt outside and put the outdoors at the center of a life” starting in January.

Ken Perkins, president of the research and data firm Retail Metrics, believes REI is in a good position to get away with such a bold move as a smaller, niche retailer.

“It makes it a lot easier for them to do this than it would for a publicly traded company,” Perkins said.

Although no other major retailers closed their doors on Black Friday, several decided to remain closed on Thanksgiving Day to allow their employees time to enjoy the holiday this year.