In advance of Black Friday, REI announced once again that it will close its doors and encourage employees and customers to enjoy life outdoors for the day. Led by new CEO Eric Artz, this year the retailer is also asking the 13,000 employees and 18 million co-op members to join one of its organized clean-up efforts across the country and focus on individual accountability with “Opt to Act.”
It’s not entirely surprising that REI is taking radical action. It already gives 70% of its profit back to the community, and this is the fifth year its shuttered stores for the biggest shopping holiday of the year. I had the opportunity to talk to Artz about why this announcement feels different, and he shared that outside of the Black Friday announcements, he is seeing significant shifts in consumer demands for brands with purpose. More consumers are rewarding brands for plugging into the circular economy — an abandonment of the make/use/dispose model and a focus on keeping materials in use as long as possible to cut down on waste.
REI is not only leading through action, but investment. Because their demand for rental goods has doubled in the last year, they are expanding their offerings. They are also launching a buy-back program for used gear to better support demand and incentivize new participants.
Gifting thrift: Resale, rental and reuse win over shoppers
This past year for retail has in fact been different. Maybe its the national narrative and a groundswell of voices from every sector saying to act on climate change. Maybe it's in response to a dramatic rise in values-led shopping — in fact it's been said that 75% of holiday shoppers will shop with sustainability in mind. But nonetheless change is afoot. Retailers are responding by putting environmental consciousness at the forefront of operational and marketing decisions.
Over the past ten years, and particularly in the last two, Patagonia has advocated for Planet Earth. Its online press room doesn’t mention fleece or mittens — it's a newsroom about policy, agricultural innovations, climate change activism etc. Patagonia has also invested heavily in ways to save our home planet — not just through product or process innovations but it also gave the environment a $10M holiday gift last year. Patagonia makes 69% of its clothes from recycled materials (hoping to achieve 100% by 2025). The brand continues to significantly grow— mutually beneficial for both Mother Earth and the business. As CEO Rose Macario told Fast Company last year, doing good work for the environment helps create new markets, and it helps the company make more money. It seems the wins for the circular economy are also US economic wins full stop.
This holiday season, shoppers will likely see more brands debuting new ways for consumers to plug into the circular economy. And this is just smart retailing because consumers — and more than a third of millennials — are demanding offerings like resale and rental this holiday season. They will be met with options like ThredUp gift cards.
The future of Black Friday
These first movers give a glimpse into what the future of Black Friday, and the full Cyber Week of shopping, could look like. If consumers continue to dig deeper on sustainability and chose brands and retail businesses with values like their own, then big household brands and retailers will likely start investing even more in sustainability and purpose. It's already happening in household goods, but big retailers have the chance to create opportunities for consumers to act on their values. Maybe even more so than giant online retailers.
All big box retailers have their corporate sustainability goals — reducing carbon emissions or chemical use — but how will they start bringing that work into stores or offering consumers a way to reuse, rent or use less harmful materials in a way that builds loyalty and, better yet, more foot traffic and wallet share? Perhaps the circular economy and putting purpose first is not just transforming Black Friday, but the shopping experience at large.
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