The Conspiracy Theory Behind Retailer REI's Decision to Close on Black Friday


If you haven't heard the news, outdoor lifestyle retailer REI has announced they will be closed on Black Friday, one of the busiest shopping weekends of the year.

Here's a conspiracy theory and a couple of reasons why this might be both a heartwarming idea and brilliant marketing ploy:

1. Always (make it look like you) take the high road

We stand up and cheer for the brands that take a stand on the tough issues, don't we? Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz comes to mind...

On the surface telling customers NOT to shop at REI makes the brand look like they are taking the lead in a march to stop the commercialization of the holidays while also "walking the talk" of their values to live and play more outside.

This tactic is generating a lot of positive buzz and good vibes for REI. But was that the intention of REI's marketing team from the get? If so, it's pretty smart. Think about it.


2. Scarcity creates value

If you tell me I can't have something I usually want it even more. What is the science behind this?

Author Seth Godin wrote about scarcity a few years ago in post:

"The things we fear are probably feared by others, and when we avoid them, we're doing what others are doing as well. Which is why there's a scarcity of whatever work it is we're avoiding.

And of course, scarcity often creates value.

Why be scarce?

-Scarcity creates fashion.
-People want something that others can't have.
-Lines create demand.
-People want something that others want.
-Scarcity creates word of mouth, because people talk about lines and shortages and hot products.

And finally, scarcity drives your product to the true believers, the ones most likely to spread the word and ignite the ideavirus.

Because they expended effort to acquire your product or service, they're not only more likely to talk about it, but they've self-selected as the sort of person likely to talk about it."

This is where the magic happens, when "scarcity drives your product to the true believers, the ones most likely to spread the word."

This reverse psychology may even create a preemtive rush to shop at REI even ealier than Black Friday. Why? Because REI won't let you shop on Black Friday and people want what they can't have!

We see examples of this every time Apple releases a new iPhone...

Maybe REI's secret plan is to boost and encourage (more) online sales? There will probably be a lot of people who want to shop and will do so secretly online...

These are also those who will shop but post and share their support against it on Instagram so they don't look like they are on the wrong side of the issue. You can also find these folks posting frequent "I'm at the gym" pics when in fact they are eating ice cream on the couch.

Additionally, I'm sure there will be many who take up their own cause and start posting messages everywhere to convince others to join the movement of (what they believe to be) REI's values because they strongly agree.

This group will likely buy a lot (more) REI merchandise when everyone least expects it--to stick it to the man or in order to fulfull their own inner monologue about what's right and wrong with shopping during Thanksgiving.


Is REI's heart in the right place or is this a conspiracy? We may never know and it really doesn't matter. It cuts both ways and that's why it's so smart. But it will be interesting to watch the numbers and determine whether or not REI gets an early spike in sales or is rewarded long-term by brand loyalists and new converts for their very good idea.

What do you think? Tweet me @BryanElliott or leave a comment!