The Black Friday Decision: To Shop or #OptOutside ?

Black Friday and Cyber Monday are the largest retail days of the year – and this year, marketing managers are pushing content on social media like never before. Adobe Digital Insights predicted that Black Friday would be bigger than ever, with an 11.5% increase in sales, exceeding $3 billion. Also in the report, Adobe Digital predicted that “social media will play a big part in what sells or what doesn’t as shoppers will look to social sites for feedback, reviews and more.”

Making the Decision to Shop

Since millennials are two times more likely than Baby Boomers and Gen X’ers to learn about holiday gifts from social media, it’s no surprise that retailers are working to get the attention of shoppers this season. On the forefront of these initiatives is Sephora, an online beauty retailer that has moved up to the number 1 spot on the Shareablee Black Friday Retail Brand Edition of its Social Scorecard by having 2.4 million interactions on social media this year across Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Shareablee founder and CEO, Tania Yuki, spoke about this year’s list saying, “The consumer is much more skeptical of the retail season this year, and are rewarding only those retailers truly making an effort to be authentic and to add value to their shopping and research experience in the lead-up to Black Friday.” This is reflected in Sephora’s efforts to really connect with the consumer through Instagram and their new chatbot on Kik, which helps consumers with makeup purchases.

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While other retailers like Nordstrom and Amazon also gained the attention of consumers on Facebook and Twitter, respectively, some retail giants like Bergdorf Goodman, Target, and Walmart were all absent form Shareable’s list and had declining consumer engagement online. This could mean trouble for retailers that aren’t properly engaging their consumers online, as the 2016 Sprout Index predicts that the average retailer should expect a 30% increase in social messages from customers, 56% of which require a response.

A vital part of the Black Friday social media madness has been the use of hashtags. On Black Friday, here were the top trending hashtags on Twitter:
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The Decision Not to Shop

While big brands can utilize #BlackFriday to promote sales or discounts, other hashtags have surfaced on social media. The #OptOutside campaign encourages those who don’t want to participate in the Black Friday madness to get outside, visit state parks, or embark on an adventure that keeps consumers outside of the retail frenzy. Sponsored by REI, an outdoor gear and apparel retailer, #OptOutside has seen huge traction, as Alex Thompson, who oversees Brand Stewardship and Engagement for REI accounts, “Just a day away from Black Friday, participation in #OptOutside has more than doubled since last year. That’s mind-blowing given the scale of engagement last year. More than 550 organizations have adopted the movement as their own. We hope the movement spreads beyond the boundaries of the USA because we believe that life just gets better when you spend it outdoors.” REI closed all of its retail stores on Black Friday, and paid its employees to take the day off.
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The #OptOutside campaign has seen so much engagement particularly because of (1) the actionable nature of the campaign (no pun intended) and (2) consumers’ preexisting negative sentiment with Black Friday. Tweets in the #OptOutside feed feature people taking pictures of their children on a hike, walking their dogs, and even visiting state parks. If people aren’t sure how to #OptOutside, REI offers a search tool to find ways to get outside near you, including hiking, mountain biking, skiing and snowboarding, and climbing.

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The #OptOutside campaign also benefits from the negative sentiment around Black Friday. According to social media intelligence tracker, Crimson Hexagon, a large portion of online conversation revolving around Black Friday last year focused on anger, sadness, fear, and despair. Because many shoppers display negative experiences on social media, it’s no surprise that the #OptOutside campaign has received such positive traction.

Shopping + Brand-Building

Patagonia has taken a different approach to Black Friday and instead of closing their doors, announced that, “This year Patagonia will donate 100 percent of global Black Friday sales in our stores and on our website to grassroots organizations working in local communities to protect our air, water and soil for future generations.” Rose Marcarioa, CEO of Patagonia, announced the company’s commitment to the cause in a blog post, and expects that Black Friday sales will raise over $2 million.
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Whether you ventured out to the mall on Black Friday or not, it’s clear that brands must start to take a stance on the Black Friday madness. While Sephora and Amazon fight for consumer engagement on social media for Black Friday promotions, REI and Patagonia are able to appeal to less sale-focused consumers and build their brand by going against the traditional Black Friday expectations. This Black Friday I was able to #OptOutside – what about you?



  1. kdphilippi18 · ·

    Great post! I didn’t participate in the in-store shopping on Friday, but I did take advantage of some online deals. While I don’t dread Black Friday as much as others, I dread shopping during the holiday season in general. Although Black Friday is still crazy, I think it has died down over the years due to the rise of e-commerce. It is a nice alternative to be able to get some of the deals in the comfort of my home instead of fighting crowds in stores, thus why it is more manageable. For brands, I think you highlighted a great point in regards to how brands should react to Black Friday – be authentic. Your examples show Patagonia and REI promoting their true brand persona, just like Sephora and Amazon. It makes sense for Patagonia and REI to support those initiatives because it fits with their brand essence. Other brands should make sure to carefully analyze what they stand for and what fits within their essence before they take a stance on Black Friday. Great job!

  2. What’s crazy about so-called “Cyber Monday” is that it was the Monday after Thanksgiving because that when people went back to work and had decent internet connections. Times have changed!

  3. Nice post!

    There’s always been a lot of conversation about Black Friday and whether or not stores should open on Thanksgiving. On one hand, you want to let employees go home and enjoy Thanksgiving with their families, on the other hand there’s all that potential revenue to be gained. Then there’s the moral dilemma of if you want to go line up outside of stores right after Thanksgiving dinner knowing that they employees weren’t able to spend their holiday with their families. There are businesses though that use that to their advantage (TJ Maxx comes to mind, especially since they ran TV ads about how they chose not to open on Thanksgiving). A good balance would definitely be starting sales early online on Thanksgiving but not opening the actual stores until Friday. But I guess that just would be a lot of lost money for large retailers like Walmart or Target. For me personally I would much rather sit at home and shop online, and it does make me wonder why so many people would rather go line up outside of stores and shove their way through crowds when you can get so many of the same deals online.

    I hadn’t heard of REI’s #OptOutside movement though! That’s pretty cool what they’re doing. However I had seen a lot about Patagonia throughout social media and nothing about REI, so I don’t know if it just wasn’t going around in my circles or if REI could have done a bit more to step up their social media game. I suppose it’s more advantageous for Patagonia to spread the word about their initiative, though, as it reflects very well on their brand image (so does REI’s, but probably not as much as Patagonia’s).

  4. francoismba · ·

    I really enjoyed reading your post! Patagonia was extremely smart to put a positive spin on Black Friday as the infamous shopping day is typically known for stores opening at the crack of dawn and people getting trampled. Similar to REI’s #OptOutside movement, my small town has ‘Shop Small Business Saturday.’ This tradition encourages people to get outside and support the town’s local businesses rather than shopping online or in big retailers. It will be interesting to see if closing brick-and-mortar stores on Black Friday will become the new norm.

  5. As always, awesome post!! I never knew about the #OptOutside campaign and it was so interesting to learn about. This year in Portico, one of the questions we often phrase to the freshman is to look at business’ actions from the Friedman v. Mackey perspective and this blog post seemed to scream as the perfect topic for that debate. What makes me question the #OptOutside movement was that it is sponsored by an outdoor gear and apparel RETAILER (one that probably does not have much of a shot competing with the price cuts of the giants like Amazon selling the same products during the sales season). So with data like the Crimson Hexagon tracker coming out that about the large amount of negative sentiment evolving around Black Friday, my question is to if this was a strategic decision for REI and helps them with the “appearance” of CSR around the holiday and in turn sales. You mentioned #OptOutside sees engagement particularly “because of (1) the actionable nature of the campaign and (2) consumers’ preexisting negative sentiment with Black Friday.” By leveraging the large sentiment that other retailers don’t address and being the one brand that stand against “mass-consumption” and appealing to consumer’s insights, is REI simply capturing a market all other brands ignore. Also if you think about it…. would the the consumers who partake in #OptOutside not be the perfect target market for REI?? Therefore on a day where their store is closed and they encourage people to hike, mountain bike, ski and snowboard, and climb and direct people to their side in order to find ways to do so… they are now collecting data on all of these consumers who partake in outdoor activities and may need to be sold hiking gear, a mountain bike, a ski, a snowboard, or climbing equipment. Therefore I question the motives of this campaign a little in its purity… but then again do motives matter?

  6. holdthemayo4653 · ·

    Black Friday is such a nightmare! I worked in retail during college and being at the mall on black friday was always insane. I absolutely love that REI is not only closed on black friday but promoting nature and helping customers finding ways to get outside. It’s interesting that Patagonia decided to donate 100% of their sales, that’s a HUGE commitment but very consistent with their culture and social media messaging.

  7. gabcandelieri · ·

    Awesome post! I have to admit I am guilty of Black Friday shopping this past holiday, but in accordance with #OptOutside it was interesting to see that stores were empty in comparison to past years. This just goes to show that the public may be doing away with Black Friday all together or just merely shifting purchasing preferences to mobile. Personally, I believe Sephora’s strategy is both contemporary and creates an accessible point of entry for new consumers while also creating life long customers by setting them up for its loyalty programs . Sephora clearly understands it’s core consumer base and how most customers use Instagram to seek out beauty products used by influencers, etc. The fact that older retailers such as Bergdorf Goodman, Target and Walmart are falling behind suggests that established brands may actually be hindered by their tremendous or historical past success. Especially for Bergdorf Goodman, an illustrious reputation may prevent it from thinking that what Sephora is doing would be true to their brand image, which puts them at risk to be left behind.

  8. dabettervetter · ·

    Awesome post! Over thanksgiving break I was with my friends and we generally stop by Patagonia on Black Friday because it is at the Freeport, Maine outlets which is I find myself on Black Friday. The place was buzzing with conversation about Patagonia’s decision to donate their profits, with people saying that they were more inclined to purchase something because they felt like they were making a difference. I think it was a great move on Patagonia’s part because they gained large brand recognition and appreciation for donating 100% of their sales.

  9. Love this topic. I am a big fan of REI and we have a lot of them in Colorado, so I am very familiar with this campaign. As you mentioned I think it’s a great push due to its appeal to people discouraged by rampant consumerism. But I think that the most important factor is the brand building aspect that you touched on.

    I read an article last year ( that dissected this campaign. I especially agreed with their first point that this is really just a shrewd play by REI. As gkhanlon mentioned above, it’s well worth calling their motives into play. While this certainly paints REI in a good light, it definitely isn’t just an altruistic call by their executive team. As this article estimates, the free publicity they continue to receive from this campaign (which will definitely appeal heavily to their core customers..who would likely have been opting outside anyway) definitely outweighs their lost Black Friday sales. And it definitely has bolstered their brand image and reputation in the industry.

    In a kind of funny twist, one of my good friends back home works at an REI and actually spent his Black Friday working at another retailer (where he part-times) instead of spending the day outside like REI was paying him to do.

    Great post though – it’ll be interesting to see if Black Friday can keep up in the future or if it will lose out to discontent (and of course, the more convenient Cyber Monday).

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