REI’s new #OptOutside message: Save the planet

Discussion
Source: REI
Oct 28, 2019
Tom Ryan

For the last four years, REI has closed up shop on Black Friday as part of its #OptOutside campaign to encourage employees and customers to forgo the craze of commercialism at malls and explore the outdoors. This year, it’s looking for a bigger eco-commitment. 

As in the past four years, REI will close all stores, process no online payments and pay all employees to take the day off an #OptOutside with friends and family. REI CEO Eric Artz wrote in a letter to co-op members last week: “Enjoy the outdoors and remind yourself why protecting it is crucial for us and for future generations.”

The successful campaign has encouraged more than 150 other retailers to close their doors and state parks to waive fees on Black Friday.

But REI is now further asking members to “Opt To Act” to help the environment.

Members are being urged to “consider joining” one of its 11 clean-ups around the country taking place throughout November. Wrote Mr. Artz added, “If you can’t find a cleanup near you, commit to picking up trash you find while on your hike — leaving our trails and outdoor spaces better than you found them.”

Members are also being encouraged to sign up for a new 52-week Opt to Act plan that includes tips on how to establish eco-friendly habits. For December, suggestions include committing to reusable bags, opting out of junk mail and forgoing traditional Christmas wrapping paper.

The extra steps are necessary due to climate change. Mr. Artz wrote, “My job is to steward the co-op, and the outdoors, on your behalf — and on behalf of the generations who follow us. Today, that future is at risk.”

Internally, REI is further “rethinking its core business model in favor of more mindful consumption.” The retailer is now piloting used gear buy-back programs, ski rentals and a new online rental reservations system. REI also outlined steps it is taking to work toward zero-waste operations and challenges it is making to the industry to eliminate unnecessary packaging.

“As a single company, our impact is limited, but as a community, we can drive change that powers meaningful action beyond our walls,” Mr. Artz wrote. 

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Does REI’s call for an eco-commitment behind #OptOutside elevate the campaign or carry risks, due to its more serious tone? How should companies draw the line between encouraging customers to embrace healthy habits versus making them feel guilty or overwhelmed over meeting such obligations?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"The tone is not one of doom and gloom, but one of individual empowerment and optimism. That’s the key to encouraging customers to embrace healthy habits."
"By even declining to process online orders for the day, REI proves its willingness to put purpose ahead of profit..."
"Initiatives like #OPT to Act and #OptOutside are making REI an employer of choice for the digital natives who are more social responsibly than past generations."

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14 Comments on "REI’s new #OptOutside message: Save the planet"


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Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

Given that REI is not forcing consumers to undertake clean ups, I see no problem here. The campaign is perfectly aligned with its values and its positioning as an outdoor firm and lover of the natural world. Plus it does something that is socially useful and that many people want to be a part of.

Earlier in the year I took part in a beach clean up in Hawaii. It was organized by a local firm. Although we did it on our holiday it was educational to learn about the issues and very fulfilling to have made a (admittedly incredibly small) difference. I suspect people taking part in the REI initiative will feel the same.

Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

Social responsibility is the way to attract Millennials and iGens. Whether or not they choose to join in, they feel that just by buying from the brand they are having a positive impact. #NoDownside

Jeff Sward
BrainTrust

It’s all about the brand promise and Mr. Artz is delivering on that promise with emphasis and clarity and a call to action. His strategy and tactics are real and sustainable (no pun intended) over the long term. When he says that his job is “to steward the co-op, and the outdoors” he makes it very simple for employees and customers alike to be reminded of the “WHY?” for REI’s role in the market.

Heidi Sax
BrainTrust

REI’s call for eco-commitment elevates the campaign, and it should continue to give them a competitive edge. The tone is not one of doom and gloom, but one of individual empowerment and optimism. And that’s the key to encouraging customers to embrace healthy habits vs. overwhelming them with negative messaging.

Nikki Baird
BrainTrust

I think the stakes are higher than they were when REI first started the campaign. The apparel industry is increasingly under fire for wasteful and harmful practices, and for a company that banks on its credibility as a promoter of the outdoors, just saying “go outside” will rapidly not be enough to maintain that credibility.

I do believe that REI will have to take a careful approach – to focus on being helpful rather than some kind of enforcer or shamer. But tips and tricks is a good way to manage that, and I like that they’re taking a long view, beyond just Black Friday.

REI was groundbreaking in #OptOutside. It looks like they’re not willing to rest on their laurels with that one – and that is a credibility generator all by itself.

Lee Kent
BrainTrust

Yes, Nikki, I totally agree plus I see REI offering yet another service whereby members/consumers might be encouraged to check if there may be a Trail pick-up day on one of their vaca days to a special hiking venue. Or something to do on a weekend day hike. Add something meaningful while enjoying the great outdoors. In my hiking days, I would have loved to add something like this. Kudos to REI and my 2 cents.

Shelley E. Kohan
BrainTrust

REI is creating opportunities for people to be involved and create action. This will resonate with all levels of people and actually helps to provide ways that people can contribute. Especially since REI suggests other ways that people can take action to save the earth if they cannot join a formal program. Initiatives like #OPT to Act and #OptOutside are making REI an employer of choice for the digital natives who are more social responsibly than past generations. Thank you REI for keeping all of us conscious of our surroundings!

Peter Charness
BrainTrust

Bravo. Every step forward is a step in the right direction and hopefully builds momentum, large or small.

Doug Garnett
BrainTrust

I think the facts of this commitment plan are far less important than that it exists and they are using it for PR.

This is a smart approach by REI, who are continuing to gain public value from staying closed around Thanksgiving. Some people might even sign up for the commitment and follow up on it.

I think there’s low risk for REI here. The group who embrace used equipment is a specific sub-market and will find value in REI offering the program. The guilt? Fortunately for REI, consumers don’t read the press releases. They’ll see the program and either engage if it attracts them or ignore it if not.

All around, a low risk approach as long as they avoid being preachy or believing their own PR releases.

Lisa Goller
BrainTrust

The timing is perfect for REI’s bold campaign. Daily, global headlines warn of climate change, plastic waste and the risks of governments’ inertia. Now a growing number of consumers crave (and reward) purpose-led brands and REI consistently speaks up to protect the environment. By even declining to process online orders for the day, REI proves its willingness to put purpose ahead of profit and encourage consumers to unite as empowered communities to effect change.

Patricia Vekich Waldron
Staff

This program reflects REI’s brand promise and should resonate with consumers – core customers and others to whom the environment matters. The new business model offerings (rentals, used equipment) are tangible steps to serve customers while conserving.

Christopher P. Ramey
BrainTrust

Social responsibility is part of REI’s DNA.

The risk is having a “work party” and not enough people show-up. Brand loyalty is very different from infringing on their customer’s time.

Martin Mehalchin
BrainTrust

The enhanced #OptOutside program is great for driving awareness and giving members a further reason to engage with the brand and its mission. The shift of the business model toward mindful consumption will have a much greater long-term impact. REI is moving in the direction of being an outdoor co-op that happens to have stores after decades of being a retailer that happened to have co-op governance.

Dan Frechtling
BrainTrust

The only real risk is the one REI took five years ago. For five years REI has sacrificed one of its top five sales days to connect with groups and individuals in a heartfelt way. It is putting people before profits.

This campaign has encouraged more than 150 other retailers to close their doors and state parks to waive fees on Black Friday. It has also spurred scores of local hikes and co-brands as other groups latch on to the #OptOutside “movement” as it has become.

At the same time, it enjoys significantly higher loyalty than other retailers. According to Digital Commerce 360, 53% of REI.com customers are repeat buyers, compared to 38% for average retailers. And membership has increased 31% since 2014.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"The tone is not one of doom and gloom, but one of individual empowerment and optimism. That’s the key to encouraging customers to embrace healthy habits."
"By even declining to process online orders for the day, REI proves its willingness to put purpose ahead of profit..."
"Initiatives like #OPT to Act and #OptOutside are making REI an employer of choice for the digital natives who are more social responsibly than past generations."

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