Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Closed on Black Friday

I think it now qualifies as a countertrend: REI is joining a short list of U.S. retail chains that will be closing not just on Thanksgiving, but on Black Friday too. That major retailers are willing to forego Black Friday shows that the biggest shopping day of the year at U.S. retail, coming at the peak of the Christmas shopping season, isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. If the intense foot traffic is so bargain-focused, how can it translate into the kind of markup that can keep a retailer going? Best Buy is one retailer that has admitted to losing money on Black Friday, but just getting potential customers in the door one time each year is a win for the consumer electronics giant — maybe then it will be remembered and make its money the day the microwave or television breaks down. But not every retailer is so desperate to remind customers it still exists. REI stands as one of the most reliable sources for the outdoor recreation equipment it sells. Its customers won’t forget it’s there just because it takes a day off.

In a way, REI is showing off by closing on Black Friday. Its Black Friday strategy shows that it’s in a strong position in almost the same way that Best Buy shows that it is barely holding on. If closing on Black Friday works, other retailers might try the same thing. Those who want to make the same point on a smaller scale might postpone opening on Black Friday till noon, which is a sharp enough contrast to the stores that open at midnight or earlier. However, not just any retailer can try this. A day off has to be earned. Sears, for example, wouldn’t dare take Black Friday off. Shoppers who arrived to find a store like Sears closed would just assume the struggling department store had finally gone under, and that’s an impression no business wants to make.