Monday, November 16, 2015

Combating the doorbuster mindset

A few retailers recently gained some media praise for deciding not to open for pre-Black Friday sales on Thanksgiving Day. Nordstrom, A.C. Moore, Barnes & Noble, and Costco are among those choosing to pass up quick-buck opportunities and rampant doorbuster-ism and allow employees to celebrate Thanksgiving with their loved ones.

Bravo to them for choosing family over profits. But REI did them all one better.

Recreational Equipment Company -- REI, the big sporting goods retailer -- took it even further: they won't be open on Friday, Nov. 27, actual Black Friday. They earned national TV coverage, telling NBC News among others, that employees would be paid for Nov. 27, even though the stores would be closed. "We're paying our employees to go outside," they said.

A great move, earning REI plenty of free publicity. Except when the CEO took his message to social media via the "Ask Me Anything" forum on . While Jerry Stritzke, REI's chief executive, at first earned praise during his A.M.A. session, The New York Times reported that REI employees chimed in afterward, claiming the company didn't promote employees who didn't sell enough memberships (like a BJ's Wholesale Club membership).


Stritzke, to his credit, took ownership of this dialogue. He promised publicly that he'd take a closer look at the questionable employee practice.

The PR lessons here: in a retail-frenzied season, it can pay to differentiate your business by stepping back from the crush of unbridled doorbuster-ism. And earning recognition for passing up Black Friday is one way to strengthen your reputation. (As of writing this blog, REI's site says some 860,000 customers have signed up to "go outside" on Black Friday, rather than shop.)

But taking your message too far -- in this case, to the wild frontier of Reddit's "Ask Me Anything" forum -- invites criticisms from unexpected vectors. It's a social media channel that, to some PR people, resembles a box of snakes.

Could even the best public relations executive predict the employee gripes that REI's CEO encountered?