REI’s Reddit Blunder: #OptOutside Campaign Gets Lost in the Woods

By Joshua Hecht in Social Media on November 18th, 2015

As more and more retailers continue to stay open on Thanksgiving (Target, Best Buy, Macy’s), REI has gained acclaim for their decision to not only keep their doors closed on Thanksgiving, but Black Friday as well. Employees would be paid for these two days and both employees and customers would be encouraged to #OptOutside. REI even announced their homepage would feature a message with this encouragement. So to recap, REI will keep retail stores closed during one of the most profitable days of the year AND create a barrier to purchase for customers visiting their online store.

Ad showing that REI will be closed for black Friday 2015.Image courtesy of REI

The internet cheered. The sentiment was that this is a company truly committed to what their brand stands for.

Since the announcement, REI has updated their website to feature #OptOutside as the primary message on the homepage. They’ve also recently redesigned their logo to incorporate “co-op”, a reference CEO Jerry Stritzke continues to use for members owning REI. Membership is a ridiculously good deal - $20 for lifetime membership which includes a 10% rebate on all full price purchases.

Up until 11/10 REI’s press was only positive. We waited to see how they’d continue to fuel the #OptOutside campaign throughout social media. What would they do after Black Friday?

And then CEO Jerry Stritzke took the victory tour to Reddit.

Jerry Stritzke, CEO of REI joins ask reddit.
Image courtesy of Reddit

The most upvoted comment was from an ex-employee who discussed losing hours and eventually their job for not selling enough memberships. This brought out dozens of other current and former employees confirming having similar experiences. Customers even began commenting on relentless salespeople pushing memberships.  

The comment was never responded to during the initial thread. Jerry Stritzke did later issue a new comment, however.

AmA reddit conversation with Jerry Stritzke, CEO of REI.Image courtesy of Reddit

While this isn’t the first example of a campaign going south on social media (nor will it be the last), there is a lesson to be learned. First, know the community. Reddit has an extremely active user base and REI should have been prepared to monitor comments in real-time and be equipped to respond promptly. This typically requires a team be on call (including PR/marketing) to support. By letting so much time pass before responding, the CEO lost credibility.

That said, we do give Stritzke props for listening and being open to criticism. He later edited his original post, stating, “We knew that coming into reddit was a new frontier for us with a certain amount of risk, but I want you to know we're committed to this community and to being honest about REI. I see a lot of value in hearing from our employees and members in a candid and anonymous setting like this. Thank you for the good conversation and holding us accountable.”

So, with this fiasco out in the open, we have a few questions to keep an eye on over the next few weeks:

1. What will REI’s holiday sales look like?

2. How will REI continue to capitalize on #OptOutside on social media?

3. Will the Reddit thread grow into a larger story about employment at REI?

4. Will the company change their policy on membership sales or employee benefits/wages?

What are your predictions? Let us know in the comments below.

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  • Great post, Josh. We have a retail client who is closed on Thanksgiving and Black Friday, too. So far, so good. Thanks for the insights on REI.