In Customer Intelligence & Insights, Retail

For the fourth straight year, outdoor retailer REI is running its #OptOutside campaign. Once again on Black Friday they’ll close all 153 stores, suspend online transactions and give employees a paid day off, encouraging them and their customers to enjoy the outdoors instead.

And social media will light up with countless posts of the hashtag #OptOutside.

The viral success of the award-winning #OptOutside program is legendary. Yet among marketers, REI deserves equal credit for how timely the themes underpinning its annual campaign have been — and how well they’ve anticipated and exploited emerging customer experience trends.

It began in 2015 with an open letter to customers from REI CEO Jerry Stritzke that used #OptOutside as an opportunity to restate the organization’s mission and values in the wake of excessive consumerism.

“For 76 years, our co-op has been dedicated to one thing and one thing only: a life outdoors.” he wrote. “We believe that being outside makes our lives better. And Black Friday is the perfect time to remind ourselves of this essential truth.”

Fast forward to 2018, and #OptOutside continues to blaze a new trail. Here are three ways REI is leveraging key customer experience trends gathering steam over the past year:


  • Cause Marketing: As several high profile corporate misdeeds and scandals in 2018 have demonstrated, company behavior no longer takes place in a vacuum. For better or worse, how a company behaves has become an integral part of the customer experience. REI doesn’t just sell customers outdoor apparel and equipment, it invests in their happiness through real actions, such as corporate philanthropy that supports their values. This year REI is pledging $1 million to the University of Washington to establish Nature for Health, a new center for academic excellence focused on understanding how time spent outside improves our health. 
  • Authentic Engagement through Partner Ecosystems: Since 2015, 15 million people and more than 700 organizations have participated in the #OptOutside movement, demonstrating the power of what happens when you understand what customers value and deliver it. To escape the lure of deep discounting and perks like free delivery, today’s retailers must distinguish themselves by the company they keep. Increasingly their value doesn’t solely lie in the products they sell but in their ability to bundle them with people and organizations in the real world through breakthrough experiences. As REI’s immersive outdoor experiences remind us, making that happen requires establishing scores of partnerships with other brands and organizations and shaping them into new ecosystems of value for customers. As REI customers engage with different groups through real world outdoor experiences like #OptOutside, they’re deepening their loyalty to the REI brand and setting themselves up for future encounters with multiple brands. It’s all part of an ongoing customer journey with REI. 
  • Connected Customer Experiences: REI’s commitment to delivering great products, experiences and information across their customers’ end-to-end journeys has proven to be good for business as well as for the health and well-being of their customers. In the video segment below, an excerpt from How the Pace of Innovation in Retail has Redefined Connected Customer Experiences, Seeta Hariharan, General Manager and Group Head of TCS Digital Software & Solutions Group cites REI as a retailer that delivers connected customer experiences—relevant experiences over the life of a customers’ journeys, not just at interactions at one point in time.


Marketers in retail, banking and other customer-facing industries can learn a lot from REI’s trailblazing #OptOutside campaign. At its core, it’s about knowing the customer’s values and appealing to them over a lifelong relationship. That may be one of the hardest challenges for marketers. But as REI continues to demonstrate, if you can leverage the insights behind your customers’ values, the rewards for both consumer and business can be great.

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