Yesterday I visited two malls in my area. Neither one was overrun with customers. To me, the most meaningful indicator was my visit to the Apple store around midday. I counted 25 employees in the store. In total there were maybe 30 customers. Plenty of employees were standing around not helping anyone. I have seen this store in past years be mobbed with customers the weekend after Thanksgiving.
In the backdrop to this is the headlines from REI. The outdoor sporting goods retailer decided not only to avoid the latest trend of opening on Thanksgiving night, but they decided to close on Black Friday, giving their employees the day off. How much did they lose in sales? I’m sure it was one of, if not their biggest sales day of the year. How much of those sales will still come to REI? Some portion undoubtedly. But on the other hand, how much good will and commitment did they gain from their employees? Probably significant with lower employee turnover as a result. What about customers? While I am sure there are some customers that still love Black Friday, many will identify and appreciate REI’s move. Its just the kind of action that builds a connection between the brand and its customers.
I’m sure some other brave retailers will follow suit. The rise of web purchasing and ever present sales and deals makes the whole concept of Black Friday less relevant and therefore unnecessary when people would rather spend time with their families as REI suggests.
What this underscores is that competition in the retail space has changed. Sales and deals remain important, but convenience, product selection and availability and the customer experience are more impactful.
Personally, I am glad to see retailers back away from it. I made a last minute run to the grocery store on Thanksgiving morning and I asked the young lady at the checkout what time the store closed. She replied that it closed at 3pm, but she had to be at her other job at 4pm. I felt terrible for her and I felt it said something just as bad about where our society is that we have to have stores open on the night of Thanksgiving. Bravo to REI.