Get the Moose Out of Black Friday Deals

It’s fall. There’s a chill in the air, along with the aroma of pumpkin-spice everything. The holiday decorations are starting to adorn store windows. That can mean only one thing: It’s moose-mating season.

Moose get particularly aggressive come autumn, as they compete for partners. And just as they get a little agitated this time of year, so do consumers. And no one stirs the animal side of shoppers like stores dangling deep discounts on Black Friday. So, along with a bunch of my colleagues at outdoors outfitter REI, I’m choosing to #OptOutside.

Me at Mt. Timpanogos, Utah

We have to stop letting retailers turn us into aggravated moose. We can’t let the rush to score a two-for-one deal on a tablet make us forget we’re part of a community. Those people you see elbowing each other out of the way in a scramble for the last must-have toy on the 11 o’clock news? On any other day, those are people we recognize as other parents from our kids’ schools, an acquaintance from the supermarket, one of the guys you play pickup ball with…your mother-in-law.

Not on Black Friday. Not when there are deals to be hunted. Those other people out there aren’t just the competition. They’re shoppers.

Mind you, shoppers are not necessarily bad by nature. During the holidays, they are not fueled by ego or selfishness but rather by a desperation to grab gifts for their friends and family. The irony is that manipulative retailers turn these good people’s desire to bring joy to others into a consumer cage match.

They encourage people to leave their homes and head for the malls before they’re even finished putting away Thanksgiving leftovers. In some extreme cases, they want you to spend Thanksgiving night camped out in front of their stores, waiting for a “doorbusters” event.

In a perfect world, businesses wouldn’t fuel this kind of behavior. They’d be motivated not just by profits but by doing what’s best for their customers and their employees. They’d consider shoppers’ satisfaction and well-being to be essential components to their businesses. Black Friday wouldn’t devolve into a day driven by faceless corporations that undermine the notion of community.

I’m coming at this with some experience, having worked 14 years in retail and every Black Friday for the entire stretch. Now I manage REI’s Sandy, Utah, location. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve tried in our own way to participate in the madness, but it never felt normal for us to behave like a big-box retailer. And it just kind of confused our customers.

Admittedly, we are a bit crunchy. We’re a co-op, which you probably associate more with a small, local, organic food market than a chain of stores that sells hard-core climbing gear and all kinds of other outdoors equipment at 143 locations nationwide. We’re a $2.2 billion business, but our leadership isn’t responsible to Wall Street. I’ve never worked for a company before REI that’s actually had core values — plenty have had mission statements, but not values. And this #OptOutside idea feels like a culmination of all of those values.

For one, we’re responsible to our 5.5 million members, who share an equal part in the company and receive dividends at the end of the year—people go nuts for the dividend, too. But it’s a nicer, community kind of nuts.

The consumer co-op means REI shoppers are kind of like a board of directors. That’s how I explain it to our customers, and I feel like it resonates with a lot of people.

The company is also responsible to our 12,000 employees. We’re all getting paid to get outside instead of coming to work on November 27.

REI is committed to 300-plus charitable partners, too. Partners including the Cottonwood Canyons Foundation, which works to preserve and clean hiking and bike trails, something most people don’t think about. (They don’t have to, thanks to the foundation!) REI is also a big supporter of the U.S. Forest Service, with whom I’ve personally volunteered. Through REI, I’ve become a member of the Outdoor Industries Women’s Coalition, which has allowed me to participate in mentorship programs and important community meetings about local parks. There are so many organizations out there that nobody really knows about, but they’re doing a lot of amazing work.

Finally, REI is responsible to the business. We’re still a retailer. And after people fight for discounts on Black Friday—so they can get more for the ones they love—we’ll go back to selling stuff, too. But we’ll have a lot to share with our community, having spent an extra paid day off with our fellow colleagues and members—or friends and family—in the outdoors.

Maybe one of us will have seen a moose.

Me in the Fairy Pools, Isle of Skye, Scotland