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Is the tide turning against Black Friday?

Written by
Leah Faye Cooper

Former Uniqlo employee Paolo Bitanga describes working at the clothing chain on Black Friday as “a scene from a war movie.” After starting his shift at 3:30am in Soho, he watched waves of shoppers stampede toward discounted cashmere sweaters.

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“I pretty much closed my eyes in prayer as I was swarmed by customers,” he says.

The country’s biggest shopping day—which kicks off the holiday season and accounts for a major boost in many retailers’ quarterly sales—saw 87 million people hit store floors last year. Many retailers even open in the afternoon on Thanksgiving Day (looking at you, Macy’s and JCPenny), and those that don’t (Nordstrom, Barnes & Noble) seem practically revolutionary by comparison.

But there’s one big chain you won’t find open for the mad rush this year. As part of a campaign dubbed #OptOutside, REI is closing all 143 of its locations on Black Friday, encouraging people to spend their time outdoors instead of their money on price-slashed merchandise.

“We talk a lot about what we can and should do in the best interests of our members and the outdoor community,” says REI spokesperson Bethany Hawley. “[This] is an opportunity to lead with our values and express something that we believe: That a life outdoors is a life well lived.”

Hitha Herzog, retail analyst and chief research officer at NYC’s H Squared Research, says REI’s bucking of the trend may signify a shift in how Black Friday operates.

“You’re seeing retailers think about the customer a little more,” she says. “REI understands that its core demographic probably isn’t interested in going to a Black Friday sale.”

The annual holiday forecast report from the National Retail Federation also indicated that shops have started offering in-store and online discounts earlier in the season, leading to less concentrated traffic on Thanksgiving weekend.

Herzog predicts an even greater focus on the web this year. “There’s a lot more shopping happening online and via mobile,” she says, “and the last thing a retailer wants to do is lose a customer to Amazon.”

We can’t speak for all New Yorkers, but we’d rather spend the day eating leftovers instead of pushing through crowds to find a flat-screen TV. There will no doubt be plenty of overzealous bargain hunters out this weekend, but we’d love to believe the madness is finally waning.

“There are some good deals, but there’s a very fine line between what’s fun and what’s frustrating,” says Herzog. “There’s nothing cool about standing in a line.”

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