The holiday shopping season has officially kicked off, and the numbers from its first (and biggest) weekend are in!

As we predicted last week, U.S. store sales were down slightly this year, but Cyber Monday finished strong, with Adobe estimating a 12% gain to a record $2.98 billion.

In addition to people opting to shop online, they also opted to go outside.

REI announced that all 143 stores would be closed on Black Friday. In turn, both employees and regular shoppers were told to #OptOutside and share stories of how they would spend the day experiencing the great outdoors. This caused quite a bit of confusion for many, since REI reported record annual revenue last year, at $2.2 billion, as well as fierce customer loyalty with 5.5 million active members.

To our knowledge, REI’s decision to close it’s doors on one of the historically largest shopping days in America, was the first time a retailer has ever “opted out(side)” of Black Friday.

Looking closer at just how many people were talking about REI and #OptOutside, the promotion was mentioned 84,763 times from the start of Black Friday week through Cyber Monday (November 23-30):
Total Mentions
This 84,763 total mentions breaks down to an average of 11,731 mentions per day, and 489 per hour:

From these numbers, it is interesting to note that the highest number of mentions did not occur on the day of Black Friday, but rather two days prior. Mentions spiked on Wednesday, November 25, with nearly 6,000 more than the day of the actual promotion:
Mentions Spike

Why is that so?

For one thing, Black Friday’s lower mention count may have been due to time away from the desk and, people actually…well…#OPTINGOUTSIDE!

If you dive deeper into the data, you will see REI was the one responsible for the hype. From getting their CEO to reflect on the importance of #OptOutside, to sharing the staggering stat of 1+ million people joining the movement, REI wisely drew attention to their Black Friday campaign by delivering heavy promotion the day before Thanksgiving. In fact, four of the six most popular tweets from November 25 come from the retailer itself:

Popular Tweets

Because the retailer was the one driving mentions, it proves that a brand can, in fact, both lead and steer conversations.

While these are interesting insights, they should not take away from the success of the promotion. In addition to all of the pre-Black Friday chatter, REI and #OptOutside generated nearly 31,000 mentions on that Friday, with 1,287 coming in every hour:
Furthermore, stories around #OptOutside were coming in from top media outlets such as The Washington Post and CNN the press was abuzz with REI headlines:
Top Authors
For decades, companies have stayed relevant by spending more money than competitors on marketing and advertising campaigns. Black Friday has long been recognized as the day that people stampeded into stores (and sometimes stomped onto people) to get deals. And now, Cyber Monday and REI’s stance against the traditional brick-and-mortar approach are demonstrating the evolution of holiday shopping.

Maybe Black Friday finally jumped the shark?

Overall, REI’s decision to close their stores on Black Friday reflects empathy for its customer base, who would seemingly prefer spending the day outdoors over standing in lines inside. This promotion is a clear demonstration of the power of empathy — if more brands begin to use it to fuel decisions, actions, messages, etc., they are both more agile and more successful in the long run.