The other day I received an email from the happiest place on earth. No, not Disneyworld. REI (Recreation Equipment Inc.). This email was a game-changer. A slap on the wrist. A disappointment. Before I go into the negative, allow me a tangent:
REI has provided me with endless entertainment and joy for the past four years. I discovered the store after switching majors to the forestry school. Everyone spoke about this place like it was some kind of colt. Especially my new friend at the time, Robyn. Her REI membership card was (and likely still is) one of her most prized possessions. With her seal of approval, I knew that the store could live up to its hype.
I stepped into REI and I was blown away. The store is packed with beautiful outdoor recreation equipment. Whether you’re a biker, hiker, paddler, dabbler, fisherman, walker, or sitter you can find something in REI. The shelves are overflowing with backpacks of every color in the rainbow, sleeping bags of all different sizes and shapes, lightweight clothing, rain gear, small camping accessories that give you the warm fuzzies. I decided to get myself a shiny new membership (and $500 worth of gear) in my first visit to what felt like Heaven.
Since that first visit, I have been absolutely addicted to REI. I have found that REI brand clothing and gear fits me the best and seems to suit my needs better than even the most expensive brands. I feel completely at ease while shopping at REI because their store policies have always been so in tune with the way I shop. I have spent upwards of $4,000 there over the past four years. Most of that spending has been with the help of gift cards given to me for Birthdays and Hanukkah, but I’ve contributed quite a bit to this store I love so much.
And, in return for me paying high retail prices for all the equipment at REI, I got a flawless return policy. It was quite simple: 100% Satisfaction Guaranteed. This means that when my brand new watch broke into three pieces without a reason, REI replaced it for free. This also means that when the zipper on my brand new backpacking pack broke after three uses, REI replaced it for free. I felt like I deserved every replacement or fix I got from them because I paid full price and remained a loyal customer for all my outdoor recreation needs.
Then I got this email.
In this email, the Senior Vice President for Retail at REI starts off by stating:
“We have earned a well-deserved reputation for our friendly expertise, and our 100% guarantee means that we stand behind everything we sell. REI has one of the best return policies in retail, and we remain committed to your satisfaction with everything you buy at REI.”
My thoughts: Yes. You do have a good reputation. And you should stay committed to my satisfaction. Why else would I pay significantly more money for your products?
Then comes the slap in the wrist:
“We also have a small, but growing, number of customers who stretch our policy beyond its intended purpose.”
This reminds me of high school. When one idiot would cheat on the test we would all get reprimanded. It was a waste of time and it made everyone feel like garbage.
Then, he hits you with the bad news:
“To ensure that we can continue to offer our 100% Satisfaction Guarantee, we’re updating our policy: You have one year from purchase to return or exchange any item you’re not satisfied with, except items purchased from REI-OUTLET, which must be returned within 30 days of purchase.”
Wait. What?! One year? 30 days? What if I don’t use your product too often. Say, four times a year. What if on the fifth use the product malfunctions and I have a serious issue with it? What happened to the guarantee that lasts for “the lifetime of the product”? REI, I love you but I don’t like you right now.
Mr. VP ends with a nice reminder of how they stand by their products and awesome customer service.
We know… that’s why we shop there. Oh… and your old return policy.
I wouldn’t say I am outraged, but I am wildly confused. They changed their policy so drastically without any visible attempt to make a less significant change. Many people would agree with me when I say that this will change my level of support for REI.
What was so special about REI was just stripped away. And what remains is an overpriced outdoor recreation superstore filled with gear I can get for a better price in so many other places. Allow me to prove this.
Let’s say I am looking for a new sleeping pad. At REI the Therm-a-Rest ProLite Plus Sleeping Pad costs $89.95 (for a small). On Amazon.com the exact same sleeping pad in the exact same size costs $65.22 (plus shipping). Even with the cost of shipping factored in I’d be saving $20. There are countless examples of this out there.
I’m not saying REI is all bad. I will still get a dividend back after each year from the purchases I made (unless an item was on sale or purchased in the REI-Outlet). What I am saying is that they are making cuts that significantly affect my decision to shop there and I will now think twice or three times about where I want to purchase my gear from. I encourage you to check out their new return policy and think about how much you want to support it.