Starting yesterday, REI began limiting returns to 1 year from the date of purchase which is a significant departure from its previous unlimited, little-to-no-questions-asked returns policy. According to the company, its own employees were a big part of the problem, overstating the extent of the policy and encouraging customers to take advantage of its 100% customer satisfaction guarantee. This led some to joke that REI stood for “Return Everything, Inc.”
In recent years customers had been known to return used hiking boots after wearing them for hundreds of miles and even mountain bikes that were ridden for years. The whole situation brings to mind the old joke about Nordstrom’s accepting returned snow tires from a customer.
I had my own experience with this several years ago when I was shopping at REI for a new bike rack. I mentioned to the sales associate that I had purchased a roof rack from REI 10 years prior but that I couldn’t use it on my new car because it wouldn’t fit. His response: exchange the old rack for a new one! I have to admit I briefly considered it but I really wasn’t comfortable so I purchased the new rack for full retail price.
And it’s a good thing I did. It turns out REI resorted to kicking members out of the co-op who abused their liberal return policy. For those who aren’t familiar with the co-op model, for $20 anyone can become a lifetime REI member which entitles you to a dividend on your annual purchases (usually about 10%) along with a vote for REI’s board members, among other things.
So REI gave members the boot for returning old hiking boots (ha!) and I say kudos to them. Who knows, as an REI member myself, my dividends might’ve been higher in years past if there hadn’t been so many bogus returns. Still, the company wasn’t too harsh–they refunded the $20 membership fee to those who were kicked out.
What do you think? Are you disappointed REI had to change their policy or do you think it’s a fair move?