Sep 25, 2013 at 7:13 am #1308051
Great article, especially that last sentence. REI ought to talk to L.L. Bean about the intrinsic value of reliability.
I wish L.L. Bean carried more. It was really hard spending money there.Sep 25, 2013 at 7:59 am #2028027
@lunchandynnerLocale: Pacific Northwest
Nice article link, Max. I like his attitude, and the last few lines are great. Advertising is expensive, word of mouth is cheap and people trust it more.Sep 25, 2013 at 8:01 am #2028028
Yeah, and the fact that people rarely return online orders is not irrelevant either. My sleeping pad is in like-new condition and I want a longer one, but I haven't got time for REI's month-long online exchange process. So I still have the sleeping pad…
Ha!Sep 25, 2013 at 8:02 am #2028029
spelt with a tParticipant
@speltLocale: SW/C PA
People need to get over this (and themselves).
If you need more than a year to decide whether something is going to work for you, you aren't getting out often enough.
If you are rooting through your closets to find things you bought 10 years ago, you are a mooch.
If you are exchanging things that you trashed and wore out, you are a fraud.Sep 25, 2013 at 8:04 am #2028032
Then I'm a mooch and a fraud.
But on the whole, it's keeping me in the woods, leading student groups, and enjoying life on a shoestring, college debt-assaulted budget that the previous generations rarely contended with.Sep 25, 2013 at 8:31 am #2028046
In my opinion there is a big difference between REI and LL Bean, and not just in the return policy.
For one, a very high percentage of LL Bean's stuff is their own or branded their own, thus they have higher margins on those things and can absorb the cost of returns much more readily. Secondly, LL Bean has a much smaller brick and mortar retail store presence, which makes it harder for it to be "worth it" for a customer to try returning things. My guess is that these two things together limit pretty seriously the amounts of returns they get. Finally, LL Bean is actually still a much smaller company than REI especially after REI's recent round of expansions and is losing its (mostly older) customer base, so they must do what they can to stay relevant.
When I worked at REI we had one customer that came back and returned an entire shopping cart of stuff that he'd owned and used hard for about 5 years, because "he didn't need it anymore." His return total was literally in the thousands. I think that's a pretty serious abuse of the return policy and I know that's exactly the kinds of returns that REI is looking to cut down on.
If you are a "good" customer and spend money there fairly regularly they could care less if you return things from time to time — on the whole you are still making them money and probably spreading the good word. Even when the return policy was technically unlimited, return abuses were tracked and, if serious and repetitive enough, could eventually result in a revocation of membership/return privileges.Sep 25, 2013 at 8:38 am #2028048
Yeah, there's a big difference between serious abuse and just getting a little extra for your money.
Looking at my own life, I'd estimate it like this:
10%- Gear Graveyard. I broke it, or I used it up, and I threw it away or put it in storage.
10%- I returned it in almost-new condition because after a month of use or so, I realized it wasn't going to work out. These probably got sold at the REI Garage sales or GearTrade.com. Most items weren't even dirty.
80%- It's in my closet, working great and used every weekend. I slept outside last night.
Wondering what category that puts me in, because my 10% is definitely hokey-pokey as far as morality goes. But I spend a lot of money, so I tell myself I "earned" it.
The worst I ever did was this past weekend, actually. When I first started camping in February 2012 I bought a cotton canvas raincoat and a pair of cotton long johns from L.L. Bean. I almost got hypothermia that same month. They went into storage.
I went to a brick-and-mortar store and explained why I was bringing them back, and both were still in the product line. Since my items were used once, I bet they'll end up back on the shelf. At any rate, they took both back and handed me a $200 gift card, and I immediately turned it around and bought a MH sleeping bag from them for $300.
Who knows. It's at least convenient that when something really fails due to manufacturer defect, some companies honor the manufacturers they represent with a warranty replacement. That's the best use of the policy, and a 1-year limit really kills that. Imagine you spend $600 on a winter tent, use it twice that season, and the third time you use it next year it delaminates and your year is up with REI. Oh well!Sep 25, 2013 at 8:51 am #2028056
Unfortunately I just can't bring myself to give any money to Linda Lorraine Bean. It would end up supporting causes that I find repugnant, and Ms. Bean is just plain obnoxious about it to boot. (I'm ostensibly a Republican, but she makes Attilla the Hun look like a bleeding heart…)Sep 25, 2013 at 8:53 am #2028058
She supplies lobster to the 1%!Sep 25, 2013 at 9:02 am #2028060
And you have to be careful, Max. When you say stuff like this:
"Then I'm a mooch and a fraud. But on the whole, it's keeping me in the woods, leading student groups, and enjoying life on a shoestring, college debt-assaulted budget that the previous generations rarely contended with."
Yes, you are being precisely the problem. That smacks of a selfish, self-indulgent attitude that doesn't care what one's own wants cost others, doesn't it? It's rather immature:
I'M SELFISH AND PROUD OF IT !!!
That's the problem- especially when people brag about just how abusive they've been of return policies on social media. And I'm not afraid to pass judgment on that attitude. And, yes, I'm one of those who think that the people who were abusing REI's return policy should be horsewhipped…
That said, what you described in a later post doesn't sound egregious. I'd need to know more details.Sep 25, 2013 at 9:10 am #2028061
I guess you'd need more details to judge me fully, but a better solution might be not to judge me at all. ;)
Ultimately, a lot of this forum uses the policies a certain way, and to a certain degree, I don't think it's abusive.
It's a new model, the idea of frequent returning, but the items sold on GearTrade.com by Backcountry with minor flaws like a broken seam or trail dirt are still above the cost of manufacturing, stocking, and shipping. Backcountry simultaneously hooks the "New Stuff" customer with the promise of a return, and then they can recover lost profit from the "Used Stuff" customer by selling used stock.
Backcountry makes money either way. REI does the same thing with their garage sale.
My point is, the big moral banner some people wrap themselves with is based on concepts like theft, or profit denial. Using the return policy once in a while on a used item isn't that at all.
The guy with the shopping cart obviously is egregious, but I think for most companies the risk was worth the marketing. Perhaps not for REI.
Still, I think your horse-whipping stance is a bit much. You never really know anybody. Perhaps that guy with the shopping cart was desperate to cover his wife's medical bill. Judgement is a habit best reserved for for gossipy people with nothing else to do. I didn't post my habit so I could pass your standard; I did it because it informs the conversation on whether these policies are salient from a business perspective.Sep 25, 2013 at 9:17 am #2028065
just Justin WhitsonMember
Let ye who among you who has not ever returned, cast the first BPL logo imprinted cuben wrapped stone?
(sorry, was just trying to inject a little humor)Sep 25, 2013 at 9:23 am #2028067
I've returned a few things to REI, but I think they were justified, like it broke after a short time.
If the policy says you can return things, I won't be critical of people taking advantage of it.
I think REIs new policy is better. One year should be long enough. And I think at their descretion they'll go longer than a year.Sep 25, 2013 at 9:25 am #2028068
There's very few things I can imagine needing to return after more than a year, but deep-winter stuff is one of them, and I might run into an issue on the third time I use it- two years after purchase. Plus, this stuff is often the most expensive.
My 2¢.Sep 25, 2013 at 9:25 am #2028069
I miss the "bad old days" when everyone beat up on Max : )Sep 25, 2013 at 9:27 am #2028070
> Who knows. It's at least convenient that when something really fails due to manufacturer defect, some companies honor the manufacturers they represent with a warranty replacement. That's the best use of the policy, and a 1-year limit really kills that. Imagine you spend $600 on a winter tent, use it twice that season, and the third time you use it next year it delaminates and your year is up with REI. Oh well!
Defects and product failure is still covered for "the life of the product", which is whatever a reasonable lifetime for an item should be. That's a judgement call that will be made by the cashier, or if you make enough noise, a manager. 10 year old tent? You might be out of luck.
The 1 year policy is pretty straight-forward. If you do not like something, or in their parlance, are un-satisfied, for *any* reason, you may bring it back within 1 year, no ifs, ands, or buts.
The product is, however, covered by REI's guarantee for defects and product failure with no set expiration date, excepting extraordinary wear and tear from (ab)usage. To me, this guarantee is how I've always treated REI, before and after working there, and it represents pretty much no change for me as a consumer.Sep 25, 2013 at 9:27 am #2028071
"There's very few things I can imagine needing to return after more than a year, but deep-winter stuff is one of them, and I might run into an issue on the third time I use it- two years after purchase."
I bet they'de accept return in that case
The new policy allows them to deny someone with a shopping cart of well used stuff costing $1000sSep 25, 2013 at 9:29 am #2028073
"Don't judge me" is a puerile statement. We judge one another all the time. We all form opinions of one another. Sometimes those are positive and sometimes those are negative. As I said, I'm not afraid to make a judgment if I see a wrong. If this offends you- well, get used to disappointment, because I'm not going to change.
The deal that is made when one buys an item from a store like REI or LL Bean is that you will pay the agreed price and can return it if you find it somehow unsatisfactory. Returning a shoe if the sole delaminates after only a couple of hundred miles meets this standard. Returning one when the tread is worn out after 700 trail miles does not, and that is what some people are doing. I am happy to make a stand and say that this is wrong.
The amount of profit that REI or MEC makes is immaterial- you paid the agreed price and made that deal. That REI and LL Bean preferred not to rigorously define what "finding an item unsatisfactory" exactly means in the interests of keeping customers happy does not somehow make it MORAL to cheat them. That's specious. You're basically saying "It's ok to rob them if they didn't make enough effort to keep me from robbing them." (Please excuse the straw-man, there.)
Frankly, I think you hippocritically judged me to be a judgmental curmudgeon. Didn't you? See? We all do it. Note- I specifically said that I would need more details to make a call about you in specific. Didn't I? This is true in all cases. However, we can certainly make rational generalizations.
Talking about a guy returning stuff to pay for his wife's chemotherapy is also a puerile argument- you will always be able to find extreme examples, but rare examples are not convincing general arguments. (And even then such a return is still abusive- even if you can clearly make a rational argument about a higher moral issue.) And most importantly this is NOT the case of the majority of these abusive returns- especially the ones who ridicule REI on Facebook and brag about it after scamming them. So if you are one of those who stand and proudly say "I abused the return policy and got away with it" then, yes, I will judge you.
We have ALL seen the worn-out shoes at the REI garage sales.
EDIT: @Justin– NO ONE is saying that merely returning an item is wrong. We are saying that returning an item that has been worn out by fair use is wrong. I really have no problem with a return 10 years later if the item is nonetheless otherwise lightly used.
P.S.- It SHOULD be clear that the horse-whipping was hyperbole. SHOULD.Sep 25, 2013 at 9:29 am #2028074
I think all the new policy does is give managers the right to say "No." to the shopping cart full of 10+ year old gear. That's not so bad. The ongoing conversation, however, is something that really interests me.
P.S. Jerry, I'll do my utmost to help everyone relive the glory days.
Maybe I'm (gasp!) learning!Sep 25, 2013 at 9:36 am #2028075
> Perhaps that guy with the shopping cart was desperate to cover his wife's medical bill.
While it is ethically uncomfortable to consider a situation like this, it is important to note that no other retailer would have even considered to offer a similar break. While he may have reasons that ethically justify a particularly egregious return, the onus is not on a nationwide retailer to shoulder the financial burden of individual customers.
It is in the retailer's best interest to deny such a claim so that they can stay in business in order to continue serving other customers to the best of their ability. You may say that one person cannot erode a multi-billion dollar industry, but if exceptions were made for everybody that would certainly happen.
Nobody thought they were destroying the music industry by downloading a CD…Sep 25, 2013 at 9:37 am #2028076
My example of a sick wife was not meant to combat the morality of the policy. It was intended to combat your idea that you can fundamentally decide the morality of a return from your desk chair.
I hardly decided you were a judgmental curmudgeon. Perhaps it's useless to explain, since as you said, you're refusing to change, but perhaps I can enlighten you to a different perspective;
Don't worry about it. Why are you worried about it? Ask yourself what it does for you, or anyone else, to declare it wrong in a forum and publicly condemn a few hundred strangers to your blacklist.
Taking a stand and saying something is all well and good when there's real harm. However, REI and Backcountry and L.L. Bean are making money, expanding, producing jobs, and opening more stores- all while their return policies remain somewhat the same. So, there's really no "cause" to fight for at all.
When you spend time judging people you don't know, you waste time. "We all form opinions" is mostly true. I'm guilty of it myself. But clinging to those opinions like the lever on a guillotine is terrible karma. You're better off investing your time in yourself, or in your positive interactions. I try to shake the habit whenever I can. I don't know you, so I'll give you the benefit of the doubt in any question of your platitude, and ultimately, I will feel better and be more inclined to treat you with respect. Not jsut you; anyone I encounter.
Judgement, for some people, is something that ends up ruling them. If you spin wildly trying to figure out who's wronged your sense of good, you'll forget to foster change by being a positive example with positive things to say.
Edit: TyposSep 25, 2013 at 9:38 am #2028077
Bad example. The music industry makes a lot more money today than they did when they were selling CD's. Same with HBO and Microsoft Office, which are commonly pirated.
Actually, I take that back. Maybe it's a great example. Everyone can jump on a soapbox against pirating, but ultimately, pirating things like Game of Thrones did more for HBO than any marketing they ever invested in. It was free, and it catapulted them.
I would argue that the return policy issue is the same horse. It's easy to make a logical argument that it's harmful, but in the end, I think it might actually be better for REI/etc. in the long term.
If I was worried about the durability of my XTherm and my Ghost Whisperer, I probably would've bought the $30 stuff instead. And here I am, using both, and $300 poorer for it. All to REI and Backcountry.Sep 25, 2013 at 9:38 am #2028078
@eagleriverdeeLocale: Eagle River, Alaska
I like LL Bean. I bought some flannel sheets from them yesterday (and got a $10 gift card from them today as a thank you, which I'll probably use to buy a pair of flannel lined jeans). I have one of their Microlight FS1 tents, which is a good design but a bit heavy for what it is. Bombproof, though.
That said, I have to agree a bit with Spelt. People need to get over the REI policy change. This is NOT an attack on Max, or anyone else here. I just think it's much ado about nothing, and agree with Spelt that if you don't know within a year whether a piece of gear fits, works or is robust enough then the problem isn't REI's return policy.Sep 25, 2013 at 9:43 am #2028083
> The deal that is made when one buys an item from a store like REI or LL Bean is that you will pay the agreed price and can return it if you find it somehow unsatisfactory. Returning a shoe if the sole delaminates after only a couple of hundred miles meets this standard. Returning one when the tread is worn out after 700 trail miles does not, and that is what some people are doing. I am happy to make a stand and say that this is wrong.
> The amount of profit that REI or MEC makes is immaterial- you paid the agreed price and made that deal. That REI and LL Bean preferred not to rigorously define what "finding an item unsatisfactory" exactly means in the interests of keeping customers happy does not somehow make it MORAL to cheat them. That's specious. You're basically saying "It's ok to rob them if they didn't make enough effort to keep me from robbing them." (Please excuse the straw-man, there.)
> We have ALL seen the worn-out shoes at the REI garage sales.
I think this is really key. It is not REI's intention to be your lifetime shoe subscription for one flat fee. I've seen people treat it as such and it really bothers me.
Such abuses hurt not just REI, but all other customers of REI. Now that the policy has been tightened up, when we have legitimate issues with things we buy we have to think about a time limit and whether we are going to really be able to justify it to a manager. That's why we can't have nice things.
The argument that REI's policy is made to be abused is false as well. It is made so that customers, in good faith, are able to return things that are legitimately not working out for them.Sep 25, 2013 at 9:44 am #2028084
I definitely don't think it's designed to be abused, nor do I think that's ok.
I definitely DO think it's designed to handle the inevitable abuse that does occur.
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