Jan 30, 2013 at 11:17 am #1298640
I am the owner of ProLiteGear.com. I am writing this (lengthy) post in response to a comment posted on these forums by a BPL member:
The comment was: "In the age of information, I feel that the best traits in an online retailer are either the return flexibility (REI or Backcountry), or the absolute best deals possible."
This comment on "best traits" didn't anger me, but it really saddened me. I feel that individuals that believe this are complicit in creating a business climate that has limited options for consumers… options that are not of interest to me… and I had assumed are not of interest to the vast majority of BPL members.
I started ProLiteGear.com because I felt the best product options were not available in the market for customers like me.
I am interested in other BPL member's thoughts. I am hoping that some of the following are also important traits:
* a selection of products that represents the highest performance gear available… not just top sellers from the biggest brands. (we are frequently the first company to import products that are not sold at any other store in the United States. For many products we represent the only option for buying that product. We are one of the few stores that works with cottage manufactures… even if that means sacrificing profit margin.)
* a published phone number with the ability to call the store and speak with a knowledgable employee.
* the benefit in the market of supporting a small, privately owned business that has a passion for the activity that they sell product for vs. a massive corporation that is driven by maximizing profit and doesn't care what products they sell, or what markets they target.
* purchasing from a company that for over 10 years has maintained an "A+ rating" from the Better Business Bureau without a single complaint filed against it.
We all like "a good deal" and ProLite Gear strives to be competitive on that front and we WILL match all competitors prices on same product in same size and color if you give us a call… but we also are ethical and follow the Dealer Agreements that we have signed.
I want everyone to understand this… some Dealer Policies forbid you from putting products on sale or severely restrict how and when you can put products on sale. Usually the better the brand, the stricter the pricing policy.
It is often the case that the store offering the "absolute best deal possible" is violating their Dealer Agreement. I have zero interest in spending my day trying to figure out sneaky ways to circumvent Dealer Policies I have agreed to… and then pleading ignorance or technical incompetence in our ability to abide by those Dealer Agreements when the Brand questions us on it.
We don't have membership discounts, or other gimmicks like signing up with a newsletter to get a 10% off coupon, or liking us on Facebook to get a 10% off coupon, or intentionally setting the wrong price for an item. Please recognize those for what they are… clever ways to end run around Pricing Policy in Dealer Agreements.
Also please recognize that the better managed Brands are starting to enforce their Dealer Agreements and Dealer Policies and put specific language in their Dealer Agreements that forbid those discounting gimmicks. They are revoking dealer status from websites that continue to violate pricing policy. One of the better known habitual offenders of Dealer Pricing Policy just lost their dealer status for Western Mountaineering, and Mountain Equipment.
Ultimately the consumer has the power over who wins and who loses, and they exercise that power with their purchases. I personally consider that when making my own purchases because I recognize that my purchases matter.
For those of you that have purchased from ProLiteGear.com in the past I sincerely thank you, and hope to earn your business again in the future. If you haven't purchased from us before, I ask that you consider supporting us with your next purchase if it comes down to purchasing from us vs. DiscountStore-X or MegaStore-Y. We may not have the best return policy in the industry, or the lowest price, but give us a call and let us try to earn your business. I believe the market is better served by the additional options websites like ProLiteGear.com offer.
Thanks for taking the time to read this post allowing me to share my thoughts.
ProLiteGear.comJan 30, 2013 at 11:32 am #1948886
@stephen-mLocale: Way up North
I often googled an item and came across uour site but found it it out if stock or discontinued.Jan 30, 2013 at 11:39 am #1948890
To be honest, REI captures my attention for name brand equipment due to their stellar customer service reputation and return policy. They also seek out American made products and reach out to manufacturers (e.g. Liberty Bottle Works) to see if a product can be produced in the U.S. when there is a void.
Most of the equipment I need to replace this year is only available from cottage manufacturers so REI won't get their cut (with the exception of new BD carbon corks). I tend to migrate towards MLD and Zpacks as they have the same reputation as REI customer service wise and I've ruled out other manufacturers as they don't have the exact product I'm looking for.
All ramblings aside, these are my priorities when internet shopping:
1. Durability/Quality of product
2. Made in the USA
2.5. Made in Washington
3. Return/Repair Policy
4. Ability to Customize
5. Reliability of posted reviews (I'll compare the website with Amazon, YouTube, REI, BPL, etc to see if the reviews are consistent).
I haven't been on your site before but I'll add it to my favs for future shopping. My parents are small business owners so I feel a sense of duty to throw my business to the cottage industry and smaller/younger businesses when I can.Jan 30, 2013 at 11:43 am #1948891
Stephen M – thanks for sharing that. The supply side of this industry is horribly inefficient. With most items manufactured overseas, brands make a single mfg run per year, or per season. We have to forecast demand for a product, and submit a pre-season order 10-12 months in advance before we take delivery of it. We don't always get it right, but we prefer to sell out vs. being stuck with too much inventory that we can't sell. ;)
Brad just got back from the buying show and was told by many brands that they are only mfg 90% of the quantity pre-seasoned this year because of stores canceling their pre-season orders. I predict shortages of popular products in the sales channel for the coming seasons because the channel got stuck with way too much product for the previous season(s).
You can always give us a call and see if we can't still source it from our suppliers. Sometimes an item is still available due to dealer cancellations or they over mfg. to have inventory available to restock dealers.
CraigJan 30, 2013 at 11:52 am #1948893
My buying habits depend a bit on what I am buying.
If I am buying a product that is produced by a big name then typically I will purchase at REI or will purchase online where price and reputation of the retailer is the primary driver. Most bigger ticket items (shelter, sleeping, cooking, backpack etc…) I now purchase from Cottage manufacturers. Where does that leave Prolite Gear? Good question. I am not sure I see a need in the marketplace for an online retailer specializing in lightweight gear. I do most of my research for buying decisions either on this site or at Blog sites of other lightweight backpackers.
So the reality is there is very little that an online retailer like ProLite Gear can bring to the table to differentiate themselves aside from discovering new stuff that most other online retailers don't carry and offering excellent customer service.Jan 30, 2013 at 11:54 am #1948895
i just buy from MEC, backcountry, or wherever is on sale that has the gear i need
the stellar return policy is absolutely important IMO for stuff purchased over the internet … ive had plenty of stuff that never worked out or lasted …
for me to not have that peace of mind requires very very very good pricing …
there really isnt much difference between the brands of gear, so the major sites/stores carry most of the stuff i want/need … more important is how they treat you afterwards … and the pricing of courseJan 30, 2013 at 11:59 am #1948899
Hi Craig, thanks for posting.
"In the age of information, I feel that the best traits in an online retailer are either the return flexibility (REI or Backcountry), or the absolute best deals possible."
Here's my take on that sentiment. As prices rise globally and paychecks not so much, consumers are facing a more hostile retail experience. Every day they have to make choices with their money which often includes sacrifices that can affect either themselves, the retailer, or producer. Marketing schemes are increasingly more aggressive, and this, along with tightening budgets, makes people more defensive with their money. The best defense a consumer has with limited resources is buying from a company with an outstanding return policy or finding killer deals. And consumers often know very little about what happens between dealers and retailers, including myself. So that aspect rarely gets put into the purchasing equation. It doesn't make it right or justify it, but that's how I see it.
That being said, I do try to make ethical purchases when I can. I'll happily pay more for quality of a product or service, and if I have a choice between shopping local/USA vs. outsourced, I'll do the former if I can. Admittedly, I'm not perfect and that doesn't always happen.
Your bulleted traits are definitely ones that I look for and appreciate in a business, and it's good to know that you'll price match. Here are some additional things I appreciate as a consumer:
-quick, courteous replies to my inquiries whether it be email or phone. When a retailer gives me enough attention that I feel like I'm their only customer, I always recognize and appreciate it.
-letting me know about options I may not know about. For example, I had contacted a pack manufacturer asking questions about a pack for specific purposes. Without asking, the owner offered to modify the pack to better meet my needs.
-making an effort to be involved in the community or market they supply. It's always great to see Henry Shires, Ron Moak, Ron Bell, and all the other cottage guys posting here on BPL. A true sense of community goes a long ways.
-show that they are actively always trying to improve and innovate, without being gimmicky. Nobody like stagnation, but cheap, gimmicky efforts to stave it off don't work well either.
-quality. That quality could be in how the products are manufactured. It could be the quality of the customer service. The quality of website design. The quality of my shopping experience. And most often, it is a combination of all of these things.
Good luck with your business, and keep fightin' the good fight.Jan 30, 2013 at 12:04 pm #1948900
I've purchased from ProLite (and brother/sister sites) online, over the phone, and in person in the past. I'm generally hesitant to purchase a lot of things online without knowing how they fit me first, and if a local retailer has a product in my size at a fair price I'll support the local small business. Of course hardly any local retailers carry European brands, best of breed products, or damn near anything in small sizes. Being fit makes shopping for clothes harder than it was being considerably overweight. I've been seriously considering opening my own store locally, but I fear it would fail due to lightweight backpacking still being niche and being a size small niche as well. Competing online (for many of the reasons Craig brings up) is pretty much out of the question. I'm not sure where that leaves people like me. If ProLite were to offer free shipping both ways, I might be more willing to order things without having tried them on first.Jan 30, 2013 at 12:07 pm #1948902
@b-g-2-2Locale: Silicon Valley
"I often googled an item and came across uour site but found it it out if stock or discontinued."
Stephen hit the nail on the head. I quit buying from ProLiteGear since everything I wanted there was continually out of stock. That's kind of the end, isn't it?
–B.G.–Jan 30, 2013 at 12:07 pm #1948903
Craig, I like your site and I am often surprised at some of your good prices for what seem like pretty fungible gear. I think the problem for me has been a lack of availability. For example, I am interested in an OR Helium II jacket. You have one with a great price of $86.98, but its only available in small and one color. I'm an XL. I really think the lack of inventory hurts your site. I forget to look there now because I have frequently had the same problem.Jan 30, 2013 at 12:12 pm #1948908
@nickbLocale: Los Padres National Forest
I've purchased from ProLite Gear's website a few times over the years. I've found them to generally have a good selection of quality products and "core" brands for a given item. By "core", I mean that they tend to separate out and avoid the chafe or some of the mainstream generic offerings and instead focus on fewer, but higher quality options for a given piece of gear (like backpacks, for example).
I've also had good luck finding generally hard to find items instock at ProLite, sometimes a bit past their initial debut when all other vendors have moved on (example: ID eVent jacket and gaiters), or cottage brand items instock and ready for delivery (as opposed to ordering directly from the cottage manufacturer but requiring a multi-week wait).
In my mind, this is the area where ProLite shines: the availability of some otherwise hard to locate gear/brands. As an added bonus, the prices are generally in keeping with the other big vendors and the shipping, customer service, etc has all been good and hassle free.
Like others, when it comes to making a purchase of a typical mainstream item from a mainstream brand (say a new Black Diamond ice axe, for example), I'll tend to shop around and find the best deal from one of the trushted vendors (which in my mind includes ProLite). For hard to find items or when I want to see what other options might be out there for a given piece of gear that the REIs and Backcountry.com's of the world aren't carrying, ProLite is a great resource.Jan 30, 2013 at 12:40 pm #1948924
Thanks for the awesome feedback… I am taking it all in and going to work on it with the team over here!
Effective Immediately I am changing ProLite Gear's return policy:
* New, unused, or unopened products may be returned to us for up to 365 days from the date of purchase.
In order to protect our customers, I am still going to require that returns on climbing gear will not be accepted unless directed by a ProLite Gear employee.
I assume any climber will understand that, and appreciate knowing they are not purchasing equipment that may have been returned.
Here is the deal… if you are not 100% satisfied just give us a call and we will work to make things right…. I don't know how to say that in legalize…. but I will work on it.
I am looking into further improvements on the return policy.
Thanks again for the feedback… I honestly had not considered that our existing 30 day return policy was an issue…. it is good to get this feedback!
CraigJan 30, 2013 at 12:40 pm #1948925
@lindahlbLocale: Colorado Rockies
I've purchased at ProLiteGear and will continue to do so. I've often found you guys price competitive, and I apprecaite the process you guys go through of weighing every product you sell, it sometimes brings me to your website when otherwise I wouldn't have considered looking – it's almost like free advertising.
Here are my reasons for purchasing a particular product from a particular store:
When I am uncertain about a product's effectiveness at meeting a particular need, I will buy from REI, Backcountry, or Altrec 100% of the time. There is rarely an exception to this rule. Usually these tend to be big ticket items with a lot of variability in their ability to meet a user's needs (i.e. Dynafit AT bindings). The only exception is for a high-demand product that is significantly on sale (30% or more), where a resale of the product will typically result in a loss of a minimal amount of money. (i.e. Western Mountaineering Sleeping Bags at 25% off).
If a product's fit is critical, I'll buy from Backcountry, due free shipping, and cheap return shipping. I'll often buy multiples at the same time, so that I can try on everything back-to-back. For example, when I was looking for a new pair ski gloves, I ordered 10 different models that met my needs, and returned the 9, keeping the 1 that fit perfectly. I would prefer to purchase at a local shop, but local shops generally don't have as wide a variety of selection as Backcountry. If I have time to kill, and can find a local ma&pa shop, I'll include their product lines during this process. This type of shopping is too expensive to do at other online retailers, due to the cost of shipping.
For shoes, I usually buy from REI. They usually have a good selection, and their return policy allows you to return even after you've used them. Real-world usage of shoes is very different than anything you can do in a store. Thus, it can be difficult to pick the right shoe the first time around.
When it comes to anything else, I usually buy from wherever has the best price. I prefer local ma&pa stores, if they are price competitive. If they aren't, due to my extensive number of returns to Backcountry, I prefer them, just to even the score. If the item is a high-wear item, like a hiking shirt, then I'll usually buy Patagonia, due to their repair or recycle policy.
For backpacking gear, I'm in the sub-6lb range, so typically my purchases are from zPacks, MLD or other cottage manufacturers, as few other companies offer weight-competitive gear.Jan 30, 2013 at 12:58 pm #1948937
I want the weight of everything clearly listed
You already do a better job of this than most, so pat yourself on the back
But there is still many items with no weights, and small, med, large all weigh different.Jan 30, 2013 at 12:58 pm #1948938
@mocs123Locale: Southeast Tennessee
I will try and write more later but wanted to say I have purchased from Prolite Gear before and would not hesitate to do again. I appreciate the unique brands you sell that cater to ultra light backpackers as well as actual weights listed on items (though not as common as it used to be – many newer items haven't been weighed).
I have noticed a lot of out of stock items the past year as well as a more narrow selection compared to a few years ago.Jan 30, 2013 at 1:23 pm #1948948
W I S N E R !Participant
I know it's pretty blunt…Call me a dirtbag.
You can search specs or find photos on anything, anywhere on the net. I don't really have any expectations of an online gear shop; their job is to move gear. It's the manufacturer's site that should have all the info I need.
When I'm done with my browsing, specs, etc, what seals the deal for me is the lowest price, which usually has to do with no tax and free shipping. A paid, return shipping label included is even a bigger bonus.
You can build the greatest product pages ever…but if someone else's prices are better, most people will pick you site for all the knowledge and reviews they need and turn elsewhere for the purchase.
Not trying to sound cold and heartless here as you obviously care about building a good business; I've purchased gear from you and it's always been top notch service. But I don't know how realistic it is to build a "relationship" when we're talking online shopping- a practice literally created to take human interaction completely out of the shopping experience.
Upon reflection, you putting up this post and enabling people to see a real face behind the Prolite name is a pretty smart decision, it certainly plays upon people's desire to help out others that they perceive are "in the game" and have similar interests…sort of like the cottage gearmaker thing.Jan 30, 2013 at 1:35 pm #1948955
Unless I find a smoking deal on used gear, or they simply do not carry a cottage item (like a TT Rainbow) that I have decided to buy, I'll get my gear from REI.
I bought an external frame pack from REI back in 2001. As it turns out, I never used it – but it got some scuffs and dusty as a result of moving homes over the last 12 years. I decided to test their return policy and emailed the corporate customer service to see if I could return the pack since it was unused and I wasn't happy with it anymore; in these modern times I want to go with a slightly lighter internal frame pack.
They replied back that same day with their standard satisfaction guarantee description and said not a problem, take it in to the local store if I wanted to. So I printed out the email and went to my local REI brick and mortar, fully expecting to be laughed out of the building, but at least giving it a shot. The worst they can say is no, right?
The store manager was none to pleased with me and made sure to explain, in detail, the spirit of the satisfaction guarantee and that I was walking the very fine line of taking it for granted …but he still honored the policy and gave me the full 100% value in store credit (I no longer have the original card used to make that purchase). I didn't fuss or make a scene to coerce him into honoring the policy – nor will I ever try such a feat again. While certainly an extreme case of customer satisfaction, that $170 investment in my happiness ensures that I will go back and buy more stuff from them. And proclaim their greatness throughout the land.
PLG.com looks and sounds like a great shop. I've never dealt with you guys. But you have to compete with experiences like my own above. You have to compete with situations where people are just as happy buying used gear from Ebay at a nicely depreciated value. I don't need the opinions of a company's customer service department or "gear experts" to make my purchase decisions because Google gives more information that I can absorb on any given product. And if your customer service sucks? There's plenty of other websites that sell the same widgets..Jan 30, 2013 at 2:49 pm #1948979
@txbdanLocale: Boston, MA
I think the one thing that can set a "mom and pop" shop apart against the big corps is information. I think your blog is a great way to inform the customer base and spur the itch for new gear. I'd expand your blog's presence and fill it with even more content. Not just gear reviews, but tech articles, stories, etc. You could talk about a particular climb or activity and provide full lists of the gear used. When people see a list from a legit user, they might see some items in their collection. They'll also see holes in their collection and want to fill them.
Also along that line is using your blog as a marketing tool more effectively. Optimizing your site and blog for SEO can really maximize your ability to pull ppl in off google searches
EDIT: I just looked at your blog again and i see some great stories with gear lists! So that's great. Just get those lists to pop up when i search and you'll be golden. Hire an SEO consultant if need be. My fiancee is a marketing guru in the indie game space and a has a blog setup to help the little guys trying to get noticed. A lot of the concepts apply here, check it out http://www.indiegamegirl.com.Jan 30, 2013 at 3:13 pm #1948987
@taedawoodLocale: Louisiana, USA
As a sales manager for a small family-owned niche lumber company, I am biased towards the small shops and cottage manufacturers. Yes, I have been a member of REI since 1973 and I still occasionally buy from them but I will buy from the small guy it they are "competitive", not necessarily the cheapest!
Craig, thank you for your post. I encourage your continued participation in the BPL community as a previous contributor mentioned. Leverage this community to your advantage. I have purchased from you in the past and just recently purchased some Rab clothing products from you.
Strengths that I see about your business:
1. You don't sell garbage. You obviously try to carry quality gear that the lightweight community would be interested in.
2. You carry a lot of European brands. I especially like Rab and Montane products that you and few other American retailers offer.
3. You occasionally include reviews on your products.
4. Weights are often included.
5. Someone answers the phone right away whenever I have called. They are courteous, helpful, knowledgeable about the products.
Weaknesses that I see about your business:
1. Your stock levels are often too low. Perhaps one way around it if you are out of stock would be to automate a response that would indicate if it can be backordered and if so, how long it would take to ship. Sometimes I don't mind waiting three to four weeks if it is a European product if I know you can get it!
2. Your company does not show up on a Google search on the first page of most searches. Instead I am bombarded with REI, Backcountry, or Moosejaw. I don't know what can be done, if anything, about it but it is an issue.
3. You don't send out "Specials" emails or information emails. I would happily get a newsy email from you once a month or so like so many others, particularly the cottage manufacturers do. It would at least keep your name out there to remind us of you when thinking of gear.
Craig, keep up the good work that you have done. We need businesses like yours…but there is always room for improvement.Jan 30, 2013 at 3:16 pm #1948989
@skopeoLocale: British Columbia
I'm with Craig W., for me it's about the total cost of the product (cost + shipping).
I'm ordering from Canada so shipping costs are an important factor. I have purchased from ProLiteGear.com but I find your shipping charges to Canada to be on the high side of average. I always look for free shipping deals or online dealers that have the lowest shipping rates because typically item prices do not vary that much from site to site. If an item is drastically reduced I will pay the higher shipping costs because it all balances out in the end. You may not be too concerned with international orders but I do a lot of online gear purchases so it's something to consider.Jan 30, 2013 at 3:38 pm #1949001
Make sure there are no anti-logical policies. For instance, on REI's web orders, an exchange is not an exchange. REI will refund you the amount of the original item, and then immediately charge you for the new item; if you don't have the money in your account, the exchange gets bogged up.
Why not just send the new item and refund/charge the difference? I don't know.
Another example: If I return an item to REI (sorry to pick on you, REI), it disappears from my order history. If I order lots of stuff, seeing what didn't work for me would be useful as a reference. I don't know why they disappear, but they do.
It's little things like this that go against common sense that stand out to me. If it makes sense, I never have problems with it, and everything goes smoother. Make sure your site and policies pass the "makes sense" test.Jan 30, 2013 at 3:48 pm #1949003
I have purchased from prolite before was only unhappy once,they took care of the problem and went above and beyond without my even asking. I will shop them in the future, the prices and sales are competitive and the customer service is exellent.Jan 30, 2013 at 4:36 pm #1949018
@drongobirdLocale: San Francisco Bay Area
Thanks for asking. I just checked my records, and I see I've bought the following from you: Inov-8 shoes, CAMP mittens, Montane windshirts. Those are all "speciality" items not widely available. Last week I ordered TerraNova over-mitts and I ended up ordering from UK with expensive shipping because I couldn't find my size/model in the US. So one niche that you've filled for me is making European products available here.
All other things being equal I purchase from BackCountry — free shipping, great return policy, shipped within a couple hours of the order and arrives 2 days later. Second choice is REI – second to BackCountry because the delay until shipment and arrival time is slower, but favorable because if I do need to return I can do so at the store near my house and save the return shipping.
As somebody else mentioned, when I order a European product I don't know which size I'll need, and it's super important to be able to order multiple sizes and/or models and return all but one or two. In my case, the returns are of brand new products with labels attached, but sometimes it takes us more than 30 days to make a decision – not because we need that much time but because we are easily distracted. I wouldn't need a full year, but the difference between 30 and 90 days would matter a lot.
Also, because I often order more items than I plan to keep, the shipping cost matters. In particular, if it's free or $5 flat to ship, that's OK. If it's a graduated shipping fee based on size of the order, then I'm very hesitant to buy 6 items knowing that I will return 4 or 5 of them.
I don't envy your situation. Competition (i.e. dozens of online vendors) is always good for the consumer, but it's a tough place to be a business.
AmyLJan 30, 2013 at 4:49 pm #1949024
@glacierramblerLocale: NW Montana
I've never bought from ProLite Gear.
For me, it's all about the return policy. When I am testing something I don't know if it will fit or not, I always buy from REI, Backcountry, Campsaver, etc. where I can return something–even if it's used, for a reasonable period. In fact, Backcountry and REI are just downright unreasonable.
Personally, I think the Campsaver/Running Warehouse model is perfect for me. 60-90 days (I forget which exactly) to decide if a product works for me. No questions asked. This winter, I toyed around with the idea of GTX boots, but couldn't find a pair that fit me well. I narrowed it down to one pair, did a lot of running up and down the stairs in my house, and generally everything I could think of to figure out if they worked before testing them in the field. I liked them, took them out for a short test hike, and could quickly tell I wasn't going to be willing to put a lot of miles on the boots. The same thing happened with a second pair–both for very different reasons but both because of information I just couldn't get without a test hike.
If you were willing to offer some kind of evaluative return policy–say 60-90 days, full return if light to minimal wear, less depending on the condition of the item–I'd be at your site a lot more. You could even have an outlet to sell lightly used items where you could hopefully clear your costs or more on the lightly used stuff, another draw to the site.
Anyway, my $0.02. I will make sure to check out the site some more though.Jan 30, 2013 at 5:23 pm #1949043
A good return policy is important, especially for gear you can't try on/out first.
Other than that, I'm one of those (few?) people who don't really care that much about getting the best deal. I don't spend a lot of time shopping around – if I see something I want I buy it without doing a lot of searching around for the best price.
I've purchased from your shop, Craig, and had nothing but great experiences when doing so (even posted in the forums about a great experience I had with your shop). But, like others, I've often, quite often, gone looking to your site early on and found you out of stock on what I wanted. The more often that happens, the less likely I am to visit again early on.
I only have one request, though. Start carrying Haglofs!
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