REI now limiting returns to one year


Jan 17, 2012
REI now limiting returns to one year

For years, REI’s generous return policy has earned it the nickname “Rental Equipment Inc.”
An Internet search of REI’s “100% Satisfaction Guarantee” turns up all kinds of stories about overused merchandise returned for a full refund or store credit.

There’s the mom who returned a stroller for no other reason than her children simply had outgrown it. Or the dad who took back an old bike rack because it clashed with his new car.

Starting Tuesday, REI will try to discourage customers from “renting” equipment for as long as they like by ending its policy of no time limits on returns. Customers will be allowed to take back store items for one year after purchase. The deadline for returning outlet merchandise bought on will be 30 days.

Kent-based REI, which actually stands for Recreational Equipment Inc., made the change after noticing a sharp uptick in returns of merchandise more than a year old, said Senior Vice President of Retail Tim Spangler.

“We’ve always taken back products more than a year old, but to see that growing disproportionately caused us to ask some questions,” Spangler said in an interview last week at REI’s Tacoma store.
“What we found is that small group of folks who are probably extending the policy beyond its intent, is getting bigger. And It’s not a sustainable thing long-term if we want to maintain this fantastic policy,” he said. “It’s something we have to put some clarification around.”

REI’s sales rose less than expected last year to $1.9 billion, a 7 percent increase, while its profit dropped 4 percent to $29 million. The outdoor-gear chain laid off an undisclosed, “limited” number of employees in March, citing changing business needs.

To reduce dubious returns, REI also has stopped accepting returns without question and is more insistent that there be proof of purchase. Some REI stores had been known to give store credit, if not money-back refunds, to customers without a receipt, leading to the retailer’s other nickname, “Return Everything Inc.”

Climber Leif Karlstrom, in an article published online last fall by Outside magazine, recalled taking advantage of REI’s return policy as a broke college student.

“A climbing buddy came back from China with a bunch of knockoff REI gear. We returned it fraudulently to the store in Eugene, Ore., which gave us cash,” Karlstrom said. “REI didn’t even make some of the gear returned, but the store took it because the logo was on it. After that we couldn’t stop.”

The National Retail Federation estimates that stores lost $9 billion from return fraud last year, a slight improvement over 2011, said Richard Mellor, the trade group’s vice president for loss prevention. Mellor credits the small decline in losses to stricter proof-of-purchase requirements and closer tracking of customers who often return something without a receipt.

Spangler said he expects the vast majority of REI customers to be OK with the new rules. Already, about 90 percent of returns are made within a year, and REI will continue to take back defective products regardless of their age, he said.

“For 90 percent of our customers, this isn’t going to impact them. And for the other 10 percent, a good chunk are still going to be protected by this,” he said.

“If you buy that tent, and the seam blows out after two or three years, and you feel that it’s defective, I want you to bring it back and we’re going to take care of you,” he said. “We’re always going to stand behind our products not to be defective.”

REI will send out 3 million emails and talk to customers at checkout about the changes over the next few weeks, he said.

Even so, REI likely will remain at the liberal end of the spectrum for return policies. Seattle-based Nordstrom, also known for easy returns, has no deadline at its full-scale stores but a 30-day limit at its discount Rack chain. Target and Walmart give their customers 90 days to return most items.
In 2007, Issaquah-based Costco Wholesale began limiting returns on consumer electronics to 90 days. Costco said at the time its liberal return policy had become a free TV upgrade program, with customers taking back TVs once newer, cheaper models went on sale.

While Costco initially “heard a lot of noise” from critics about the change, “it didn’t affect their business,” Spangler said. “Within three months, it was a nonevent.”

REI customer Shaida Hossein, 26, of Seattle, said she has no problem with a one-year time limit on returns, calling it “more than gracious.”

Hossein returned a backpack to REI last September after being bothered by its shoulder straps on a hiking trip. “Even though I took the tag off, I was still able to return it,” she said. “It was just an easy, breezy return system.”

And because REI staffers questioned her about the return, she added, they were able to point her to another, better-fitting backpack
I guess this explains why the last two times I've tried to return something at REI they completely guilt tripped me because it was over 30 days.....
Yeah, I don't disagree with this, but I'd like to see prices come down a bit in response to the savings...any bets on that happening?
I won't be buying expensive products from REI anymore. I see no sense in spending extra money for (say) a pair of trekking poles that I will only use 3-4 times a year. If they break down in 13 months I'm now forced to deal with the manufacturer for parts so I may as well get them for a better price on amazon.
Interesting. I've never used REI's generous return policy... but I can see where they're coming from with this.

Me too. I've never returned anything that wasn't unused. People that work the system destroy it for the rest of us.
I really wonder how many people were actually gaming the system and how much of that was actually REI's fault. The only first hand stories I've heard of people returning equipment many years old were because of REI employees suggesting that they do it. For example, my brother went sleeping bag shopping a couple years ago. He was talking to the REI sales guy about how he didn't like the bag he had and the guy practically insisted that my bro return it for credit towards the new bag since he didn't like some things about it. The bag was more than 4 years old!! I doubt most people would ever consider returning such an item on their own, but who knows...

I do know that in the past, I've made a point to buy really expensive and potentially problematic products like my Delorme Inreach from REI because I knew they had my back. With the guarantee now crippled, I'd just assume buy it wherever I can get the best price which is almost never REI.
I do know that in the past, I've made a point to buy really expensive and potentially problematic products like my Delorme Inreach from REI because I knew they had my back. With the guarantee now crippled, I'd just assume buy it wherever I can get the best price which is almost never REI.

Yep, this used to set them apart, now they are competing solely on price. Something they almost always lose at.
I love the garage sales, but honestly, it is about time. Ive never returned anything more than a month old. The policy was obviously abused by many people.
I can definitely see why they would have to implement some changes in policy if it's being abused to that extent. Having worked in the past for the returns department at Target, I can definitely say that while most people aren't looking to abuse return policies, the ones that do are notorious for repeatedly abusing them. It was during my time working there that they made a major overhaul to their return policy. Another case of a few bad apples ruining things for the rest of us.

That said, a year is still a long time to return something, much longer than most retailers. I absolutely love Amazon, but their return policy is only 30 days. The fact that REI claims they will still stand behind defective products beyond that year is still damn good customer service. I usually buy my cheaper products or the ones I'm confident I won't be returning from wherever I can get them at the best price, but I will still continue to buy more expensive products or products I think could potentially not work out from REI.
For years, REI’s generous return policy has earned it the nickname “Rental Equipment Inc.”
Kent-based REI, which actually stands for Recreational Equipment Inc...

i laughed out loud when i read this particular line.
to think that the writter/editor of the seattle times deemed it necessary to remind the folks of the puget sound area, the birth place of REI, of what the acronym actually stands for. :lol:
Why would anyone believe REI when they say they are changing their policy because of abuse? They have offered no proof. People will still abuse the policy. They can only "Rent" gear for a year now, not for 2 or 3. This policy change will not stop abuse because it is not designed to stop abuse. REI can simply track returns, which they do, and when someone returns to much stuff, they simply revoke their membership and ban them from the store, simple. This change is due to the fact that outdoor gear is poorly made and people are returning the product because it doesn't last more than a season.

Remember, 1 backpacking season for most people is about 30 nights out. One season, means 1 year. Much of the gear REI sells will only last one season. It never used to be that way, but much of the ultra light gear REI sells just can not take any real use.