In his two and a half years working at REI, the craziest things Steve Smith ever saw returned were food wrappers.
“They would basically eat a Clif Bar and bring the wrapper back to us and say, ‘This wasn’t good, I wasn’t satisfied,'” he said. “As an employee, it ultimately came down to the customer service and just providing a great customer experience. If it boiled down to returning a Clif Bar, that’s the length that we went to.”
Now a Junior at the UO, Smith spent two years in high school as an REI employee in Boise, and the first half of his Freshman year working for the branch in Eugene. Regardless of location, one thing he could always count on was the length of the Customer Service line.
Expect to see that return line get just a little bit shorter. As of June 4, REI will no longer uphold the lifetime warranty previously offered to its eligible members — to get a refund or exchange, items must now be presented within one year of their initial purchase.
Upon hearing the news, sophomore journalism major Matt Leslie was shocked.
“I mean, the reason you go to REI is because you can return it forever,” Leslie said. “I probably won’t shop there as much anymore.”
As a photojournalist, and a connoisseur of outdoor pursuits, Leslie finds himself in REI three to four times a month, outfitting for his latest trek into the Oregon outdoors. Previously, his justification for spending a bit more money on the REI brand was that he could return any equipment that malfunctioned or didn’t meet his standards. Now that the policy has changed, he says he’ll likely abandon REI for a different sporting goods store where he receives more of a discount.
What’s more, Leslie fears that the used gear sales that constituted one of the greatest benefits of shopping at REI will cease to uphold its celebrated reputation.
“They have amazing used gear sales and you can return just about everything they re-sell,” Leslie said. “I don’t know if their used gear sales will be as awesome as they used to be — it’s a bummer.”
Although changing the warranty policy might alienate customers like Leslie, business administration major Smith says that fiscally, the equation evens out.
“The REI return policy is definitely something that’s very well-known about, and it’s something that people notice,” Smith said. “It is now a one-year policy, and I think that people will be weary of that … But I wouldn’t expect to see a sales decrease, and at the same time I’d probably expect to see an increase in profits because the company is no longer offering that return policy.”