Our Northwest

REI limits returns; markdowns could decline

Friday, June 7, 2013by  Jon Osterberg

In the wake of REI’s decision to limit returns to one year after purchase, frugal shoppers wonder: Will this cut into REI’s bargain-basement inventory?
   Most REI stores resell returned or slightly damaged clothing and equipment at quarterly garage sales, while the flagship Seattle store sells markdown goods each day adjacent to its first-floor rental department.
   REI is limiting its return policy, which until now had no restrictions, because around 10% of its returns come back a year or more after purchase. Some of those buyers abuse REI’s “100% Satisfaction Guarantee” and return tattered, heavily used merchandise years later for full refunds or in-store credit.
   “In theory, the new policy could affect how much returned inventory we offer for sale,” said Amy, an employee at the Seattle store. “But the vast majority of our shoppers don’t abuse the system.”
   I’ve benefited from REI’s generous return policy and its bargain basement. Example: Before a rainy Neil Young & Crazy Horse concert at the Gorge in 1996, I bought a water-resistant Elements jacket that served me well for several years. Then it popped a seam in the washing machine. I took it across the street (PEMCO headquarters sits just 100 feet from REI – what a temptation!) to get it repaired, and REI did so for free.
   Three years ago I backpacked into the mountains with my well-used REI Half Dome 2 tent and found the elastic cords inside my tent poles had lost all elasticity. I believed it was a defect as well as a huge frustration, having discovered it miles up the Waptus River. REI replaced all my tent poles for free.
   The discounted return items I’ve bought across the street include two pair of snowshoes (marked down to $18) and the most-comfortable leather hiking boots I’ve ever worn, a pair of Vasque Clarions, for which I paid the ridiculous low sum of $12.93.
   I don’t begrudge REI for reining in returns to a reasonable timeframe. In fact, I can empathize. REI’s challenge is not unlike what insurers face with fraudulent claims.
   Read The Seattle Times article about REI’s new return policy.

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