In a major blow to dirtbags everywhere, Recreational Equipment Incorporated (REI), one of the nation's largest outdoor sports equipment retailers, announced this week that it's cutting back on its hugely generous return policy. As of June 4, it will be restricting returns to one year from the purchase date.
Over the years, the gear cooperative's "100% customer satisfaction guarantee" has earned it the monikers "Rental Equipment Inc." and "Return Everything Inc." as customers abused the policy, returning trail-worn hiking boots, mountain bikes and weather-beaten tents after years and hundreds of miles of solid performance.
The return policy was originally intended for unsatisfactory or faulty products, but has more recently come to be explained to customers as "return any item for any reason at any time, no questions asked."
In the past three years, said REI Senior Vice President of Retail Tim Spangler, the problem has started cutting into profits, endangering the retail cooperative's annual member dividends. "We have to watch our profit carefully if we are going to pay our members a dividend every year, and we were reaching a point where it was hard to do both." Spangler pointed to social media as a possible culprit for the recent growth in abusive returns. "Google 'REI return policy' and you will find lots of interesting discussions," he said.
So we did, and came up with forum discussions like:
• I'm looking for confirmation that I can get away with this. I want to see how far I can stretch the REI return policy.
• I was at REI one day and the return that opened my eyes was a women returning two jogger buggies that were at least 3 years old.
• If you’re abusing the system by returning stuff that works, or is damaged because it was used improperly, then you’ll get dirty looks, but they’ll still take it back.
Maybe it was time to amend the policy. Time will tell if Backcountry.com, the other outdoor gear retailer with an unlimited product return policy, will follow suit.