REI’s customer service gets the big screen treatment

Discussion
Dec 09, 2014

One of the things that has earned outdoors retailer REI so many fans (AKA customers) over the years has been the cooperative’s 100 percent satisfaction guarantee. It is because of that commitment that REI received a free product placement in the new film "Wild" starring Reese Witherspoon.

The film is based on a memoir by Cheryl Strayed, which tells the story of a roughly 1,100 mile hike she took on the Pacific Coast Trail following the death of her mother. About halfway through her hike, Ms. Strayed lost one her hiking boots when it fell over a mountain ledge. Having purchased the boots at REI, she called the retailer and a new pair was shipped to her, "no questions asked," according to Adweek. Ms. Strayed continued on her journey with new boots on her feet and REI had a fan for life.

Once Ms. Strayed’s memoir was made into a movie, the account of the replaced shoes was included. While most product placements in major motion pictures involve fees, this one was free.

A replica of the shoes Ms. Strayed wore on her trek are now available on REI’s website. The boots, Danner Mountain Light Cascade, are available for sale at $299 (10 percent less for REI members). The boots include the description: "Featured in the Fox Searchlight Pictures release ‘WILD,’ the women’s Mountain Light Cascade hiking boots are a tribute to the iconic Danner style from the early 1970’s."

Interestingly, REI announced last year that it was scaling back its guarantee. Where there once were no time limits, now it is capped at one year.

What role do return policies and satisfaction guarantees play in consumers’ purchasing decisions? What is your take on REI?

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14 Comments on "REI’s customer service gets the big screen treatment"


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Chris Petersen, PhD
Guest
7 years 6 months ago

It is interesting how many outdoor product retailers offer unbelievable return guarantees. In addition to REI, Cabela’s and L.L. Bean come to mind as leaders in guaranteeing their products, as well as offering incredible replacement service.

These retailers clearly understand that the “sale” is winning a customer for life.

I live in Nebraska and I have witnessed Cabela’s return center. Sadly, many customers are outright abusing return privileges, driving up costs substantially. Unlimited return policies will have to change, but I think that loyal customers will understand and respect reasonable limits.

Don Uselmann
Guest
Don Uselmann
7 years 6 months ago

Liberal return policies, satisfaction guarantees and the like give consumers more confidence in making the purchase decision and no doubt get more goods out the door on the initial visit resulting in more sales overall. Such policies no doubt through publicity and word of mouth also help sales. The downside is the cost of con-artists (thieves) and abusers of such policies and each organization, depending upon the nature of their business, needs to do a risk/benefit analysis. In REI’s case the policy seems to make great sense as they have a relatively narrow market segment and repeat business is probably a core driver. In that model you have the ability to monitor, identify and take individual action, should you so decide, against those who abuse the policy. REI certainly received more than $299 in value from this transaction.

Max Goldberg
Guest
7 years 6 months ago

REI has so many loyal customers because its staff uses and knows the products it sells. It sells quality merchandise and it offers no-hassle returns. It treats its customers with respect. How many retailers can make that claim?

When you treat your customers with respect, they give the same in return.

Ian Percy
Guest
7 years 6 months ago

In a word—HUGE. And REI’s one year no-questions-asked is more than reasonable.

You won’t find this talked about much in policy-setting meetings, but the Law of Reciprocity is omnipresent. What you put out you get back. What I’ve found with retailers where you know you can return things without being waterboarded, is that you try to NOT return things even if you have reason to do so. With Costco, for example, if we find a new item not up to expectations, we give it every chance to be accepted for what it is. Heck, Costco is so darn good to us the least we can do is not whine about some little disappointment. If we don’t like a food item we take it to a party as an appetizer. No one will know we brought it and chances are somebody will like it. If the shirt doesn’t look as good as we thought it would, we know someone needs it far more than we do.

Come on, it’s a season for giving, not returning!

Frank Riso
Guest
7 years 6 months ago

Return policies and satisfaction guarantees are the difference for many older shoppers between buying it and trying it on at home or not buying it. Knowing that you can return an item no-questions-asked is a major advantage to these shoppers. So many shoppers will not buy items online, which is a major concern if the retailer does not make returning easy. REI is just the best and it is a sign of the times when it comes to understanding being a good retailer and being taken advantage of by returning items that have been used for five or 10 years.

Adrian Weidmann
Guest
7 years 6 months ago

The policies and guarantees play some role in purchasing decisions BUT when the policy manifests itself through a real story that resonates with consumers on an emotional level then the policies become humanized and take on a life of their own. When this transformation happens the value becomes priceless. Other brands should take note on this story and seek out and publish REAL stories that humanize their brand and what it really means in people’s lives. Storytelling is an art form that continues to outweigh any clever marketing or merchandising stunt.

Mel Kleiman
Guest
7 years 6 months ago

Simple answer: LOTS. Just from personal experience. I continue to shop at Costco because of their great return policy. No receipt, no problem, we will find the record and issue the credit. Want the best buy in hearing aids? Go to Costco. They have the best return policy if you have a problem or are not happy. I think you get the picture of the effect of a great return policy.

Yes some people will take advantage of the policy. If it happens too often a retailer should refuse to sell them.

Mark Heckman
Guest
7 years 6 months ago

Having an unconditional return policy can be very powerful, instilling consumer confidence in the quality and commitment a retailer has for their offerings. I would hope that REI has consumer research that codifies this practice as a real positive for their business.

While an unconditional policy may work nicely for an upscale, higher ticket retailer like REI, retailers who have tighter margins are likely not going to like the math involved when applying such policies.

In my view, REI should continue to leverage this policy, provided their analysis tells them that is solidifying customer relationships and helping to win new customers. Even if this practice proves to be a financial liability, it might be one of those things retailers do to differentiate themselves from the pack and create a “signature” plank of their marketing platform.

Bill Davis
Guest
7 years 6 months ago

If a company lives up to its promise, return policies and satisfaction guarantees have a huge influence on purchasing behavior. It’s a commitment that the product will work and/or satisfy the customer or they get a replacement or their money back. Removes doubt from the purchasing process.

I live in Seattle so have been aware of REI since 1989 when I first moved here. Great company for outdoor gear.

Gene Detroyer
Guest
7 years 6 months ago

It is Christmas. I will buy my wife a present or two (Shhhh! Don’t tell her). I will only buy from a retailer who will allow me to return it, because the chances it will be returned are huge.

Liz Crawford
Guest
7 years 6 months ago

To me, this news in this piece is the shifting role of brand sponsorship.

Today, entertainment, advertising, social media, and vending are blending together. The boundary between content and product-placement is eroding. The REI “Wild” connection is evidence that entertainment narratives are becoming store shelves.

Gajendra Ratnavel
Guest
7 years 6 months ago

100% satisfaction guarantees work on higher end (high margin), lower volume products. It works very well in these cases as the comfort level required to make the purchases is higher.

Satisfaction guarantee also encourages word of mouth. Especially when the experience at one company differs so drastically from a competitor.

Shep Hyken
Guest
7 years 6 months ago

How important are return policies and guarantees? Just look at some of the top names in retail. Everyone has return policies that are totally customer friendly; Zappos, Nordstrom—just to name two. Does it make a difference? To some customers, it makes all the difference.

Christopher P. Ramey
Guest
7 years 6 months ago

Marketing is everything. REI owns “100% Satisfaction” because they’ve been doing it so long. Ditto for Zappos and some other brands mentioned by my colleagues. Just as Volvo owns “safety,” it doesn’t mean Mercedes or BMWs are dangerous. Nor are REI’s competitors satisfying their customers less. Perhaps REI is more diligent in searching for photo-ops to reinforce their DNA.

In today’s environment there is an expectation that retailers will accept returns and do whatever is necessary to satisfy their customer.

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