Well said. I appreciate REI for what it is, and their return policy makes it a great option if you have one local. My wife and I probably spend ~$200-300/year at REI, the majority of that is on clothes for her (REI has a great selection of comfortable "outdoors" gear, some of which office-appropriate for her); the occasional pair of shoes (they carry FiveFingers and have good sales); and the rest is consumables (trial food, isobutane).
I'm sad to hear they are price inflating before sales, but I'm not surprised. As a whole, the REI annual sales have gotten poorer and poorer over the years I've been a member. Your best bet these days is the occasional deep discount when no special sale is underway, so few people catch it.
The REI Outlet has been the source of lots of good deals over the years, and while I don't like the corporate direction they are going, I'm still glad to patronize them when its convenient. They are still better (for our purposes) than any other B&M chain store. And for the gear we buy there, I'd rather have my money go to REI than to a random internet retailer or to Walmart.