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Craig Delger
(cdelger)
From the owner of ProLiteGear.com - What traits do BPL members consider important in an online gear shop??? on 01/30/2013 12:17:24 MST Print View

I am the owner of ProLiteGear.com. I am writing this (lengthy) post in response to a comment posted on these forums by a BPL member:

The comment was: "In the age of information, I feel that the best traits in an online retailer are either the return flexibility (REI or Backcountry), or the absolute best deals possible."

This comment on "best traits" didn't anger me, but it really saddened me. I feel that individuals that believe this are complicit in creating a business climate that has limited options for consumers... options that are not of interest to me... and I had assumed are not of interest to the vast majority of BPL members.

I started ProLiteGear.com because I felt the best product options were not available in the market for customers like me.

I am interested in other BPL member's thoughts. I am hoping that some of the following are also important traits:

* a selection of products that represents the highest performance gear available... not just top sellers from the biggest brands. (we are frequently the first company to import products that are not sold at any other store in the United States. For many products we represent the only option for buying that product. We are one of the few stores that works with cottage manufactures... even if that means sacrificing profit margin.)

* a published phone number with the ability to call the store and speak with a knowledgable employee.

* the benefit in the market of supporting a small, privately owned business that has a passion for the activity that they sell product for vs. a massive corporation that is driven by maximizing profit and doesn't care what products they sell, or what markets they target.

* purchasing from a company that for over 10 years has maintained an "A+ rating" from the Better Business Bureau without a single complaint filed against it.

We all like "a good deal" and ProLite Gear strives to be competitive on that front and we WILL match all competitors prices on same product in same size and color if you give us a call... but we also are ethical and follow the Dealer Agreements that we have signed.

I want everyone to understand this... some Dealer Policies forbid you from putting products on sale or severely restrict how and when you can put products on sale. Usually the better the brand, the stricter the pricing policy.

It is often the case that the store offering the "absolute best deal possible" is violating their Dealer Agreement. I have zero interest in spending my day trying to figure out sneaky ways to circumvent Dealer Policies I have agreed to... and then pleading ignorance or technical incompetence in our ability to abide by those Dealer Agreements when the Brand questions us on it.

We don't have membership discounts, or other gimmicks like signing up with a newsletter to get a 10% off coupon, or liking us on Facebook to get a 10% off coupon, or intentionally setting the wrong price for an item. Please recognize those for what they are... clever ways to end run around Pricing Policy in Dealer Agreements.

Also please recognize that the better managed Brands are starting to enforce their Dealer Agreements and Dealer Policies and put specific language in their Dealer Agreements that forbid those discounting gimmicks. They are revoking dealer status from websites that continue to violate pricing policy. One of the better known habitual offenders of Dealer Pricing Policy just lost their dealer status for Western Mountaineering, and Mountain Equipment.

Ultimately the consumer has the power over who wins and who loses, and they exercise that power with their purchases. I personally consider that when making my own purchases because I recognize that my purchases matter.

For those of you that have purchased from ProLiteGear.com in the past I sincerely thank you, and hope to earn your business again in the future. If you haven't purchased from us before, I ask that you consider supporting us with your next purchase if it comes down to purchasing from us vs. DiscountStore-X or MegaStore-Y. We may not have the best return policy in the industry, or the lowest price, but give us a call and let us try to earn your business. I believe the market is better served by the additional options websites like ProLiteGear.com offer.

Thanks for taking the time to read this post allowing me to share my thoughts.

Craig Delger
ProLiteGear.com

Stephen M
(stephenm) - MLife

Locale: The Great Lakes Bay Region
Re: From the owner of ProLiteGear.com - What traits do BPL members consider important in an online gear shop??? on 01/30/2013 12:32:54 MST Print View

Craig,

I often googled an item and came across uour site but found it it out if stock or discontinued.

Ian Destroyer of Forums
(IDBLOOM) - MLife

Locale: PNW
My .$02 on 01/30/2013 12:39:22 MST Print View

To be honest, REI captures my attention for name brand equipment due to their stellar customer service reputation and return policy. They also seek out American made products and reach out to manufacturers (e.g. Liberty Bottle Works) to see if a product can be produced in the U.S. when there is a void.

Most of the equipment I need to replace this year is only available from cottage manufacturers so REI won't get their cut (with the exception of new BD carbon corks). I tend to migrate towards MLD and Zpacks as they have the same reputation as REI customer service wise and I've ruled out other manufacturers as they don't have the exact product I'm looking for.

All ramblings aside, these are my priorities when internet shopping:

1. Durability/Quality of product
2. Made in the USA
2.5. Made in Washington
3. Return/Repair Policy
4. Ability to Customize
5. Reliability of posted reviews (I'll compare the website with Amazon, YouTube, REI, BPL, etc to see if the reviews are consistent).

I haven't been on your site before but I'll add it to my favs for future shopping. My parents are small business owners so I feel a sense of duty to throw my business to the cottage industry and smaller/younger businesses when I can.

Edited by IDBLOOM on 01/30/2013 13:45:44 MST.

Craig Delger
(cdelger)
response to inventory out of stock on 01/30/2013 12:43:42 MST Print View

Stephen M - thanks for sharing that. The supply side of this industry is horribly inefficient. With most items manufactured overseas, brands make a single mfg run per year, or per season. We have to forecast demand for a product, and submit a pre-season order 10-12 months in advance before we take delivery of it. We don't always get it right, but we prefer to sell out vs. being stuck with too much inventory that we can't sell. ;)

Brad just got back from the buying show and was told by many brands that they are only mfg 90% of the quantity pre-seasoned this year because of stores canceling their pre-season orders. I predict shortages of popular products in the sales channel for the coming seasons because the channel got stuck with way too much product for the previous season(s).

You can always give us a call and see if we can't still source it from our suppliers. Sometimes an item is still available due to dealer cancellations or they over mfg. to have inventory available to restock dealers.

Craig

Randy Martin
(randalmartin) - F

Locale: Colorado
My feedback on 01/30/2013 12:52:10 MST Print View

My buying habits depend a bit on what I am buying.

If I am buying a product that is produced by a big name then typically I will purchase at REI or will purchase online where price and reputation of the retailer is the primary driver. Most bigger ticket items (shelter, sleeping, cooking, backpack etc...) I now purchase from Cottage manufacturers. Where does that leave Prolite Gear? Good question. I am not sure I see a need in the marketplace for an online retailer specializing in lightweight gear. I do most of my research for buying decisions either on this site or at Blog sites of other lightweight backpackers.

So the reality is there is very little that an online retailer like ProLite Gear can bring to the table to differentiate themselves aside from discovering new stuff that most other online retailers don't carry and offering excellent customer service.

Edited by randalmartin on 01/30/2013 14:42:31 MST.

eric chan
(bearbreeder) - F
mec, etc ... on 01/30/2013 12:54:19 MST Print View

i just buy from MEC, backcountry, or wherever is on sale that has the gear i need

the stellar return policy is absolutely important IMO for stuff purchased over the internet ... ive had plenty of stuff that never worked out or lasted ...

for me to not have that peace of mind requires very very very good pricing ...

there really isnt much difference between the brands of gear, so the major sites/stores carry most of the stuff i want/need ... more important is how they treat you afterwards ... and the pricing of course

Travis Leanna
(T.L.) - MLife

Locale: Wisconsin
Re: From the owner of ProLiteGear.com - What traits do BPL members consider important in an online gear shop??? on 01/30/2013 12:59:34 MST Print View

Hi Craig, thanks for posting.

"In the age of information, I feel that the best traits in an online retailer are either the return flexibility (REI or Backcountry), or the absolute best deals possible."

Here's my take on that sentiment. As prices rise globally and paychecks not so much, consumers are facing a more hostile retail experience. Every day they have to make choices with their money which often includes sacrifices that can affect either themselves, the retailer, or producer. Marketing schemes are increasingly more aggressive, and this, along with tightening budgets, makes people more defensive with their money. The best defense a consumer has with limited resources is buying from a company with an outstanding return policy or finding killer deals. And consumers often know very little about what happens between dealers and retailers, including myself. So that aspect rarely gets put into the purchasing equation. It doesn't make it right or justify it, but that's how I see it.

That being said, I do try to make ethical purchases when I can. I'll happily pay more for quality of a product or service, and if I have a choice between shopping local/USA vs. outsourced, I'll do the former if I can. Admittedly, I'm not perfect and that doesn't always happen.

Your bulleted traits are definitely ones that I look for and appreciate in a business, and it's good to know that you'll price match. Here are some additional things I appreciate as a consumer:

-quick, courteous replies to my inquiries whether it be email or phone. When a retailer gives me enough attention that I feel like I'm their only customer, I always recognize and appreciate it.

-letting me know about options I may not know about. For example, I had contacted a pack manufacturer asking questions about a pack for specific purposes. Without asking, the owner offered to modify the pack to better meet my needs.

-making an effort to be involved in the community or market they supply. It's always great to see Henry Shires, Ron Moak, Ron Bell, and all the other cottage guys posting here on BPL. A true sense of community goes a long ways.

-show that they are actively always trying to improve and innovate, without being gimmicky. Nobody like stagnation, but cheap, gimmicky efforts to stave it off don't work well either.

-quality. That quality could be in how the products are manufactured. It could be the quality of the customer service. The quality of website design. The quality of my shopping experience. And most often, it is a combination of all of these things.

-honesty.


Good luck with your business, and keep fightin' the good fight.

Chris W
(simplespirit) - MLife

Locale: WNC
Re: From the owner of ProLiteGear.com - What traits do BPL members consider important in an online gear shop??? on 01/30/2013 13:04:07 MST Print View

I've purchased from ProLite (and brother/sister sites) online, over the phone, and in person in the past. I'm generally hesitant to purchase a lot of things online without knowing how they fit me first, and if a local retailer has a product in my size at a fair price I'll support the local small business. Of course hardly any local retailers carry European brands, best of breed products, or damn near anything in small sizes. Being fit makes shopping for clothes harder than it was being considerably overweight. I've been seriously considering opening my own store locally, but I fear it would fail due to lightweight backpacking still being niche and being a size small niche as well. Competing online (for many of the reasons Craig brings up) is pretty much out of the question. I'm not sure where that leaves people like me. If ProLite were to offer free shipping both ways, I might be more willing to order things without having tried them on first.

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Re: From the owner of ProLiteGear.com - What traits do BPL members consider important in an online gear shop??? on 01/30/2013 13:07:31 MST Print View

"I often googled an item and came across uour site but found it it out if stock or discontinued."

Stephen hit the nail on the head. I quit buying from ProLiteGear since everything I wanted there was continually out of stock. That's kind of the end, isn't it?

--B.G.--

Ben Crocker
(alexdrewreed) - M

Locale: Kentucky
Prolitegear on 01/30/2013 13:07:39 MST Print View

Craig, I like your site and I am often surprised at some of your good prices for what seem like pretty fungible gear. I think the problem for me has been a lack of availability. For example, I am interested in an OR Helium II jacket. You have one with a great price of $86.98, but its only available in small and one color. I'm an XL. I really think the lack of inventory hurts your site. I forget to look there now because I have frequently had the same problem.

Nico .
(NickB) - MLife

Locale: Los Padres National Forest
ProLite Gear on 01/30/2013 13:12:42 MST Print View

I've purchased from ProLite Gear's website a few times over the years. I've found them to generally have a good selection of quality products and "core" brands for a given item. By "core", I mean that they tend to separate out and avoid the chafe or some of the mainstream generic offerings and instead focus on fewer, but higher quality options for a given piece of gear (like backpacks, for example).

I've also had good luck finding generally hard to find items instock at ProLite, sometimes a bit past their initial debut when all other vendors have moved on (example: ID eVent jacket and gaiters), or cottage brand items instock and ready for delivery (as opposed to ordering directly from the cottage manufacturer but requiring a multi-week wait).

In my mind, this is the area where ProLite shines: the availability of some otherwise hard to locate gear/brands. As an added bonus, the prices are generally in keeping with the other big vendors and the shipping, customer service, etc has all been good and hassle free.

Like others, when it comes to making a purchase of a typical mainstream item from a mainstream brand (say a new Black Diamond ice axe, for example), I'll tend to shop around and find the best deal from one of the trushted vendors (which in my mind includes ProLite). For hard to find items or when I want to see what other options might be out there for a given piece of gear that the REIs and Backcountry.com's of the world aren't carrying, ProLite is a great resource.

Craig Delger
(cdelger)
Awesome feedback - changing our return policy immediately! on 01/30/2013 13:40:37 MST Print View

Thanks for the awesome feedback... I am taking it all in and going to work on it with the team over here!

Effective Immediately I am changing ProLite Gear's return policy:

* New, unused, or unopened products may be returned to us for up to 365 days from the date of purchase.

In order to protect our customers, I am still going to require that returns on climbing gear will not be accepted unless directed by a ProLite Gear employee.

I assume any climber will understand that, and appreciate knowing they are not purchasing equipment that may have been returned.

Here is the deal... if you are not 100% satisfied just give us a call and we will work to make things right.... I don't know how to say that in legalize.... but I will work on it.

I am looking into further improvements on the return policy.

Thanks again for the feedback... I honestly had not considered that our existing 30 day return policy was an issue.... it is good to get this feedback!

Craig

Brian Lindahl
(lindahlb) - MLife

Locale: Colorado Rockies
Re: From the owner of ProLiteGear.com - What traits do BPL members consider important in an online gear shop??? on 01/30/2013 13:40:40 MST Print View

I've purchased at ProLiteGear and will continue to do so. I've often found you guys price competitive, and I apprecaite the process you guys go through of weighing every product you sell, it sometimes brings me to your website when otherwise I wouldn't have considered looking - it's almost like free advertising.

Here are my reasons for purchasing a particular product from a particular store:

When I am uncertain about a product's effectiveness at meeting a particular need, I will buy from REI, Backcountry, or Altrec 100% of the time. There is rarely an exception to this rule. Usually these tend to be big ticket items with a lot of variability in their ability to meet a user's needs (i.e. Dynafit AT bindings). The only exception is for a high-demand product that is significantly on sale (30% or more), where a resale of the product will typically result in a loss of a minimal amount of money. (i.e. Western Mountaineering Sleeping Bags at 25% off).

If a product's fit is critical, I'll buy from Backcountry, due free shipping, and cheap return shipping. I'll often buy multiples at the same time, so that I can try on everything back-to-back. For example, when I was looking for a new pair ski gloves, I ordered 10 different models that met my needs, and returned the 9, keeping the 1 that fit perfectly. I would prefer to purchase at a local shop, but local shops generally don't have as wide a variety of selection as Backcountry. If I have time to kill, and can find a local ma&pa shop, I'll include their product lines during this process. This type of shopping is too expensive to do at other online retailers, due to the cost of shipping.

For shoes, I usually buy from REI. They usually have a good selection, and their return policy allows you to return even after you've used them. Real-world usage of shoes is very different than anything you can do in a store. Thus, it can be difficult to pick the right shoe the first time around.

When it comes to anything else, I usually buy from wherever has the best price. I prefer local ma&pa stores, if they are price competitive. If they aren't, due to my extensive number of returns to Backcountry, I prefer them, just to even the score. If the item is a high-wear item, like a hiking shirt, then I'll usually buy Patagonia, due to their repair or recycle policy.

For backpacking gear, I'm in the sub-6lb range, so typically my purchases are from zPacks, MLD or other cottage manufacturers, as few other companies offer weight-competitive gear.

Edited by lindahlb on 01/30/2013 14:03:09 MST.

M B
(livingontheroad) - M
weights on 01/30/2013 13:58:39 MST Print View

I want the weight of everything clearly listed

You already do a better job of this than most, so pat yourself on the back
But there is still many items with no weights, and small, med, large all weigh different.

Bradford Rogers
(Mocs123) - MLife

Locale: Southeast Tennessee
Re: From the owner of ProLiteGear.com - What traits do BPL members consider important in an online gear shop??? on 01/30/2013 13:58:50 MST Print View

I will try and write more later but wanted to say I have purchased from Prolite Gear before and would not hesitate to do again. I appreciate the unique brands you sell that cater to ultra light backpackers as well as actual weights listed on items (though not as common as it used to be - many newer items haven't been weighed).

I have noticed a lot of out of stock items the past year as well as a more narrow selection compared to a few years ago.

Craig W.
(xnomanx) - F - M
Lowest Price, No Tax, and Free Shipping on 01/30/2013 14:23:12 MST Print View

I know it's pretty blunt...Call me a dirtbag.

You can search specs or find photos on anything, anywhere on the net. I don't really have any expectations of an online gear shop; their job is to move gear. It's the manufacturer's site that should have all the info I need.

When I'm done with my browsing, specs, etc, what seals the deal for me is the lowest price, which usually has to do with no tax and free shipping. A paid, return shipping label included is even a bigger bonus.

You can build the greatest product pages ever...but if someone else's prices are better, most people will pick you site for all the knowledge and reviews they need and turn elsewhere for the purchase.

Not trying to sound cold and heartless here as you obviously care about building a good business; I've purchased gear from you and it's always been top notch service. But I don't know how realistic it is to build a "relationship" when we're talking online shopping- a practice literally created to take human interaction completely out of the shopping experience.

Upon reflection, you putting up this post and enabling people to see a real face behind the Prolite name is a pretty smart decision, it certainly plays upon people's desire to help out others that they perceive are "in the game" and have similar interests...sort of like the cottage gearmaker thing.

Edited by xnomanx on 01/30/2013 14:31:31 MST.

Michael Ray
(thaddeussmith) - F
REI has my loyalty on 01/30/2013 14:35:02 MST Print View

Unless I find a smoking deal on used gear, or they simply do not carry a cottage item (like a TT Rainbow) that I have decided to buy, I'll get my gear from REI.

I bought an external frame pack from REI back in 2001. As it turns out, I never used it - but it got some scuffs and dusty as a result of moving homes over the last 12 years. I decided to test their return policy and emailed the corporate customer service to see if I could return the pack since it was unused and I wasn't happy with it anymore; in these modern times I want to go with a slightly lighter internal frame pack.

They replied back that same day with their standard satisfaction guarantee description and said not a problem, take it in to the local store if I wanted to. So I printed out the email and went to my local REI brick and mortar, fully expecting to be laughed out of the building, but at least giving it a shot. The worst they can say is no, right?

The store manager was none to pleased with me and made sure to explain, in detail, the spirit of the satisfaction guarantee and that I was walking the very fine line of taking it for granted ...but he still honored the policy and gave me the full 100% value in store credit (I no longer have the original card used to make that purchase). I didn't fuss or make a scene to coerce him into honoring the policy - nor will I ever try such a feat again. While certainly an extreme case of customer satisfaction, that $170 investment in my happiness ensures that I will go back and buy more stuff from them. And proclaim their greatness throughout the land.

PLG.com looks and sounds like a great shop. I've never dealt with you guys. But you have to compete with experiences like my own above. You have to compete with situations where people are just as happy buying used gear from Ebay at a nicely depreciated value. I don't need the opinions of a company's customer service department or "gear experts" to make my purchase decisions because Google gives more information that I can absorb on any given product. And if your customer service sucks? There's plenty of other websites that sell the same widgets..

Dan D
(TXBDan)

Locale: Boston, MA
Marketing on 01/30/2013 15:49:46 MST Print View

Craig,

I think the one thing that can set a "mom and pop" shop apart against the big corps is information. I think your blog is a great way to inform the customer base and spur the itch for new gear. I'd expand your blog's presence and fill it with even more content. Not just gear reviews, but tech articles, stories, etc. You could talk about a particular climb or activity and provide full lists of the gear used. When people see a list from a legit user, they might see some items in their collection. They'll also see holes in their collection and want to fill them.

Also along that line is using your blog as a marketing tool more effectively. Optimizing your site and blog for SEO can really maximize your ability to pull ppl in off google searches

EDIT: I just looked at your blog again and i see some great stories with gear lists! So that's great. Just get those lists to pop up when i search and you'll be golden. Hire an SEO consultant if need be. My fiancee is a marketing guru in the indie game space and a has a blog setup to help the little guys trying to get noticed. A lot of the concepts apply here, check it out www.indiegamegirl.com.

Edited by TXBDan on 01/30/2013 16:21:57 MST.

Gerry Brucia
(taedawood) - MLife

Locale: Louisiana, USA
Online Gear Shop on 01/30/2013 16:13:06 MST Print View

As a sales manager for a small family-owned niche lumber company, I am biased towards the small shops and cottage manufacturers. Yes, I have been a member of REI since 1973 and I still occasionally buy from them but I will buy from the small guy it they are "competitive", not necessarily the cheapest!

Craig, thank you for your post. I encourage your continued participation in the BPL community as a previous contributor mentioned. Leverage this community to your advantage. I have purchased from you in the past and just recently purchased some Rab clothing products from you.

Strengths that I see about your business:
1. You don't sell garbage. You obviously try to carry quality gear that the lightweight community would be interested in.
2. You carry a lot of European brands. I especially like Rab and Montane products that you and few other American retailers offer.
3. You occasionally include reviews on your products.
4. Weights are often included.
5. Someone answers the phone right away whenever I have called. They are courteous, helpful, knowledgeable about the products.

Weaknesses that I see about your business:
1. Your stock levels are often too low. Perhaps one way around it if you are out of stock would be to automate a response that would indicate if it can be backordered and if so, how long it would take to ship. Sometimes I don't mind waiting three to four weeks if it is a European product if I know you can get it!
2. Your company does not show up on a Google search on the first page of most searches. Instead I am bombarded with REI, Backcountry, or Moosejaw. I don't know what can be done, if anything, about it but it is an issue.
3. You don't send out "Specials" emails or information emails. I would happily get a newsy email from you once a month or so like so many others, particularly the cottage manufacturers do. It would at least keep your name out there to remind us of you when thinking of gear.

Craig, keep up the good work that you have done. We need businesses like yours...but there is always room for improvement.

Mike W
(skopeo) - F

Locale: British Columbia
What traits do BPL members consider important in an online gear shop? on 01/30/2013 16:16:03 MST Print View

I'm with Craig W., for me it's about the total cost of the product (cost + shipping).

I'm ordering from Canada so shipping costs are an important factor. I have purchased from ProLiteGear.com but I find your shipping charges to Canada to be on the high side of average. I always look for free shipping deals or online dealers that have the lowest shipping rates because typically item prices do not vary that much from site to site. If an item is drastically reduced I will pay the higher shipping costs because it all balances out in the end. You may not be too concerned with international orders but I do a lot of online gear purchases so it's something to consider.

Edited by skopeo on 01/30/2013 16:17:45 MST.

Max Dilthey
(mdilthey) - M

Locale: MaxTheCyclist.com
The "makes sense" Test on 01/30/2013 16:38:32 MST Print View

Make sure there are no anti-logical policies. For instance, on REI's web orders, an exchange is not an exchange. REI will refund you the amount of the original item, and then immediately charge you for the new item; if you don't have the money in your account, the exchange gets bogged up.

Why not just send the new item and refund/charge the difference? I don't know.

Another example: If I return an item to REI (sorry to pick on you, REI), it disappears from my order history. If I order lots of stuff, seeing what didn't work for me would be useful as a reference. I don't know why they disappear, but they do.


It's little things like this that go against common sense that stand out to me. If it makes sense, I never have problems with it, and everything goes smoother. Make sure your site and policies pass the "makes sense" test.

Mark Ries
(mtmnmark) - M

Locale: IOWAHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!
prolite on 01/30/2013 16:48:17 MST Print View

I have purchased from prolite before was only unhappy once,they took care of the problem and went above and beyond without my even asking. I will shop them in the future, the prices and sales are competitive and the customer service is exellent.

Amy Lauterbach
(drongobird) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
What traits do BPL members consider important in an online gear shop? on 01/30/2013 17:36:29 MST Print View

Thanks for asking. I just checked my records, and I see I've bought the following from you: Inov-8 shoes, CAMP mittens, Montane windshirts. Those are all "speciality" items not widely available. Last week I ordered TerraNova over-mitts and I ended up ordering from UK with expensive shipping because I couldn't find my size/model in the US. So one niche that you've filled for me is making European products available here.

All other things being equal I purchase from BackCountry -- free shipping, great return policy, shipped within a couple hours of the order and arrives 2 days later. Second choice is REI - second to BackCountry because the delay until shipment and arrival time is slower, but favorable because if I do need to return I can do so at the store near my house and save the return shipping.

As somebody else mentioned, when I order a European product I don't know which size I'll need, and it's super important to be able to order multiple sizes and/or models and return all but one or two. In my case, the returns are of brand new products with labels attached, but sometimes it takes us more than 30 days to make a decision - not because we need that much time but because we are easily distracted. I wouldn't need a full year, but the difference between 30 and 90 days would matter a lot.

Also, because I often order more items than I plan to keep, the shipping cost matters. In particular, if it's free or $5 flat to ship, that's OK. If it's a graduated shipping fee based on size of the order, then I'm very hesitant to buy 6 items knowing that I will return 4 or 5 of them.

I don't envy your situation. Competition (i.e. dozens of online vendors) is always good for the consumer, but it's a tough place to be a business.

AmyL

Clayton Mauritzen
(GlacierRambler) - M

Locale: NW Montana
re: Return Policy on 01/30/2013 17:49:40 MST Print View

I've never bought from ProLite Gear.

For me, it's all about the return policy. When I am testing something I don't know if it will fit or not, I always buy from REI, Backcountry, Campsaver, etc. where I can return something--even if it's used, for a reasonable period. In fact, Backcountry and REI are just downright unreasonable.

Personally, I think the Campsaver/Running Warehouse model is perfect for me. 60-90 days (I forget which exactly) to decide if a product works for me. No questions asked. This winter, I toyed around with the idea of GTX boots, but couldn't find a pair that fit me well. I narrowed it down to one pair, did a lot of running up and down the stairs in my house, and generally everything I could think of to figure out if they worked before testing them in the field. I liked them, took them out for a short test hike, and could quickly tell I wasn't going to be willing to put a lot of miles on the boots. The same thing happened with a second pair--both for very different reasons but both because of information I just couldn't get without a test hike.

If you were willing to offer some kind of evaluative return policy--say 60-90 days, full return if light to minimal wear, less depending on the condition of the item--I'd be at your site a lot more. You could even have an outlet to sell lightly used items where you could hopefully clear your costs or more on the lightly used stuff, another draw to the site.

Anyway, my $0.02. I will make sure to check out the site some more though.

Doug I.
(idester) - MLife

Locale: MidAtlantic
Re: From the owner of ProLiteGear.com - What traits do BPL members consider important in an online gear shop??? on 01/30/2013 18:23:31 MST Print View

A good return policy is important, especially for gear you can't try on/out first.

Other than that, I'm one of those (few?) people who don't really care that much about getting the best deal. I don't spend a lot of time shopping around - if I see something I want I buy it without doing a lot of searching around for the best price.

I've purchased from your shop, Craig, and had nothing but great experiences when doing so (even posted in the forums about a great experience I had with your shop). But, like others, I've often, quite often, gone looking to your site early on and found you out of stock on what I wanted. The more often that happens, the less likely I am to visit again early on.

I only have one request, though. Start carrying Haglofs!

John Whynot
(jdw01776)

Locale: Southeast Texas
Re: From the owner of ProLiteGear.com - What traits do BPL members consider important in an online gear shop??? on 01/30/2013 18:51:47 MST Print View

The only thing I really want is a return policy that let's me easily return items that I decide I don't want -- even if it is limited to 60 days.

I've purchased a few items from Prolite Gear. The prices were good, and the items arrived quickly. Close-outs and specials seem to be very aggressively priced.

The key for me was gear/brands that wasn't available elsewhere. One example -- Evazote sleeping pads in various thicknesses are almost always in stock.

Dan Durston
(dandydan)

Locale: Cascadia
Online Gear Shops on 01/30/2013 19:24:24 MST Print View

It seems that I'm with Craig and Mike. Normally online gear shops don't play any role in my decision of WHAT gear item to buy (with massive sales being the exception). Normally I decide what gear item to buy based on information from BPL and manufacturers websites, and then I head over to online gear shops when I'm ready to acquire it.

So because I'm not relying on the gear shop for help with the purchasing decision, price including shipping (to Canada) is the biggest factor. Reputation or return policy are tie breakers, because pretty much every shop has at least a reasonable policy. I like to use Google shopping (Froogle.com) to quickly give a slew of prices and then I head over the cheaper sites until I find one with reasonable shipping as well.

The shortcomings of Dealer agreements are really an issue to leave between shops and the manufacturers. Customers have no idea what the agreements are or if they're being broken. Most people aren't going to pass on a sale price and spend more elsewhere just because there's a chance the sale dealer is using loop holes in their agreement. While I'm not informed on the details of these agreements, to the lay person like me they seem like a form of price fixing by the manufacturers and a way to artificially protect margins from the realities of a free market.

I think your first point (carrying foreign brands/small brands than no one else does) is the best strategy, but it's still indirectly competing on price - it's just less crowded. Competing on price is probably the least desirable business strategy, but the reality of the internet is that it's what people are looking for.

Edited by dandydan on 01/30/2013 19:27:34 MST.

Kronos Master of Fate
(kthompson) - MLife

Locale: Behind the Redwood Curtain
Re: Lowest Price, No Tax, and Free Shipping on 01/30/2013 19:26:13 MST Print View

+1 w Craig W.

I've done all my homework before I hit that purchase button. All I want when I am ready to buy is that is in stock with the aforementioned pluses.

Edited by kthompson on 01/30/2013 20:22:49 MST.

Michael B
(mbenvenuto) - F

Locale: Vermont
prolite gear on 01/30/2013 20:08:13 MST Print View

I have purchased from PLG and like your site, and find your prices usually competitive, which is really important. But like others here, you didn't have what I was looking for in stock recently. Although there is tons of info online, I find it remarkable how many manufactures don't have meaningful websites and don't provide concrete info about their products online, including pictures. So I appreciate how PLG puts an actual weight on the item, and often a custom description. As an example, there has been discussions here about bothy bags, and Integral Designs (a company you carry) has new bothies out, but they have no pictures and limited info out anywhere.

For price, for several years now it is really hard to beat deals off steep and cheap. So anything that has a chance to pop up there, I would tend to wait and see, which sometimes means waiting a long time. BC's main site is also good and a place I buy gear from.

To me, the real niche for PLG is getting innovative lightweight gear into the US that isn't readily available here. So I looked at RAB at your site long ago since you were one of the few places to carry it then. I would be interested in trying something from Paramo for example, but not sure that is available here even now, at least not easily available, google shopping turns up nothing. There has been a lot of talk about stoves from Firemaple, and I would be interested in one of those, but not sure I am going to order one from some sketchy unknown importer. I don't know of anyone that makes good light shell gloves, and that gets talked about here too.

PS, you have excellent deals on some interesting gloves and mitts right now, including prices that are below steepandcheap, so that is tempting. But it drives me crazy on websites when I navigate to a page like Mens Gloves and Mitts, and view all 29 available items, and your website has other gloves that don't display there (including one I really like a lot, the OR Extravert Glove).

Edited by mbenvenuto on 01/30/2013 20:21:40 MST.

Warren Greer
(WarrenGreer) - F

Locale: SoCal
For most purchases on 01/30/2013 20:13:49 MST Print View

"Lowest Price, No Tax, and Free Shipping". Smart shopping is just smart shopping.

edit - Forgot to mention I've purchased at your site a time or two. My expectations are this: when I open the box the item is as shown on the website and that it arrived fairly quickly. It doesn't have to arrive in one or two days, but within the week. I don't want you or me to be spending on expensive shipping options.

Edited by WarrenGreer on 01/30/2013 20:22:45 MST.

Russell Adams
(russ_outdoors) - F
Good experiences on 01/30/2013 21:04:47 MST Print View

Craig

I've purchased a number of times from PLG with good experiences. Only one time have I needed customer service. I ordered a pair of Integral Designs rain pants and while the packaging said XL, the pants inside were L. This was probably an error on Integral Designs part, but you guys shipped me out the correct pair next day at no cost and took care of return shipping as well. I was and still remain a very satisfied customer.

The main reason I frequent your site is because you carry some of the more niche brands. Brands that will never be found at REI or the like.

For me, be competitive on the price, have a good return policy, be nice on the phone, process orders quickly and carry what I need and my $$$ is yours.

John Abela
(JohnAbela) - MLife
Re: From the owner of ProLiteGear.com - What traits do BPL members consider important in an online gear shop??? on 01/31/2013 02:10:51 MST Print View

I tend to have a great deal of loyalty when it comes to where I buy gear from.

I have ordered hundreds of dollars from PLG and hopefully will continue to do so.

I have also ordered from backcountrygear, backcountryedge, and amazon.

The last one is the kicker for me. Until recently amazon was tax-free in California, where I live, so it got a large portion of my orders, plus as a prime member I have my gear in under 48 hours.

To me, this statement really nails it:

"Lowest Price, No Tax, and Free Shipping"


However, I also realize that all that this does is drive to a cut-throat situation where, in order to keep making online sales, every online company has to keep lowering and lowering their prices to stay competitive. This eventually leads to a point where the companies are not making enough profit to make it worth it. We as consumers need to be aware of this and think about what consequences this "lowest price possible" means in the long run.

In the end I will continue to remain loyal to the companies I buy from. I will continue to hunt through the three through five of them looking for if any of them have a product I want on sale. If none of them do it is a flip-the-coin situation for me.

I will be honest and say that the fact that PLG actually has a scale and lists the weight of many of the more popular items, is a HUGE attraction for me - and that is what caused me to buy from them in the first place and them make it into my list of companies I buy from.


Regarding return policies. Personally, I could care less about return policies. I have never returned a single piece of gear I have bought. It seems unfair to these companies to have to pay for shipping and handling (both directions) just because I screwed up and ordered the wrong size product. They should not have to pay for my screw-ups. I man up and take responsibility for my own actions.

-Abela

Jacob Smith
(Wrongturn) - MLife

Locale: The Soda
Re: on 01/31/2013 04:55:16 MST Print View

I've ordered all of my windshirts and rain shells from PLG over the years, but as far as needed gear and availability on PLG I find little overlap for me in the Southern Appalachians.

I've moved from Outdoor Research shells to custom Cuben rain gear. My pack is Cuben, my fleece layer and insulation came from Backcountry when I had a 20% off coupon, and I bought my wool tops and bottoms of different weights from whomever had the best deal at the time.

I have no need at this time for climbing or mountaineering gear. I'd like to get into snowshoeing and winter trekking, but still would only need a new Cuben mid shelter from MLD and a set of NorthernLites snowshoes.

BPL and the quest for going ever lighter is dependent on cottage gear manufacturers.

Gary Yee
(lakemcd)

Locale: NW Montana
Feedback on 01/31/2013 09:29:45 MST Print View

Strengths of PLG:
Good selection of gear. Instead of 1 or 2 items of a Patagonia down sweater type jacket I can count on you tho have 5 or 6 options from as many companies.

Customer service. When I call your people know their stuff and can give me a hands on appraisal and not just recite whats on a spec. sheet.

Returns: You recently handled a return of mine on a Montane Nitro with an improperly filled baffle. It took a little longer than expected but all things considered I was happy as oppose to trying to deal with the US Montane Distributor and got no where.

Weaknesses of PLG:
Low inventory of Sale items. Might be related to your #1 strength on how much inventory you can reasonably carry. Some retailers will make special buys to put things on sale thus having an ample supply and not getting the hopes up of customers only to be disappointed.

Not user friendly website. Have had to hunt for items in the past. Had to be creative in searching for things on your site. Sale prices that are listed in product a category are often not on the page of the specific item. Now having to hunt for the item I need to figure out which price is accurate, thus requiring another email or phone call. Inconsistent display of objective data. Take a look at your down jackets some have fill weights listed some don't some info is in grams others in ounces or both. Now I have to go to other websites to get the info. And guess what might happen when I go to other websites.

You are a valued business and I appreciate your presence in the market.
A quote from Lindsey Buckingham of Fleetwoood Mac, " Any one who is any good at what they do, knows that can always get better"

Edited by lakemcd on 01/31/2013 09:54:07 MST.

josh wagner
(StainlessSteel) - F
different on 01/31/2013 11:03:57 MST Print View

i just think you'll want to be different. carrying the small/euro companies items is great and a way of doing that. checking in here at bpl is another way of doing that. give people a reason to spend $40 with you when backcountry has a similar item for $35. ideas to consider:

-offer swag with a certain dollar amount spent - stickers, water bottles, t shirts
-post stories of your backpacking life here (ie, become a forum member)
-highlight a particular item from time to time in a special part of the webpage. gear of the week or whatever. have someone test it and write up a performance review.
-include a thank you note in your shipping boxes. a local small engine shop around me does that (sends a thank you note when i purchase an expensive item). it is something small that i appreciate.

i don't know. those are just a few ideas that jumped into my mind. lastly, there have been numerous posts about your gear being out of stock and how that has caused you to lose some business. that is the community responding to your question. so that should probably be the first issue you address. whether it's removing those items from the webpage as they go out of stock or adding more stock or whatever. good luck...

Louis Jewett
(lfjewett)
Online Purchases on 01/31/2013 12:04:28 MST Print View

I typically only purchase online when I know the exact Item I want and I'm looking to save some $$ by hitting a sale. Rarely can I not find an Item locally and then must resort to online purchases.

One thing that I think a small retailer like yourself could do to set yourself aside is put up a VIDEO and review of every single product. Introduce the product, show us the 360, tell us what it feels like, smells like, etc. If it's a piece of clothing ( ok maybe not underwear ) put it on so we can see it. If it's a box of matches, light one. The hardest part about buying stuff online is I can touch it and have little idea other than a picture often times taken ' in the products best light ' and the stats. Setup each tent and show us the setup processes, jump in the sleeping bag and zip it up. Give us your honest opinion on the build quality, the pro's, and the con's. If your a fair reviewer you'll find people will flock to your site for details. Text and Pictures just doesn't cut it in this day and age.

Edited by lfjewett on 01/31/2013 12:21:12 MST.

Ryan Bressler
(ryanbressler) - F
Selection isn't that great on 01/31/2013 12:32:10 MST Print View

I considered ordering some things for my wife and I (insulated pants) from you guys over the holiday season...I was excited to put together an order because I wanted throw in some evazote pads. I ended up going with some other small online retailers because of the limited sizes, lack of women's models and low selection of odds and ends (like a BD pole link converter) I wanted to pick up at the same time.

Extending the return policy to allow for sizing clothing is a good idea. I'm usually only way to pay near full price If I can be sure it will fit. I also think you would be better served by ordering larger runs of gear and figuring out a way to do end of season clearance without harming your relationship with the manufactures.

Including better info about sizing (reviews from employees with their measurements etc) would make me more likely to buy some of the specialty the clothing options you offer instead of going with a possibly inferior product that I can find better fit info about and return if it doesn't fit.

If you really want to stand out as a premium non discount option then perhaps adopting the model offered by some online shoe retailers where they will ship you multiple sizes and you keep the ones that fit would be a good idea.

Craig Delger
(cdelger)
thanks - reviewing all of your suggestions with the team right now... on 01/31/2013 13:58:17 MST Print View

I sincerely thank everybody for your feedback and ideas... especially those that took the time to contact me personally.

I sat down with the team and we have reviewed EVERY bit of feedback. We are excited!

We are taking it into consideration as we are writing up our orders for next Fall right now.

We are also taking it into consideration as we review our return policy, price strategy, shipping costs, etc.

As one person stated - there is always room for improvement and I completely agree.

Also, based on your feedback I have some exciting things to announce regarding stocking unique very lightweight gear... but I need to sit on that secret for a while longer and keep you guessing until we take delivery! :)

Regarding inventory levels... I intentionally took them lower over the last 18 months due to the uncertain economic climate and market conditions, but I am starting to "intelligently" increase them again now. I am in this for the long term... and hearing the horror stories other stores have gone through the past 2 seasons I think that was the right call.

Regarding videos, blogs, etc we are increasing our investments in that content and getting better at it. If you haven't seen our videos please check them out at:

http://www.youtube.com/user/prolitegear

or

http://www.prolitegear.com/videos.html

I am also looking forward to increasing my participation within the BPL community.

thanks again for all you suggestions!

Craig Delger
ProLite Gear

www.ProLiteGear.com

Tjaard Breeuwer
(Tjaard) - MLife

Locale: Minnesota, USA
Info on 01/31/2013 14:36:10 MST Print View

If its a product unique to you, adding more info like size etc. will help people on the fence, however if its widely available product producing info is just money wasted as people will still buy at the cheapest site.

After that, quick and cheap shipping are good. Returns indeed are essential for something I haven't been able to try on or feel.

Stephen M
(stephenm) - MLife

Locale: The Great Lakes Bay Region
Re: Info on 01/31/2013 15:21:17 MST Print View

My favourite outdoor shop in Europe (I am from Ireland) is ultralightoutdoorgear.co.uk as they display what each size weighs and have comparison charts for most items.

Jeffs Eleven
(WoodenWizard) - F

Locale: Greater Mt Tabor
Re: From the owner of ProLiteGear.com - What traits do BPL members consider important in an online gear shop??? on 01/31/2013 16:07:49 MST Print View

Im definitely aware of your site... have been for years. Never ordered anything though. As an industry guy... well you know why.

For me the best thing you offer is the Euro brands in the USA. This is awesome and your selestion of jackets was ok with me (Rab at least)

As per Craigs "ill find the pertinant info on the dealer site" I personally like when retailers consistantly provide this info and have a "compare products" feature.
This is a great way to cut through all the marketing and see the facts.


Outdoor Research does this but poorly (I know its a mfg but bare w/me)

They have stuff like colors/ sizes/ and useless info for product comparisons. They give the full on marketing blurb for each product. I want strictly the facts, ma'am.

Montbell does not have a compare feature but they give the tech specs completely and consistantly.

gotta go... compare chart, more shelters-

IMO
thanks

Emily B
(emilyb)
Re: From the owner of ProLiteGear.com - What traits do BPL members consider important in an online gear shop??? on 01/31/2013 16:33:51 MST Print View

First of all, thanks for seeking input on this, it speaks well of ProLite Gear.

A few thoughts:

1) DETAILS ON RETAIL SITE

When I'm looking into a non-cottage-industry product, I look first at sites that regularly provide their own measured specs and non-hyped product descriptions (there are only a couple!), and those that regularly post reviews and questions-and-answers. I prefer to buy from these sites.

I often look at ProLite Gear both when researching and looking to buy, because you often have your own weights and descriptions. Not many retailers post their own measured weights on a regular basis. Some have their own descriptions but many of those are just hype and usually include my pet peeve "it's so light that you won't even notice it in your pack!" It is really easy to tell when a description is that of the retailer not the manufacturer, and when it's based on actually having examined the product. It's fine and good to include the product's stock blurb, but adding even a few bullet points or one detailed sentence of your own description can provide helpful information that's not included in the blurb, or can cause me the customer to feel that I'm getting some measured assessment.
So that is one area where ProLite Gear sets itself apart. But it would be exponentially better if you could provide at least PLG-measured weight and brief description for Every Product that you add from now on (or as many as possible), so that it could be counted on.

Also, PLG has a Reviews and Q&A system set up, but I don't see tons of usage of these features. Yes there are many other sites that have lots of reviews, so I might look at those too... but a) then I'm at another site for a longer time and feel like I may as well just by the product there, and b) sometimes there are not as many reviews as one might think, especially for the less-mainstream products. And not many sites where I can assume the reviews are from customers/users who are deliberate in their gear choices or have actual experience with gear in general, and didn't just go hiking for the first time in their life. Not that the latter type of review is unhelpful, but I think ProLite Gear could really provide a service by actively seeking reviews from its particular user base. Likewise, if someone writes or calls with a question, it doesn't hurt to post a brief version of that question and your answer in the Q&A. Surely someone else will be wondering the same thing at some point.

Along those lines, others in this forum thread have advised removing a product listing when it's not in stock, but I appreciate when these products remain posted, because I'd still look at PLG to see your own specs and descriptions, when I'm researching the product. But best to also include an eye-grabbing out-of-stock notice at the top of the listing.

Further, I really appreciate when the retailer provides certain clothing measurements. For women's clothing, this includes length of shirts, front and back (specifying where you're measuring from); sleeve length; and measurement of waists, unstretched and stretched-- in addition to providing the manufacturer's sizing charts. These measurements don't have to be for every size, could just be for size medium, to give an idea.

And one last thing. I really notice when retailers give details about the technical specs that are actually helpful for the customers who know what they mean. Often enough, even the manufacturer does not provide these on their site, so I don't know how available these details are to you. But for example, RAB usually doesn't list the details of their synthetic insulation. They'll say that a jacket has Primaloft One, but won't specify which weight of Primaloft One. And then there are those who say that their jacket uses 850 fp down but don't give fill weight. If I have to choose between a jacket that one manufacturer assures me is the perfect warmth for me, versus one from another manufacturer that gives the specs so I can judge for myself, I'll choose the latter-- or make my own. Anyway, that's just one example, but if you can get your hands on that type of information, you'd have my vote.


2) TURNOFFS

One thing that turns me off of a retailer right away is lack of an easily accessible shipping estimate. PLG has this problem.

When I have to create an account, or sense that I will have to go through a whole rigamarole just to get a shipping estimate, I will automatically go to another retailer. I live in Canada at the moment so I don't automatically assume that I'll have decent shipping options. I can't even tell you how many times I've been ready to order from a non-big-box gear retail site for the first time, after having compared sites to see which one has the right combination of things I want to order; take the time to put everything in my cart again (since sites sometimes only keep things in your cart for a short time); go through a whole process of setting up an account, which often is more of a hassle living outside the U.S.; and then find that the shipping costs are as much as the items themselves. (Compounded by knowing that I might have to pay around 20% duty when it arrives, and that half the things I want can't be shipped internationally in the first place; but that's the case no matter which non-Canadian retailer I use. We have a couple good retailers in Canada but they don't always have the products I'm looking for.) So now, if there's not a shipping estimator right there in my shopping cart, I don't even bother, unless I can't find the product elsewhere. These days there is no excuse for a difficult-to-use website.
It IS very good that you specify that you do international shipping and that you use USPS, so that I know I at least won't have to pay for UPS.


In all, ProLite Gear is one of the few retailers who appears to take its products seriously, so it's one of the retailers that I take seriously.

Brandon =Þ
(Beeen) - MLife

Locale: California
ProLiteGear.com ideas on 01/31/2013 16:56:10 MST Print View

Hi Craig,

If I can do an autopsy on my previous states of mind and try to parse what stops me from buying online from some boutique shops, I think it boils down to and relates to the three S's (shipping, shipping, shipping).

First: I worry when a smaller shop will actually mail it out to me. As my experience has been that with REI type online sellers, if I order early in the day I may be surprised and find a box on my doorstep the next day. With the smaller shops, I have little confidence my order will be filled same day or even in a couple days. I've left on many a trip a little depressed because I was without some new gear I ordered a week or more before. Knowing it is showing up a day after I'm leaving can even invoke some sour grapes feelings that I carry with me on the entire trip. Maybe a display next to the item promising when it will ship and might arrive could go a long way towards making me click a "buy" button, kind of like they do on flower delivery websites (to make sure you won't miss mothers day).

Second: Free domestic return shipping on unused items. I'm sure for a small shop something like that is scary to offer. However, if you've read that Zappo's book, apparently it pays off in customer loyalty. It probably will get abused by a handful of a-holes, but it might encourage a lot of sales you wouldn't otherwise of got. Also helps a great deal if the return labels are pre-printed and included with the shipped item.

Third: I find that I end up on a lot of boutique websites because I stumble on one low priced item I can't get elsewhere, but the shipping is going to increase the price dramatically. Then I look for some other stuff to fill the minimum order to get the free shipping, but I can't find anything I really need. Maybe along with 50 dollar minimum on free shipping, there could be an alternative option where if you order a ProLiteGear branded t-shirt or hat, you automatically qualify for free shipping. The mark up on something like that could be good enough to offset the loss on shipping, and you get a bunch of people wearing gear with your name on it (as I can always use another black t-shirt with some random logo on it).

Outside of that, just checking out the website today, almost everything I was interested in was out of stock or you didn't have my size. That is something that would dissuade me of putting ProLiteGear.com high on my list of websites I'd check regularly for gear.

Hope that was of some help,

Brandon

Ed Tyanich
(runsmtns) - F - M
ProLite is my 1st Choice for Gear on 01/31/2013 19:40:03 MST Print View

ProLite Gear is usually the first place I look when shopping for gear. They often have gear others don't have, their prices are very good, customer service is tremendous and I have what I ordered the next day. (Of course I live only 90 miles from ProLite)

I love going to their shop when I am in Bozeman. It really nice to see gear you don't see in your typical outdoor shop.

My thought on return policy is that I accept some degree of personal responsibility when I purchase gear and I don't expect someone to allow me to try everything, sometimes for months or years before deciding on what I really want. Sometimes I buy gear that doesn't live up to my expectations but unless it is defective, that was my choice, no different than if I order a meal out somewhere that I don't really care for. Unless there is something actually wrong with it, I accept that I made a bad choice and I won't order that again.

Others feel different than I do and are free to shop where they please. I really appreciate what Craig has done with ProLite and will continue to support him with my dollars and my recommendations to others.