eric, usually you make decent sense, so I assume you didn't think this through. You can't compete with a huge corporation that can eat the amount of returns that rei can, particularly when a certain sense of entitlement to return no matter what has been created by that policy. The article noted that REI made I think 27 million profit on 1.7 or so billion in sales. Ie, this is not a high margin business. Cottage works because there is no middle man, in most cases. I am not talking about the few 'cottage' guys that outsource their production since that's not 'cottage'. I can't count how many times I've seen people compare the return policy of rei to some other company and cite it as the reason they did not buy from the other company.
What is good is that now people will gradually start to lose the idea that you can rent for free, buy, never use, then return, etc, that's a mindset that I'm happy to finally see get corrected by a policy change. It's obvious this mindset has grown too prevalent or REI would not have changed this long standing policy. You also can't offer lifetime warranties on light or ultralight gear, it's not the same as a 6.5 pound lowe alpine backpack that is made out of 1000d or 500d cordura, or a 70d tent, so as gear gets lighter, it's also easy to understand why you can't offer lifetime return policies on it.
Cottage guys compete because their products are more interesting, better made, or so ultralight that you simply cannot compete with them on a mass market level, not because they can churn out the same outsourced garbage as every other big corporation that used to be a good small company before they were absorbed by some no name outdoor gear holding company.
It's taken me a while to get what Ray Jardine was talking about when he wrote about freeing yourself from these mega outdoor corporations as part of the point of going light, but after reading these forums for a while it finally started to register what he was trying to say.
I'm always happy to give real cottage guys my money, and am glad they are here, I like them precisely because they are real people who run small businesses in an honest way, with reasonable margins, but little room for extras in that model, and I'm particularly glad I can get almost everything I need from them. I'm also glad to see REI drop their endless return policy, I have some very old gear I've debated returning, but of course did not do it because it has served me well over the years so pretending there was some reason to return it makes no sense. Good for REI. You can still buy to try with this policy I believe as long as you can lie convincingly enough when returning, but they've closed that loophole too.
I'm hard pressed to think of any other business were people expect to be able to rent for free, try as long as they want to use the thing then return it, where does this sense of entitlement and corresponding lack of responsibility come from? Is it a yuppie thing? I don't get it. You can't do that with a car, a toaster, a house, clothing, beds, toys, stereos, high tech stuff, or any other consumer gadgets I can think of. This particularly the case with outdoor gear geeks like we are here, research, etc, should have already done most of the job.
I like REI by the way, I went in to buy some trekking poles on sale there, and the guy working told me to not buy the rei branded ones because they had undesirable vibration damping, which was cool. They aren't very good when it comes to light/ul thinking in general, but that's ok, that's not their market anyway. I got the trekking poles he recommended I get online for a lot less on sale.
A year return policy is really good on this type of gear, very fair, and the extension of that year for true failures of gear like seam rips etc is also excellent, so all I see is REI targeting some freeloaders and spoiled kids as neatly as they could while still offering very good support to people who don't do that and don't expect it as a right. I definitely miss the pre-'lifestyle corporate gear' rei though, the one with wood boxes of real gear sold really cheap but of good quality. Happily however, we can type in whatever we want and express whatever outrage we want, rei has already set its new policy, which is basically just slapping the hands of kids as far as I'm concerned while respecting the needs of adults.
Actual gear failures are still covered for more than a year I believe, like a trekking pole inner that cracks or whatever, or a tent seam failure, so in terms of awesome protection, you still get it from REI, better than anyone else offers as far as I know. Again, good for REI.