NPR Reports: REI vs L.L. Bean Return Policy
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Max Dilthey
(mdilthey) - M

Locale: MaxTheCyclist.com
NPR Reports: REI vs L.L. Bean Return Policy on 09/25/2013 08:13:07 MDT Print View

Great article, especially that last sentence. REI ought to talk to L.L. Bean about the intrinsic value of reliability.

I wish L.L. Bean carried more. It was really hard spending money there.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/money/2013/09/25/223787129/what-happens-when-a-store-lets-customers-return-whatever-they-want

And E
(LunchANDYnner)

Locale: Pacific Northwest
NPR report on 09/25/2013 08:59:41 MDT Print View

Nice article link, Max. I like his attitude, and the last few lines are great. Advertising is expensive, word of mouth is cheap and people trust it more.

Max Dilthey
(mdilthey) - M

Locale: MaxTheCyclist.com
Laziness Matters on 09/25/2013 09:01:34 MDT Print View

Yeah, and the fact that people rarely return online orders is not irrelevant either. My sleeping pad is in like-new condition and I want a longer one, but I haven't got time for REI's month-long online exchange process. So I still have the sleeping pad...

Ha!

spelt with a t
(spelt) - F

Locale: SW/C PA
Re: NPR Reports: REI vs L.L. Bean Return Policy on 09/25/2013 09:02:02 MDT Print View

People need to get over this (and themselves).

If you need more than a year to decide whether something is going to work for you, you aren't getting out often enough.

If you are rooting through your closets to find things you bought 10 years ago, you are a mooch.

If you are exchanging things that you trashed and wore out, you are a fraud.

Max Dilthey
(mdilthey) - M

Locale: MaxTheCyclist.com
When you've got nothing... on 09/25/2013 09:04:50 MDT Print View

Then I'm a mooch and a fraud.

But on the whole, it's keeping me in the woods, leading student groups, and enjoying life on a shoestring, college debt-assaulted budget that the previous generations rarely contended with.

Edited by mdilthey on 09/25/2013 09:05:29 MDT.

Stephen Komae
(skomae) - MLife

Locale: northeastern US
Big difference on 09/25/2013 09:31:05 MDT Print View

In my opinion there is a big difference between REI and LL Bean, and not just in the return policy.

For one, a very high percentage of LL Bean's stuff is their own or branded their own, thus they have higher margins on those things and can absorb the cost of returns much more readily. Secondly, LL Bean has a much smaller brick and mortar retail store presence, which makes it harder for it to be "worth it" for a customer to try returning things. My guess is that these two things together limit pretty seriously the amounts of returns they get. Finally, LL Bean is actually still a much smaller company than REI especially after REI's recent round of expansions and is losing its (mostly older) customer base, so they must do what they can to stay relevant.

When I worked at REI we had one customer that came back and returned an entire shopping cart of stuff that he'd owned and used hard for about 5 years, because "he didn't need it anymore." His return total was literally in the thousands. I think that's a pretty serious abuse of the return policy and I know that's exactly the kinds of returns that REI is looking to cut down on.

If you are a "good" customer and spend money there fairly regularly they could care less if you return things from time to time -- on the whole you are still making them money and probably spreading the good word. Even when the return policy was technically unlimited, return abuses were tracked and, if serious and repetitive enough, could eventually result in a revocation of membership/return privileges.

Max Dilthey
(mdilthey) - M

Locale: MaxTheCyclist.com
Morality Among Backpackers on 09/25/2013 09:38:11 MDT Print View

Yeah, there's a big difference between serious abuse and just getting a little extra for your money.

Looking at my own life, I'd estimate it like this:

10%- Gear Graveyard. I broke it, or I used it up, and I threw it away or put it in storage.
10%- I returned it in almost-new condition because after a month of use or so, I realized it wasn't going to work out. These probably got sold at the REI Garage sales or GearTrade.com. Most items weren't even dirty.
80%- It's in my closet, working great and used every weekend. I slept outside last night.


Wondering what category that puts me in, because my 10% is definitely hokey-pokey as far as morality goes. But I spend a lot of money, so I tell myself I "earned" it.


The worst I ever did was this past weekend, actually. When I first started camping in February 2012 I bought a cotton canvas raincoat and a pair of cotton long johns from L.L. Bean. I almost got hypothermia that same month. They went into storage.

I went to a brick-and-mortar store and explained why I was bringing them back, and both were still in the product line. Since my items were used once, I bet they'll end up back on the shelf. At any rate, they took both back and handed me a $200 gift card, and I immediately turned it around and bought a MH sleeping bag from them for $300.

Who knows. It's at least convenient that when something really fails due to manufacturer defect, some companies honor the manufacturers they represent with a warranty replacement. That's the best use of the policy, and a 1-year limit really kills that. Imagine you spend $600 on a winter tent, use it twice that season, and the third time you use it next year it delaminates and your year is up with REI. Oh well!

Dean F.
(acrosome) - MLife

Locale: Back in the Front Range
L.L. Bean on 09/25/2013 09:51:21 MDT Print View

Unfortunately I just can't bring myself to give any money to Linda Lorraine Bean. It would end up supporting causes that I find repugnant, and Ms. Bean is just plain obnoxious about it to boot. (I'm ostensibly a Republican, but she makes Attilla the Hun look like a bleeding heart...)

Max Dilthey
(mdilthey) - M

Locale: MaxTheCyclist.com
Lorraine on 09/25/2013 09:53:04 MDT Print View

She supplies lobster to the 1%!

Dean F.
(acrosome) - MLife

Locale: Back in the Front Range
Careful, max... on 09/25/2013 10:02:21 MDT Print View

And you have to be careful, Max. When you say stuff like this:

"Then I'm a mooch and a fraud. But on the whole, it's keeping me in the woods, leading student groups, and enjoying life on a shoestring, college debt-assaulted budget that the previous generations rarely contended with."

Yes, you are being precisely the problem. That smacks of a selfish, self-indulgent attitude that doesn't care what one's own wants cost others, doesn't it? It's rather immature:

I'M SELFISH AND PROUD OF IT !!!

That's the problem- especially when people brag about just how abusive they've been of return policies on social media. And I'm not afraid to pass judgment on that attitude. And, yes, I'm one of those who think that the people who were abusing REI's return policy should be horsewhipped...

That said, what you described in a later post doesn't sound egregious. I'd need to know more details.

Max Dilthey
(mdilthey) - M

Locale: MaxTheCyclist.com
Well... on 09/25/2013 10:10:09 MDT Print View

Dean,

I guess you'd need more details to judge me fully, but a better solution might be not to judge me at all. ;)

Ultimately, a lot of this forum uses the policies a certain way, and to a certain degree, I don't think it's abusive.

It's a new model, the idea of frequent returning, but the items sold on GearTrade.com by Backcountry with minor flaws like a broken seam or trail dirt are still above the cost of manufacturing, stocking, and shipping. Backcountry simultaneously hooks the "New Stuff" customer with the promise of a return, and then they can recover lost profit from the "Used Stuff" customer by selling used stock.

Backcountry makes money either way. REI does the same thing with their garage sale.

My point is, the big moral banner some people wrap themselves with is based on concepts like theft, or profit denial. Using the return policy once in a while on a used item isn't that at all.

The guy with the shopping cart obviously is egregious, but I think for most companies the risk was worth the marketing. Perhaps not for REI.

Still, I think your horse-whipping stance is a bit much. You never really know anybody. Perhaps that guy with the shopping cart was desperate to cover his wife's medical bill. Judgement is a habit best reserved for for gossipy people with nothing else to do. I didn't post my habit so I could pass your standard; I did it because it informs the conversation on whether these policies are salient from a business perspective.

Edited by mdilthey on 09/25/2013 10:11:07 MDT.

just Justin Whitson
(ArcturusBear)
Re: Well... on 09/25/2013 10:17:43 MDT Print View

Let ye who among you who has not ever returned, cast the first BPL logo imprinted cuben wrapped stone?



(sorry, was just trying to inject a little humor)

jerry adams
(retiredjerry) - MLife

Locale: Oregon and Washington
Re: Well... on 09/25/2013 10:23:50 MDT Print View

I've returned a few things to REI, but I think they were justified, like it broke after a short time.

If the policy says you can return things, I won't be critical of people taking advantage of it.

I think REIs new policy is better. One year should be long enough. And I think at their descretion they'll go longer than a year.

Max Dilthey
(mdilthey) - M

Locale: MaxTheCyclist.com
1 year makes sense 95% of the time on 09/25/2013 10:25:38 MDT Print View

There's very few things I can imagine needing to return after more than a year, but deep-winter stuff is one of them, and I might run into an issue on the third time I use it- two years after purchase. Plus, this stuff is often the most expensive.

My 2ยข.

jerry adams
(retiredjerry) - MLife

Locale: Oregon and Washington
Re: Re: Well... on 09/25/2013 10:25:45 MDT Print View

I miss the "bad old days" when everyone beat up on Max : )

Stephen Komae
(skomae) - MLife

Locale: northeastern US
Re: Morality Among Backpackers on 09/25/2013 10:27:37 MDT Print View

> Who knows. It's at least convenient that when something really fails due to manufacturer defect, some companies honor the manufacturers they represent with a warranty replacement. That's the best use of the policy, and a 1-year limit really kills that. Imagine you spend $600 on a winter tent, use it twice that season, and the third time you use it next year it delaminates and your year is up with REI. Oh well!

Defects and product failure is still covered for "the life of the product", which is whatever a reasonable lifetime for an item should be. That's a judgement call that will be made by the cashier, or if you make enough noise, a manager. 10 year old tent? You might be out of luck.

The 1 year policy is pretty straight-forward. If you do not like something, or in their parlance, are un-satisfied, for *any* reason, you may bring it back within 1 year, no ifs, ands, or buts.

The product is, however, covered by REI's guarantee for defects and product failure with no set expiration date, excepting extraordinary wear and tear from (ab)usage. To me, this guarantee is how I've always treated REI, before and after working there, and it represents pretty much no change for me as a consumer.

jerry adams
(retiredjerry) - MLife

Locale: Oregon and Washington
Re: 1 year makes sense 95% of the time on 09/25/2013 10:27:54 MDT Print View

"There's very few things I can imagine needing to return after more than a year, but deep-winter stuff is one of them, and I might run into an issue on the third time I use it- two years after purchase."

I bet they'de accept return in that case

The new policy allows them to deny someone with a shopping cart of well used stuff costing $1000s

Dean F.
(acrosome) - MLife

Locale: Back in the Front Range
Oh, I'll judge you if I so choose, Brother... on 09/25/2013 10:29:22 MDT Print View

"Don't judge me" is a puerile statement. We judge one another all the time. We all form opinions of one another. Sometimes those are positive and sometimes those are negative. As I said, I'm not afraid to make a judgment if I see a wrong. If this offends you- well, get used to disappointment, because I'm not going to change.

The deal that is made when one buys an item from a store like REI or LL Bean is that you will pay the agreed price and can return it if you find it somehow unsatisfactory. Returning a shoe if the sole delaminates after only a couple of hundred miles meets this standard. Returning one when the tread is worn out after 700 trail miles does not, and that is what some people are doing. I am happy to make a stand and say that this is wrong.

The amount of profit that REI or MEC makes is immaterial- you paid the agreed price and made that deal. That REI and LL Bean preferred not to rigorously define what "finding an item unsatisfactory" exactly means in the interests of keeping customers happy does not somehow make it MORAL to cheat them. That's specious. You're basically saying "It's ok to rob them if they didn't make enough effort to keep me from robbing them." (Please excuse the straw-man, there.)

Frankly, I think you hippocritically judged me to be a judgmental curmudgeon. Didn't you? See? We all do it. Note- I specifically said that I would need more details to make a call about you in specific. Didn't I? This is true in all cases. However, we can certainly make rational generalizations.

Talking about a guy returning stuff to pay for his wife's chemotherapy is also a puerile argument- you will always be able to find extreme examples, but rare examples are not convincing general arguments. (And even then such a return is still abusive- even if you can clearly make a rational argument about a higher moral issue.) And most importantly this is NOT the case of the majority of these abusive returns- especially the ones who ridicule REI on Facebook and brag about it after scamming them. So if you are one of those who stand and proudly say "I abused the return policy and got away with it" then, yes, I will judge you.

We have ALL seen the worn-out shoes at the REI garage sales.

EDIT: @Justin- NO ONE is saying that merely returning an item is wrong. We are saying that returning an item that has been worn out by fair use is wrong. I really have no problem with a return 10 years later if the item is nonetheless otherwise lightly used.

P.S.- It SHOULD be clear that the horse-whipping was hyperbole. SHOULD.

Edited by acrosome on 09/25/2013 10:39:40 MDT.

Max Dilthey
(mdilthey) - M

Locale: MaxTheCyclist.com
1-year on 09/25/2013 10:29:40 MDT Print View

I think all the new policy does is give managers the right to say "No." to the shopping cart full of 10+ year old gear. That's not so bad. The ongoing conversation, however, is something that really interests me.

P.S. Jerry, I'll do my utmost to help everyone relive the glory days.
Maybe I'm (gasp!) learning!

Stephen Komae
(skomae) - MLife

Locale: northeastern US
Re: Medical bills on 09/25/2013 10:36:31 MDT Print View

> Perhaps that guy with the shopping cart was desperate to cover his wife's medical bill.

While it is ethically uncomfortable to consider a situation like this, it is important to note that no other retailer would have even considered to offer a similar break. While he may have reasons that ethically justify a particularly egregious return, the onus is not on a nationwide retailer to shoulder the financial burden of individual customers.

It is in the retailer's best interest to deny such a claim so that they can stay in business in order to continue serving other customers to the best of their ability. You may say that one person cannot erode a multi-billion dollar industry, but if exceptions were made for everybody that would certainly happen.

Nobody thought they were destroying the music industry by downloading a CD...