REI Gives Great Customer Service, Refunds 4-Year-Old Skis

It sounds like sports-equipment company REI actually enjoys providing good customer service—their official Return policy seems pretty lenient, and it turns out they stand by that,at least for Tom’s family:

Last week, my dad was headed off to the dump with his old (4-5 years) cross country skies. They had become delaminated as a result of plain wear and tear (and storing them in the hot attic probably didn’t help). My brother had to pick up a jacket for summer camp, so my dad figured he’s see if REI would take them back to dispose of (saving him 20 bucks that the dump would have cost). Not only did REI take them back, but they gave him a full refund. Kudos to REI for honoring an abnormally long warranty that we didn’t even know existed.

Tom’s story isn’t unique. We found others online that mention a similar no-questions-asked (other than, “Is this used?”) return/exchange policy. This forum thread on the backpackinglight website suggests you should try going into a store or calling rather than using the contact form on the website—here’s a typical entry: “I never had any luck thru email with a pack I had, but when I called them, they jumped on it. Let me use the defective pack until the new one came in, and sent me a return label.”

(Photo: Getty)


Edit Your Comment

  1. johnfrombrooklyn says:

    Seems this customer was deceitful. If I had used skis for 4 years, I wouldn’t ask REI to give me a full refund.

  2. IphtashuFitz says:

    I’ve been a member of REI for a number of years and they have NEVER disappointed me. They’re one of the few retailers that I actually enjoy going to. Their employees are friendly & knowledgeable, and don’t harass you like some retailers. Their policies like the warranty mentioned in this article are also quite reasonable.

  3. theblackdog says:

    @johnfrombrooklyn: From reading the article, it sounds like the OP went in originally to ask if they would toss them out for him, but for whatever reason they offered a refund.

  4. mc101 says:

    I’ve been an REI member for 20 years; they are one of the best companies out there period–mind you they are a co-op. I agree that taking a refund for a worn out product was not exactly a cool thing to do, regardless of their great return policy.

  5. ARPRINCE says:

    @mc101: I agree the article says so. However, it’s quite odd for anynone to contact the seller or REI so that you can have them dispose of something you have used for a gazillion years…eh?

  6. ARPRINCE says:

    Sorry mc101, i was quoting theblackdog.

  7. FattyMatty says:

    I used to work at an REI several years ago, and we were always told that everything we sold in the store had a lifetime guarantee…

  8. tenio says:

    I don’t think contacting REI for disposal is weird, many companies offer disposals for things like ink cartridges and old monitors

  9. wildness says:

    I have taken back items to REI after more than a year that seemed to wear out prematuraly and they have given a full refund or exchange.

    I even took back a pair of boots after a year that I had only worn three times because they always gave me blisters and they gave me a refund.

  10. wildness says:

    Oh, yeah, and that is where most of their used gear sale items come from.

  11. GyroMight says:

    Wow what a awesome warranty. Hope your dad did the right thing and turned around and bought a brand new set of skis.

  12. WorthingtonLazork says:

    REI is a coop. A coop is owned by and responsible to its members.
    Almost any coop will be more consumer friendly than a privately owned
    or publicly traded company, and they keep the profits more usefully

    Daniel Miller
    North American Students of Cooperation
    Cell: 734-945-2424
    Fax: 530-297-4040

  13. bsalamon says:

    REI accepts returns on everything, no matter the condition or use. they are just that good. I wish the rest of the customer service industry would take a page from REI’s book and treat others with respect

  14. WorthingtonLazork says:

    REI is a coop. A coop is owned by and responsible to its members.
    Almost any coop will be more consumer friendly than a privately owned
    or publicly traded company, and they keep the profits more usefully

  15. mc101 says:

    I should have mentioned that REI has a garage sale where they sell returned items so it’s not a total loss for them–you can also get some amazing bargains as a member

  16. Illuminatus says:

    I had a bike light that had a year warranty on it, but not the battery. The battery went belly up on me after 9 months and they gave a full refund. When I got the second one that was defective out of the box, they did it again, no questions asked. I only buy outdoor gear from REI, because they treat their customers right.

  17. Jon Karak says:

    Shouldn’t this be tagged, “Above and beyond”?

  18. QuiteSpunky says:

    As an REI employee once told me: “our return policy is only governed by our customer’s conscience.” To prove the point, at the Seattle REI they have a snowsuit from 1981 hanging up in the returns department that someone brought back a couple years ago.

  19. Dervish says:

    I really, really hope this guy was upfront about the fact that he wanted to dispose of the skis rather than get a refund…although I don’t know any more of the situation than what’s in the letter, so I won’t assume.

    I love REI. I’m in the process of buying some supplemental camping gear and I’ve gotten some stellar deals on rainwear from their online outlet. A lot of their everyday clothing is initially priced a little steep for my tastes, but I watch their clearance racks like a hawk.

  20. AgentTuttle says:

    They’re awesome, but how can they stay in business??

  21. CrunchBite says:

    REI is a great store, but it’s worth noting that EMS (Eastern Mountain Sports) is a similar store and has a similar return policy. Both stores are excellent when it comes to customer service.

  22. friendlynerd says:

    Wow, first comment and it’s someone who didn’t read the article. HE DIDN’T ASK FOR A REFUND

  23. Illuminatus says:

    @AgentTuttle: They stay in business because they are awesome, not in spite of it.

  24. LintySoul says:

    I’m a member of REI and they do have great customer service and the policy on returns is very helpful. They also do tons of activities in local communities, such as the river clean up they help host in my town.
    But I’m a little confused and peeved at them right now…. on my most recent purchase, over this weekend, I used my debit card and have a $0.06 charge on my receipt for using a bankcard. Never had that charge before when using my card. I haven’t yet had a chance to go back to the store and question this mystery charge. But I wonder if it is one of those merchant agreement violations I sometimes hear about.

  25. tom2133 says:

    I used to work as a manager at a sporting goods store (not REI… think about a store that has a red logo). Anyway, I had a customer complaining because they lost their receipt and she was mad at us because we didn’t keep a record (OLD POS system). I apologized profusely, but she kept saying “REI keeps records, REI would be able to look it up, REI wouldn’t give store credit only for a measly $40 on a $100 heart rate monitor.”

    I snapped and said “WELL, IF REI IS SO DAMN GREAT, THEN WHY DIDN’T YOU BUY YOUR HEART RATE MONITOR THERE?” I got in some big trouble for that, needless to say. But it’s proof of the difference between P&P at the big stores where profits are a concern over REI, where they have a degree of respect for their customers.

  26. foxfire235 says:

    Not so fast… last week I just tried to bring back a pair of Chaco sandals that had a broken strap. REI didn’t replace them because they were “worn” and a few years old. The rep told me their policy is “100% satisfaction” not “unlimited Lifetime”. She said “obviously, you’ve used them for 4 years and have been satisfied, so we’re not going to replace them.”

  27. ncboxer says:

    @AgentTuttle: Well I think they are still a co-op, so they don’t have to make as much profit as a regular company. Also, their prices are normally the same or higher than other places. They design and sell their own brand of merchandise, which probably helps to some degree.

    The reason I shop there is because of the knowledge of the sales staff and items you can’t get anywhere else (except sight unseen over the Internet).

    I returned some hiking shoes this past weekend, and had no problems. I wore them about 5 times and got blisters real bad once because they were too loose. Picked up a lower priced shoe and nice sandals for my son, and only paid $5 more.

  28. Karkus says:

    Does anyone here realize that fraudulent returns like this are COSTING honest customer money? That explains why their prices aren’t exactly low.
    So basically, every time you buy at REI, you’re paying for that guy’s skis, etc. How does that make you feel?

  29. nequam says:

    @Karkus: It was not a fraudulent return if he asked them to dispose of the skis and, instead, they offered a return. Where’s the fraud.

    BTW, REI members and other regular customers probably are not shocked/confused that a person would bring in a pair of skis to ask if they would throw them out for him. REI is that type of place. That’s why people love them.

  30. John says:


    I’m ok with it and here’s why: A company can spend it’s money how it chooses. If a stellar return policy attracts customers, how’s that any different than spending money on some flashy ad campaign to get you to come in? None. The effect is the same for the company and the consumer. They get traffic through the doors and you get your perceived best value. If you get it by spending the least amount on a product then so be it. Others believe that they get the best value by REI standing behind its products, to the extent that occasionally this story happens. Oh well. I will continue to shop and be a member there.

  31. REI = Return Exchange Incorporated

  32. stanner says:

    Typical REI story: A friend came into possession of a Timberline tent without a rainfly. In trying to find one for it, he called REI about buying one. The rep said they no longer carried that model, but then put my friend on hold, came back a few minutes later, and said someone had returned a ripped-up tent but with an intact rainfly – did he want it?

  33. jinnrice says:

    KINDA CRAZY DIDNT KNOW REI DOES THIS STUFF…i bought a pair of burton boots…didnt fit rightand sent it back to burton to exchange with the warranty..mayb i should of delt with rei first instead of going to burton…rei is the best

  34. danep says:

    I was a CSR at REI for several years, and it never ceased to amaze me what people would return. 20-year-old tents, one sandal from a pair (“the other one got lost in the river…”), half of a Clif bar, you name it… You had to take it all in stride though and realize that in the end it’s good for business (and for the customers.)

    To clarify, it is a “100% satisfaction guarantee”, not a “lifetime unlimited return policy.” One example to illustrate… a guy came in with a (heavily) used roof rack asking to return it. We asked why he was dissatisfied with it, and he said “because I bought a new car and this rack doesn’t fit it.” My manager pointed out that that’s not a really a problem with the product, at which point the guy blew up. “What if I just told you it was broken? Could I return it then??” he asked. My manager’s reply: “Yes, but that would make you a liar.”

    Needless to say he stormed out without returning it.

    (For what it’s worth, this guy had a long history of scamming us. Trust me, if you abuse this policy you WILL eventually get a letter politely asking you to shop elsewhere…)

  35. mrosedal says:

    This is good to know. I just signed up with REI when I purchased my tent. The tent works great…and it is good to know that they have such a good policy. FYI if you are in the Schaumburg/Chicago area that REI store is the most helpful I have ever been to.

  36. trujunglist says:

    REI is great. We have this bag here that we use for field work, and it broke while I was traveling. We called REI and said that the bag broke, and they put aside a new bag for us. I was pretty surprised at the time, but then my co-worker explained that it’s normal for them when products fail.

  37. RvLeshrac says:


    As long as they’re calling people on it when there are obvious scams.

    The only problem is that this trains consumers to expect the same level of acceptance everywhere. Some of us can’t make any money if we accept these returns due to low margins on products.

    People just have to understand that you can’t have it both ways: You can have high prices and consistently above-and-beyond service, with lenient return policies… or you can have low prices and average service, with restrictions on what (and when) you can and can’t return.

    [There’s obviously no excuse for outright BAD service, or failure to adhere to return policies (if the return policy says 30 days, then you’d damn well better accept the return after two weeks).]

  38. Parting says:

    @Karkus: You are overreacting. Some brands offer 5-10 year warranties for skis. By returning it, REIT does not loose any money, since goods will be returned to manufacturer for warranty exchange.

  39. RvLeshrac says:


    With regards to my “pricing” comments…

    I’ve had a pair of steel-toed boots for 4 years now, purchased at Sears for ~$50. They’re a bit worn, yes, but they’re comfortable, provide support, etc.

    The same pair of boots would cost me from $100-$300 at REI. Sure, I could exchange them for a new pair of boots with no questions asked, but I could also buy 2-6 pairs of these cheaper, just as resilient, boots without being a part of the priced-out-of-food problem.

    I also somehow doubt that the boots I’d get from REI would last as long (or longer): The last time I bought a pair of $200 hiking boots, they only lasted about a year and a half.

  40. varro says:

    A company volunteering to replace a used item is definitely above and beyond….a slow cooker I got at Fred Meyer lost a little rubber plug, and I asked the CSR about replacing it.

    She said that the item was discontinued, but “bring it in to the store, we’ll let you trade it for another brand of slow cooker”.

  41. quirkyrachel says:

    When I was at REI recently to get a new backpack, I mentioned that the REI one that I was replacing I’d had for 8 years. I was surprised when the saleswoman said that I could bring that bag in for repairs for free! 8 years of use and it only recently started to show wear and tear.

  42. picardia says:

    Love REI — I only started doing business with them this year, but will remain a customer for a long time if their gear/customer service remains as high as it has been for me thus far.

  43. strictmachine says:


    Regards to boots, true story: A good friend of mine bought hiking boots when he was 19 from REI. Four years later, he’s hiking along with me and the sole rips from the rest of the boot in a significant way.

    He shakes his head, and we go to REI on the way back from the hike to buy him new boots. While shopping, a CSR asks him if his current (obviously ripped) boots were purchased at REI. He says yes, but that they’re old and he needs new ones. The CSR takes his old boots, asks him what they cost ($90), and applies $90 towards his purchase of new boots.

    Not even a service he was looking for, just REI being REI. I will pay a bit extra for boots there, though I think you’re wrong about how much they mark up. I’ve regularly price compared against places like Dick’s and REI usually stacks up pretty well.

  44. Chi says:

    @danep: Pretty much dead on the nail here on the “Return Policy”.

    But it’s left up to the consumer’s interpetation. For instance, if you believe that a good solid hiking boot should last more than a year and it fails after one moderate use trip, then yes by all means return it for another one (or a refund). But there are that small few that insist that once bought the product should last forever (despite how much abuse it takes) and if it should fail, that REI would (and typically does) replace it.

    Granted, danep is correct that very frequent users of this return policy are indeed sent a letter prohibiting them from shopping with REI.

    @RvLeshrac: And the big problem is that people vote with their dollars. So if we continue to shop at say a cheap generic store then we should expect products made by the cheapest labor avaliable (worldwide) and probably horrible CS. If we choose to pay top dollar then yes we can have better products that may actually last for more than a few seasons and actually decent CS from folks who care about the customer.

    It also helps to know that REI sales folks (aside from being trained and knowledgeble about their stuff) are not paid off of commission. So generally the sales people are nice because they are NICE and care about equiping the customers right.

    Granted hourly pay at REI isn’t that good, but the darn perks are unbelievable! Since the best advocates for products are people who actually use those products, the company and its suppliers give outragous discounts so that their own sales force can acquire and use the gear.

    Which leads to the issue of how much a really costs….

  45. HuntersCanvas says:

    I worked at Eastern Mountain Sports for five years and we had the same policy. You can return any item at any point without a receipt if you don’t think it lived up to EMS standards.

    It was a treacherous policy for the people who worked there. We would have people stealing $400 North Face jackets from one store, knifing a hole into the “rip-stop” nylon and then returning them to our store, calling them defective.

    The only thing we could do was keep a record of EVERY return made without a receipt (we had a gigantic book with all the information) and check to see if this person had returned items before without a receipt. At the third item, you were asked to no longer shop at EMS. People would even let us photocopy their driver’s license for our records.

    The policy was really hurting the company’s bottom line by the time I left. Once they started building stores in urban and suburban areas where North Face and other outdoor brands had become culturally popular, the policy reared its ugly head.

  46. colinjay says:

    I was shopping at REI the other day looking for some Badger sunscreen and the store I went to happened to be out. They went out of their way to get me all of the information so that I could call the other store and make sure they had some before I drove down there. Nothing out of the ordinary, just the exceptionally friendly and helpful attitude that I always get at REI. They may not be the cheapest, most knowledgeable or the closest to my house, but I’ll always make the extra effort to give them my business.

    Oh, did I mentioned that members get dividends back every year as well?

  47. Ha! This is nothing. I went to REI a couple years ago with a North Face jacket I’d been hiking in for TEN YEARS. My dear mother saved the receipt, and since North Face has a lifetime guarantee, I got it fully (minus the dividends) refunded. All they said was, “next time, maybe bring it back a little sooner, okay?”

    Immediately bought a tent from them. REI is awesome.

  48. REI has been good to me too. So has The North Face. I had a bag that a zipper went out on. It cost me the money to mail it back to them but they replaced the bag with a new one instead of the repair i was prepared to pay for. They have earned my loyalty.

  49. bdgw7 says:

    REI definitely will take almost anything back. But they aren’t stupid. They sell it again too. If the merch is at all usable/repairable/conceivably wanted by someone, it winds up in the yearly parking lot sales. I’ve seen shoes at those sales that are fit to be sold at Goodwill! IMHO of course :-)

  50. beboptheflop says:

    When I worked for Rich’s (Federated, now Macy*s)as a department manager our policy was to take back everything. If they didn’t have a receipt the return price would be the lowest price the item was sold at in the last 180 days. If they had a receipt they got back whatever they paid for. So reluctantly one day I took back a $400.00 plus set of cookware that was 13 YEARS OLD and very much used, but the customer had a receipt. She then told me with a smile that she was going to William Sonoma to buy new cookware and I replied back with a smile, “Have a nice day!”. Hey what can you do, now that is what I call great customer service and to this day, I still remember her shitty smiled that basically told me, “I got one over on you.” Those people see absolutely nothing wrong in using a return policy like that to their advantage and don’t realize that it’s not always the BIG COMPANY your screwing over but a department manager trying to do her best job possible so they can get ahead in life.

  51. deserthiker says:

    I hate to spoil the party but REI has let me down a couple of times.

    1. I brought a Petzl headlamp in that the headband had stretched out and they didn’t have the replacement. I was given the part number and told to go and order it on the 800 number. I thought that was kind of weird because I had the cash in hand and would have preferred that they ordered it and sent it to me. I never did order it and still have that old Zoom in a box somewhere.

    2. I bought a Thermarest from them and upon getting it home (120 miles from the nearest REI) I discovered that it had a cut in it. I guess whomever opened the box used a razor blade and cut it. I sent it back in explaining what happened and the patched it and sent in back rather than replacing it. It never did work properly and I finally ditched it because I bought another one.

    I’ve bought a lot of gear over the years so to only have a problem two times is pretty good.

    Only company I’ve never had a problem with is Patagonia. Love their stuff and if it didn’t last so long I’d probably buy more.

  52. xaqdesign says:

    I work for Eastern Mountain Sports. I have worked there for approximately 5 years and have been at management level, I am currently not because I have another full time job. We would do the same thing if the customer asked for a refund. Normally this is no issue at all. Our #1 focus is outstanding customer service. We won’t settle for anything less.

    To the guy who said he worked for EMS and the policy was “really hurting the companies bottom line” I don’t necessarily thing that’s a true statement. Additionally, it is not policy to make a copy of a customer’s drivers license, so if anyone ever asks any of you guys to make a copy of it you can say it’s not EMS policy to do that. We do ask for your DL if you don’t have a receipt or if you are writing a check, so we can take down certain info.

    The one item where our store manager, and many EMS store managers, have a stumbling point is footwear. It’s about the only thing we don’t like taking back if it’s severely worn. That said I have returned a pair of boots that were clearly more than 7 years old because the customer said “they didn’t hold up well.”

  53. faust_motel says:

    Footwear returns are the worst. I usually looked at the flaw the customer was basing the return on (say a blown seam) and compared it to the overall wear on the boots. If they had walked the soles off and wrecked the uppers, then the response would be some variation of the “conscience” line mentioned above.

    For outdoor electronics, the return policy at REI is worth its weight in gold. It makes it a lot easier to lay out 400 bucks on a Garmin knowing that if it craps out on you you can walk into the store and walk out with a new one.

  54. MeOhMy says:


    Which leads to the issue of how much a really costs….

    Can you prove my theory that good climbing ropes actually only cost $20-30 but they are so expensive simply because nobody would trust their life to a $20 rope? :-D

  55. eliblack says:

    The only time I’ve been given a hard time for returning something at REI was when there was this old guy working the counter named Boots. He’s a great old character, and suggested things I could do to fix a stuck water filter for about ten minutes before he’d let me return it. I didn’t mind the advice, and actually went back looking for him a few times when I needed advice.

    Boots: You need THIS backpack
    Me: I don’t know, that’s awfully expensive…
    Boots: I’m a search and rescue volunteer and I use one of these as my 24 hr bag
    Me: I’ll take it.

  56. spudly12 says:

    Wow, some people who have a problem with this policy clearly can’t see the forest through the trees.

    As eveidenced simply by the “comments”, people tend to love REI and are happy to do business with them. In todays day and age, that speaks volumes as it’s rare to have a company and clientele have such a relationship. Clearly whatever ‘costs’ REI absorbs in there liberal return policy likely more than pays for itself with customer loyalty and word of mouth.

    Additionally if there came a point in time in which this policy was abused and not worthwhile, they would change it. Costco/Sams have a similiar policy but amended it to 6 months with computers and electronics when it seemed a number of poeple where either renting the equipment or constantly upgrading.

    Lands End also has similiar policy although they are primarily mail-order only ( Sears). When companies show they value customers, it’s amazing how it can pay for itslef.

  57. CK76 says:

    I always wondered why REI was so expensive, this has got to be at least one of the reasons why.

    I bought a 1 man backpacking tent from Campmor, it was about $75 less than REI had it for. The more research I did, the more I started to notice that about everything REI sells.

  58. jonworld says:

    This doesn’t surprise me. I bought a backpack from REI a few years ago. After a year of heavy use, a strap on the backpack ripped. With no receipt or any other record of purchase, and owning the backpack for more than a year, I headed back to REI expecting the worst. However, they found the purchase on my REI account and gladly refunded my money.

    I will say that a lot of their returned stuff does end up in the store. I was at REI recently to buy a climbing helmet and many of the models were out of the boxes with no boxes to be found.