REI Ate My $385.04 Store Credit Like So Much Trail Mix

REI, the outdoors equipment co-op, has a very generous return policy. Brandon returned something and received a store credit in return, but can’t actually exchange it for merchandise. Company representatives told him that the credit still exists, but is mysteriously “on hold” – but no one knows why, or what that means.

I figured I would write to you about an issue I am having with REI because 1) I think you can help get the issue resolved, 2) others may be having this issue and would raise awareness if there is recourse, 3) many shop at REI (myself included) due to the ease of returns on often confusing outdoors gear and their “100% satisfaction guarantee,” but I am having a hell of a time using their store merchandise credit thusly voiding that trust, and 4) REI likes to tout itself as a Co-op, but they are acting just like any other large corporation in this manner.

In short: In November 2010, an upcoming backpacking trip we were planning was canceled, precipitating the need to return a few items. I made return of a few items; REI received their products back, unused, with tags, etc., and I received a “merchandise credit” printed on a receipt. Guess which one of us has a problem two months later? My issue is that I have a merchandise credit, and I am not able to spend it, because it is “on hold,” and I cannot get a straight answer as to why it is “on hold” or how to get it off of “hold.” Very Kafkaesque!

Further details: Tonight there is a sale on through, and I attempted to use the merchandise credit from the return in November. To use the store credit one must type a convoluted string of 12 letters along with a corresponding four digit PIN. I’ve used a credit from a previous return just fine, with no hassle at all, and this time, at first, I thought I was just mis-reading or mis-typing the code. After trying four or five times (and carefully checking the code), each time receiving a message that the code was invalid, I called customer service.

After talking to REI customer service — which is usually excellent and combined with their also excellent 100% satisfaction guarantee, the reason that I give REI my money — to try and find out why I cannot use the credit online, I got the runaround. The CSR, [redacted], was able to see the credit (not a poultry sum coming in at $385.04) but told me it was placed “on hold.” After I asked him what the hold meant and why couldn’t I use the credit to purchase a sale item online tonight, he put me on hold (telephone hold replete with musak) for almost 10 minutes. When he came back to the phone he told me that he was very sorry, sir, but that he could not find reason for the hold, and that I could not use the credit.

I am steaming angry right now thinking that I will miss the sale item, and further, I am anxious that the sum of the store credit has just gone *poof* — evaporated. I feel robbed and cheated, and have no recourse as far as I can tell. Please help me Consumerist!

We don’t have any resources or contacts for Brandon other than the standard Consumerist toolkit because, well, no one has ever written to us about a problem at REI before. Have any of you readers encountered a similar problem with REI, and have any ideas for Brandon?