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?


Edit Your Comment

  1. GOInsanity says:

    I’m sorry, I don’t usually care about grammar or spelling if I can figure out what it is, but poultry sum just made me giggle. I thought it was paltry? Now I have a mental image of a turkey with a calculator.

  2. larrymac thinks testing should have occurred says:

    I have to cry fowl at “poultry sum.” My tear ducks are watering.

  3. Chmeeee says:

    Only one call to CS? I would try calling back again and playing customer service agent roullette. Eventually (hopefully) you will find somebody less useless than the first CSR. I would think any halfway intelligent CSR would understand that this is a problem that needs to be solved.

    Also, poultry sum? They refunded your purchase in chicken? :-)

    • johnva says:

      He could always use the poultry as currency at the doctor, at least according to that crazy woman who ran in the Republican primary in Nevada last election.

  4. cvt2010 says:

    So he got one unhelpful CSR and he’s going to slam the whole company?

    I’m curious why he took store credit, instead of a refund (if he got the items as a gifts he’s really not clear about it in his story). My guess is that if he returns a lot of items for store credit, maybe he’s been flagged by their fraud department? And the CSR may not be able to tell him that’s the reason until they’ve done an investigation?

    • johnva says:

      I’m guessing the fraud flag thing is correct, but it sounds like they’ve had plenty of time to do whatever “investigating” they might want to do. At this point, they’re just giving bad customer service.

  5. skapig says:

    No resource? A talk with one CSR and you gave up? How about elevating to a CSR who has more authority and/or knowledge to help you resolve the issue. Hell, sometimes just trying someone else can do the trick. Posting here seems a bit premature.

    • hoi-polloi says:

      To be frank, I’d rather have a CSR be completely honest with me and tell me if he’s unaware of the reason for something rather than blowing smoke. When the CSR told Brandon he wasn’t able to find the reason for the hold, why didn’t Brandon use that opportunity to politely ask for a supervisor/to be escalated?

      If Brandon goes with an EECB, I’d suggest a major edit. Don’t waste time complaining about the credit code, which has to be of a certain length. Don’t complain about the music while you’re on hold, or the relatively short wait. You shop at REI in part because of their excellent return policy. However, credit from a recent return is inaccessible, and caused you to miss a sale on their site. You’d like to resolve the issue as soon as possible, and receive the sale price on the item in question. You’d like to continue your relationship with REI, but tying up nearly $400 worth of credit has damaged your trust. Prompt resolution would go far in restoring it. Five sentences rather than paragraphs. Good luck.

  6. offtopic says:

    Sounds annoying, but sometimes glitches happen. It does not sound like the poster has actually given REI the time to address the issue. They were trying to buy something online at night so most likely the corporate office was closed when this happened. If REI can not get this straightened out in a day or two then they have the right to be miffed, but you have to give them the time to figure out what happened and how to fix it.

  7. foofish says:

    They’re cocking around with his credit.

  8. pecan 3.14159265 says:

    Holy hell. That first paragraph was a 105-word sentence.

  9. nakkypoo says:

    I couldn’t find poultry sum in the eggcorn database, but that aside the solution is simple.

    Small claims court. You’ll pay a paltry amount to file, they’ll lose, you’ll get your $385.04 and your court costs.

  10. cayton says:

    That sucks. I’ve always had great experience with REI. I bought some shoes that fell apart after 4 months, and they gave me store credit, no questions asked.

  11. backinpgh says:

    Chargeback. If you have receipts and unused merchandise, why don’t they return your money in the form you paid?

  12. jag164 says:

    Hmm, they didn’t lose your money. They didn’t eat your money. It’s on hold. Their computers know about it the money bust it seems you’ve hit a glitch and didn’t even try and the one CSR you called didn’t know how to help you.

    My suggestions:
    1) Stop being whiny
    2) Call back with another CSR during working hours
    3) Get a resolution.

    I’ve had ZERO problems with REI and I’d be willing to bet as long as the store manager knows your having issues with a refund, they’d be willing to honor the sale when you finally get you credit “off hold” even if the sale expired. That’s the way they roll.

  13. Wawa says:

    Store credit = WTF ??? I’ve bought and returned stuff from REI before. Like 99.999% of other retailers, refund is given via same form of original payment.

    Only scenario I can think of that was in a previously comment was that it was made via gift card(s). But since the OP completely left out that piece of info, I’m still wondering.

    • hamburglar says:

      Same here; I’ve only had to return things to REI twice, but both times I’ve been given a refund as either cash or a credit card credit. Never store credit. In one instance the amount was a non-“poultry” sum, so I don’t think it’s a matter of “anything over X amount will be returned store credit.”

      Checking REI’s return policy online [], item number 2 says, “Please specify whether you would like an exchange, a repair, a refund or a bankcard credit.”

  14. FuriousM says:

    REI is indeed a Co-Op however it does not sound like the “victim” is a member of the co-op and as such can not expect to receive the full trust and benefits that are extended to members. The reason I think this is that a merch credit typically is only issued when the customer does not have a receipt and is not part of the co-op, or has a fraud flag on their co-op account, or has a history of returning lots and lots of stuff.

    All co-op members have their purchases recorded so the 100% guarantee can be fulfilled easily. Even if the purchase is not on the members account the benefit of the doubt is afforded to the customer and they are given their money back.

    My conclusion? The individual in the story is suspected of foul play. I could easily see an investigation taking more than a couple months.

  15. WRXFlyer says:

    I’ve returned stuff to REI more than two years after purchase (brand new condition though). I got a direct refund.

  16. bex1057 says:

    I used to work REI customer service. It was about 10 years ago but friends still in the industry tell me things are pretty much the same. Some information:

    1) The OP is either not a member of the co-op, didn’t have a receipt, or received the items as gifts. Co-op members have their purchases recorded on their member number so that they don’t need a receipt to return for an actual refund. If the OP received a merch credit he was in one of the above three situations.

    2) There are people who abuse the system, using the 100% satisfaction guarantee as a rental service. If the OP was returning a set of core equipment (example: backpack, stove, tent, etc) with no receipt or member information it can raise flags. Not saying that’s what he did, but this is the type of return that might trigger a flag in the system, especially if he’s returned like this before.

    That said, a CS rep should be able to figure things out. Sounds like OP got either a bad one or there really is a valid reason for the flag (has he done this before?)

    • johnva says:

      Having done it before is not a valid reason for a flag that lasts months, by itself, in my opinion. There is nothing wrong with returning a lot of stuff that hasn’t been used (he said it still had tags on, etc). A company should not be allowed to just unilaterally steal money from someone, and refuse all requests for an explanation, on unsubstantiated suspicion of fraud.

  17. sth9669 says:

    Well, I don’t know if this is possible for him or not (and it probably won’t help him with the online sale unless he goes tonight) but whenever I return items to a store like REI or Best Buy and I get a store credit, I try to always get them to put it on a gift card instead of just the receipt. Those receipts have a way of getting lost or the ink on the thermal paper fades out so you can’t read the codes. Plus, in his case, hopefully if they can put it on a card for him, that might be able to clear the ‘On Hold’ status or at least bypass it?