29 January 2014

GEAR: outstanding customer service at REI

 As avid consumer of outdoor gear I have purchased enough stuff to fill a small house. OK, maybe not but I am getting pretty close.
It was not always kayaks; it used to be mountain bikes, backpacking and dirt motorcycles before that.
I haven't ridden seriously in years, backpacked much less lately but I still acquire light camping gear for my kayaking trips.
When I lived in USA the local REI shop employees thought that I was on their payroll, I was that often at their store. Eventually I took a job at REI, as Master Tech managing one of their bicycle departments. Half my wage would be "reinvested" directly into gear that the shop sold. I would not buy anywhere else as the warranty offered by REI was outstanding.

 I use my gear, some of it a lot. If a manufacturer offers lifetime warranty I have no reservation buying that item. I am confident that REI will honor a possible claim. Gear that I buy is not cheap, often the very best in that category and I believe in buying quality that lasts and offers the security of service when I need it. Cheap big box stores don’t appeal to me as I don’t like replacing failing items just because they are cheap while I have to deal with sub-standard equipment robbing me of my outdoor experience.

 REI sells excellent tents for hot climates under their own label, design and specification. Of course their tents are made in China, just like 99% of the most reputable brands are. I purchased two tents that were light, compact and sturdy, offering ease of pitching and good ventilation.

ex Cap_27

I used them on many trips and I never felt that they would not stand up to what the weather was throwing at me. They never failed, never broke a pole and never got wet in them. Solid, as I expected. Then one day the seam sealing tape of the fly of one tent started to deteriorate and peel off in chunks. The fabric became a bit sticky and the crumbling seam tape compromised the waterproofness.


I purchased that tent 5 years ago, online.
I was not sure if REI would really stand behind their promise of lifetime warranty since I often I hear manufacturers interpreting “lifetime” as lifetime of the tent. Nowhere is disclosed what that means and how many years that warranty is good for; it’s at the discretion of the manufacturer to establish that, of course after I have a problem with my item.
I contacted REI via email and told them of my problem. The next day (time zone difference) I received a reply that I should take my tent to my local REI store (they have over 130 stores, all in USA tho) or send it in for them to inspect.

Santa Rosa REI_c

When I lived in USA I returned a faulty item to REI and they replaced it there and then without any fuss. This time I was supposed to send my tent to USA; the postage via Australia Post would be worth half of the tent! (shipping from USA via USPS is substantially cheaper)
I asked if detailed images of the tent would be acceptable to REI for assessing my claim. They agreed and I supplied the images. Two days later I received an answer from the Technical Department confirming what I thought: the tent was found to be faulty in material and a refund was organized for me. They were kind enough to understand that sending the tent to them for assessment was not economically feasible and rectified the problem with a refund (they would not send me a new tent as it was purchased in USA and not originally shipped to Australia).
Now, that is what I call customer service!

Camp at Fraser (c)

It is in such a stark contrast with the service that I have received in a similar store here in Australia where the manager of the store belittled me, accusing me of causing the fault when a self inflating mattress delaminated and failed: he said I rolled it up too fast when deflating it (?). Needless to say his ignorance and arrogance ill served Kathmandu’s business and I no longer wish to shop there. After the manager shared his belligerent opinion with me he replaced the faulty mat anyway, so I did not understand his point/view of arguing with the customer anyway. Ego/power trip? Who knows…

REI has always met my expectations, often exceeded. Their gear is solid, maybe not the most trendy or desirable in the outdoor fashionista circles but nevertheless great value for money. And since it’s a co-operative all profits are shared back to its members in a yearly refund of approx. 10% (of purchase) , with a portion donated to environmental/community projects.


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