REI, the sporting-goods retailer, will no longer be tagged as Return Everything, Inc., reports Kirsten Grind in The Wall Street Journal (9/16/13). REI actually stands for Recreational Equipment, Inc., but its "endearing nickname" is the result of a famously liberal, "no questions asked" return policy that even gave "customers cash in exchange for heavily used merchandise. Several years ago, a customer in Washington State successfully returned an REI snow suit he bought to climb Mount Rainier in 1970."
REI, with 130 stores in 32 states, will continue to permit returns for up to a year from purchase, but was forced to end its totally open-ended policy because "of a large number of returns from a ‘small group of members’ … The crackdown is a blow to those hikers, kayakers and climbers who secretly – or not so secretly – used the policy as an ATM." Among them is Chad Thomas, who, among other things, recently "returned a backpack he bought in 2004" because "it was getting old and dirty and I didn’t like it anymore."
Not only did REI accept the return, but it also gave Chad $17 – the difference between the old and new price of the backpack. Others have bragged about cashing in counterfeit REI gear and "broken gear scrounged from a dumpster." As crazy as this sounds, the policy is not unique to REI: Patagonia, LL Bean and Orvis have similar policies – and have no plans to change them. "We trust our customers know where the line is," says Bill Eyre of Orvis. However, longtime REI customer Ron Suess sees the end of an era. "The culture has changed over the years, and now people will take advantage of any opportunity they can," he says.