REI's tighter return policy is still customer-friendly

I take my dog to the beach more often thanks to a purchase encouraged by REI's generous return policy.

I take my dog to the beach more often thanks to a purchase encouraged by REI's generous return policy.

Last June, outdoor retailer Recreational Equipment, Inc. (REI) tightened up its return policy that allowed customers to return an item at any time for any reason. Customers now have up to a year to return most merchandise for a replacement or refund. The Seattle Times published a good overview of the changes.

REI implemented their new policy to address a reported spike in older items being returned at a time when corporate profits are shrinking. Outside magazine even reported a story of a customer who funded his outdoor adventures by profiting from fraudulent returns.  

To their credit, REI's stricter policy remains customer-friendly. You can still return most items for any reason within the one-year period. And, REI still offers a lifetime warranty on any item that is defective. The full text of the new policy is on the REI website. 

REI’s generous return policy recently gave my wife and me the confidence to make a purchase we otherwise might not have made.

We were thinking about buying a special cover that would allow our dog to ride in the back seat of our car. Its sturdy material protected the car’s interior while creating a hammock that was supposed to be comfortable for the dog. Our only reservation was we weren’t sure if our dog would actually like it.

The helpful REI salesperson told us to go for it. If our dog didn’t like it, he explained, we had one year to return the cover for a full refund. It didn’t matter if it was covered with dog hair and drool. We could still get our money back.

The return policy sold us. And, it turned out that our dog loves the new cover.

REI did a great job tweaking their policy. They prevented a small percentage of customers from hurting their business while making sure they didn’t punish the rest of their loyal fans. 

Here are a few lessons that can be applied to other businesses worried about dishonest customers:

  • Don’t punish the majority of customers who are honest because a few customers aren’t.
  • Most customers will understand a policy that sets reasonable limits.
  • A generous policy can be an effective sales tool.


When being right is really wrong

Major League Baseball's opening day is fast approaching and hope springs eternal. You'd think this would mean they are gearing up the customer service at their online store, but at least one experience suggests this may not be true.

Full disclosure: this 'one experience' is represented by my wife, Sally. She represents 100% of the people I know who have recently made a purchase at, so according to my data 100% of the people that shop there have a bad experience. Yes, I know that's not statistically significant, but it's significant enough for me.

It all started when Sally ordered two items, paid for overnight shipping, and then received one item a day later than expected. She responded to a survey she received from a 3rd party and shared her dissatisfaction:

completely dissatisfied with shipping. Paid a high shipping cost to have the items delivered overnight - while it did say 1-2 business days, I received 1 item in 3 business days, and another in 4 business days. I will be requesting a refund on shipping.

Proactive Service
Sally received a prompt email from in response to her survey response. Very good move, but the email she received wasn't so helpful:

Dear Sally,

Thank you for contacting Customer Support at

We have received your response through BizRate regarding our website and thank you for your feedback. Your opinion as a consumer is greatly appreciated and will be used to aid in the development of our online store to better serve our consumers.

We apologize for any misunderstanding. Our records show that the both packages shipped on 03/13/08 and that the one package that was shipped via UPS was received on 03/14/08. The package that shipped via DHL was also shipped on 03/13/08 and was delivered on 03/17/08, which was the 2nd business day. As indicated on our website, business days are considered Monday-Friday, excluding weekends and Federal Holidays. We hope this information is helpful.

Please let us know if there is anything else we can do for you, and thank you again for contacting Customer Support at


Magritha M.
Customer Service Representative
Customer Support at

What part of 'overnight' takes 2 days???
Dear Margritha,

When I confirmed the order and items said were in stock, I was expecting to receive by Friday, 3/14 at the latest, for overnight shipping. Per your email, you state that both packages shipped on 3/13. Overnight shipping would arrive by 3/14, for both packages.

I am requesting refund for overnight shipping of the one item not received by Friday, 3/14. This was the expectation, and what was paid for, and you have confirmed in your email the item was not shipped overnight.

Appreciate your cooperation,


Really MLB?! Really?
Dear Sally,

Thank you for contacting Customer Support at

We again apologize for any misunderstanding. Our website indicates that if you select overnight shipping that you can expect the order to arrive within 1-2 full business days. Business days are Monday-Friday, excluding federal holidays within the United States. Both items were delivered within the stated timeframe, and we can unfortunately, not credit you back the shipping. To view the shipping information as indicated on our helpdesk please click on the link below, or copy and paste the link into the URL of your internet browser:

We again thank you for your order. We apologize that we could not assist with your request.

Please let us know if there is anything else we can do for you, and thank you again for contacting Customer Support at


Magritha M

Read the fine print
If you read the fine print you'll discover Magritha at MLB is technically correct. And, I don't even doubt she's responding exactly as she's been instructed to respond. The problem here is them item was shipped via 'overnight' shipping and it took 2 business days to arrive. If you dig through the MLB website, you'll find their text explaining that their 'overnight' service is really 1 - 2 day service, but then why call it overnight? Undoubtedly because it saves MLB a few bucks on shipping costs, but it sure creates confusion and unfulfilled expectations.

Lessons Learned
Confusing policies are dumb for any business and it gets even worse when you stick to the fine print at all costs. A few bucks would have bought some good will and kept Sally satisfied. Saving that money cost MLB a lifetime of future purchases from Sally, from me, and anyone else we can convince not to shop there. Be careful of any policy that may seem cost-effective, but really drives customers away!