REI: That’s how they get you

Back in early 2004, I decided to start bike-riding again. My bike had seen better days, and I brought it to REI for a tuneup. Bought a few things for it also. Ended up with about $300 worth of stuff.

I noticed they had a membership card that got you 15% off. That sounded good to me, that’s a cool $45 in my pocket. You might think that would just ring it up at the register, and end up with a $255 bill to pay. That’s how it works at Home Depot for instance. No.

Let’s look at some of the barriers that REI put in the way of my getting that $45.

  • You have to get a membership card. They give you a temporary one at first.
  • You have to make the purchase with your membership card, it appears on your statement. This means you have to give them all kinds of information about who you are and where you live and such so they can bill you properly.
  • You don’t get your money off at the register. You don’t get it in a monthly statement once they confirm you’ve made the purchase. You wait until the end of the year to get it. Nice float they get on that.
  • Then, you don’t get it at the end of the year. Now what consumer is keeping track of that $45? At the end of the year who notices that there was an REI check due? And when is the end of the year… December? January? April 15th?
  • Incredibly, I had all the paperwork, and called them about it — you have to actually request the refund. Imagine that — I wonder what the attrition rate is of people never claiming their discount. So sometime in 2005 I called them.
  • I missed the window for 2005, I had to call again in 9 months.
  • I finally made the claim, I was informed that half the stuff I bought was not eligible for some reason or other. It’s been two years by now, I’m hardly in a position to throw facts around, but I’m sure there was no disclaimer or notice when I actually bought the stuff.

The other day, I recieved my check. Two years later, for $17. Whoopee.

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