Why I Buy Travel Gear From REI: You Can Return Old Underwear

exofficio underwearThere are a million and one places to buy travel gear, but I think there’s only one that will take back year-old pairs of used underwear: REI. This might read like a paid endorsement, but it isn’t. I almost never write about products or stores that I like but I’ve got to give props to REI, my one-stop shop for travel.

Over the years, I’ve had a number of positive experiences buying, and sometimes returning, travel gear – luggage, camping equipment, clothing and the like, from REI, but a recent experience I had at one of their stores in Virginia absolutely floored me.

More than a year ago, I purchased three pairs of $20 ExOfficio briefs before going on a trip and immediately hated them. Twenty dollars is expensive for a pair of underwear, but when you’re traveling with only a handful of pairs, high quality underwear is worth its weight in gold. Without going into much detail here, let’s just say that these pairs of underwear were constantly riding up on me, leaving body parts exposed.I found myself constantly having to make adjustments, and doing that in public makes one look like a pervert or worse. I resolved to send the underwear back to the manufacturer with a nasty note but never got around to it. But then one day a few weeks ago when I was forced to wear a pair of the horrible underwear because everything else was dirty, I resolved to go back to the REI where I bought them and make a complaint.

I had no expectation that they would actually take the things back, but I wanted to vent my frustration. Perhaps this seems ridiculous to you, dear reader, but I grew in a household where returning things was par for the course. My dad is an expert returner. He’ll eat half a meal at a restaurant and decide he doesn’t like it, so he can send it back and get something else. And there is no product or store that he won’t try to return something at, no matter how long ago he bought the product or whether he has a receipt. The man is unstoppable, and, amazingly, no one ever questions him.

When I was about 12 year old, I smashed my tennis racket in a rage after losing a match. It was one of those black, wooden Bjorn Borg Donnay models, and after my fit, the entire top of it was warped so the head looked oblong rather than round. Undeterred, my dad marched us to K-Mart, warped racket in hand, and managed to return it, claiming the thing was defective.

To my horror, the store employee put the darn thing right back up on the shelf, even though my name was written in magic marker on the cover. At that age, no one wants their name advertised at K-Mart.

All of this is to say that in returning items, I’ve learned from the best, though I am not nearly as brazen as my father. Still, I have expected the customer service person at REI to grab the pile of used underwear I unfurled onto the desk and throw it back at me. But he didn’t.

“Do you want to return these?” he asked, after listening sympathetically to my complaint.

“Can I?” I asked, a bit in shock.

“Absolutely,” he said. “All of our products are guaranteed for as long you have them and if you’re not satisfied you can return them.”

“You don’t have a receipt do you?” he asked.

“Nope,” I said. “But I am an REI member.”

He tapped my name into the computer and found my membership.

“Ok,” he said. “I see that you bought two pairs of these a little over a year ago, does that sound right?”

“Um, yeah,” I said sheepishly.

The young man couldn’t find a record of the third pair but gave me a store credit anyway. He was ready to give me my money back for the two pairs he did find in the system, but I felt too guilty to take it. They were horrible underwear, but I had purchased them more than a year ago!

You might think that this was just one fluky experience but I don’t think it was. A few years ago, I bought a pair of hiking shoes that turned out to be very poorly constructed and I returned those too – no questions asked – a good six months after purchase.

The truth is that I buy a lot of gear from REI and I love most of it, so there is usually no need to return items. But it’s awfully nice to know you can bring things back – even old underwear – if you need to. And unlike K-Mart, I’m pretty sure they didn’t put my used underwear right back on the shelf.

[Photo by Seansie on Flickr]