5 Reasons To Love REI’s Service Culture


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Photo credit: Jeff Toister

Being outside is incredible.

You can get great exercise. Clear your head. And you never know what sort of discoveries you might find, such as a random helipad on a hiking trail. 

If you love the outdoors, you probably love REI.

It’s an amazing company that sells all sorts of outdoor gear from camping and hiking equipment to bicycles, kayaks, and skis. The company also offers classes to help you learn how to use all that stuff and enjoy the outdoors even more.

The company’s mission statement, which also doubles as its customer service vision, clearly explains what it stands for:

At REI, we inspire, educate and outfit for a lifetime of outdoor adventure and stewardship.

I profiled REI in The Service Culture Handbook in part because they epitomize a customer-focused organization. I also included them because I love being an REI customer.

Here are five reasons why I love REI’s service culture:

The Guarantee

Last fall, I bought a jacket from REI that I planned to use while hiking in the mountains.

I wore it for two months but never really liked it. It didn’t fit right and wasn’t warm enough. Lucky for me, REI has a 100% satisfaction guarantee.

The guarantee one of the most generous return policies in retail. If you don’t like a product, you can return it for any reason within one year and receive a full refund. You can return a defective product at anytime for repair or replacement. 

So I brought the jacket back to my local REI store (I bought it online, but in-store returns are fine). The helpful associate immediately gave me a refund. Then she asked a few questions and recommended another jacket that turned out to be perfect.

Which leads me to…

Employee Engagement

REI associates know a lot about their products.

I once went into an REI to find some trekking poles for my wife. An associate named Suzy spotted me and asked if she could help. When I told her what I was looking for, Suzy replied, “I have a lot of experience with trekking poles.”

And she did.

Suzy gave me a quick tutorial on how to select the right poles for my wife. She explained how to adjust them to the correct height and how to use them efficiently while hiking.

This type of experience happens repeatedly at REI. Whether it’s trekking poles, a new jacket, camping equipment, or something else, I’ve always interacted with associates who are incredibly helpful.

Their helpfulness comes from the kind of product knowledge that can only be developed by being an avid user. Associates tend to join REI because they love the outdoors and are eager to help people me enjoy the outdoors, too.

Frictionless Service

I ordered a couple of shirts from REI online and one of them was the wrong color.

So I called and spoke to a helpful customer service representative. He confirmed the color I wanted was in stock and agreed to ship out the correct shirt. What he said next blew me away. 

“It’s not worth your effort to return that shirt to us, so go ahead and keep it or give it as a gift to someone if you’d like.”

In The Effortless Experience, authors Matt Dixon, Nick Toman, and Rick DeLisi discuss the incredible impact that reducing friction can have on loyalty. Getting the correct shirt was definitely a low-friction experience for me.

I called REI because I had the confidence that speaking to an associate would be a good experience. The fact that the associate made the whole process incredibly easy (and was empowered to do so) cemented my loyalty as a customer.


Anyone can shop at REI, but it really pays to be a member. Here are some of the benefits you get for a $20 lifetime membership:

  • Annual refund of approximately 10 percent of purchases.
  • Special members-only pricing on classes, events, rentals, and more.
  • Track your purchase history for frictionless returns and exchanges (no receipt needed!).

Best of all, you feel like you’re part of something special.

In his book, The Amazement Revolution, best-selling author and keynote speaker Shep Hyken discusses the value of treating customers like members. He says:

Membership delivers recognition and a high level of value that is not easily available elsewhere.


In 2015, REI did the unthinkable and closed all of its stores on Black Friday.

On one of the busiest shopping days of the year, a day that can make or break a retail chain’s fortunes, REI gave all of its employees a paid day off and encouraged us all to reconnect with each other outdoors.

You couldn’t even order on the REI website.

The #OptOutside campaign was definitely part marketing, even winning awards for the advertising. But it was also much deeper than that. It was a reflection of REI’s core focus on enjoying the outdoors.

REI’s CEO, Jerry Stritzke, summed it up this way: 

I believe that living your values makes a difference. As a co-op, we share a simple belief that time in the outdoors makes us healthier and happier–as individuals and as a society.

It wasn’t a one-time publicity stunt. REI has made #OptOutside an ongoing campaign and closed all of its stores on Black Friday once again in 2016.


None of the things REI does to deliver exceptional service are one-off gimmicks or quick-fix tricks. They’re all born from the same place—a deep commitment to building, growing, and nurturing a service culture that makes REI a great place to work and an amazing place to be a customer.

Republished with author's permission from original post.


  1. “Associates tend to join REI because they love the outdoors and are eager to help people me enjoy the outdoors, too.” If this passion and commitment extends to REI employees who are not customer-facing, then this helps make the case, as explained in your new post, for a culture that is less dependent on incentives to be value delivery-focused

  2. @Michael – I’m obviously a bit biased since I’m a huge REI fan, but all the evidence I’ve seen is that customer-focus permeates throughout the company.


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