The REI store is relatively new to me. We didn't have it in Louisiana where I grew up, but it is certainly a well-known out-doors store here in Charlotte...and now I know why! One of the things that makes REI unique is that it is a co-op and gives its members a 10% *dividend on their purchases each March! If you want to spend it as soon as you get it, you'll have to spend it in-store. But, if you hang on to it until July, you can cash it in for CASH! You may be thinking: "Yeah, but what does it take to be a member?" Well - according to their website, all you have to do is pay a $20 Lifetime Membership fee and you're in! So, it's not an annual fee! In order to get the dividend each year you do have to stay "active" - and that means you have to purchase at least $10 worth of products annually. So, that's pretty cool in and of itself. For being a member, they also send you coupons on products, give you special discounts (like right now you can get free shipping online for any purchase more than $25; normally it is a $75 minimum), and they also have gear rental equipment (skis, kayaks, etc) and shop services that they give member discounts on.
*Excludes a few things like sale/clearance items, gift cards, rental equipment, etc. You'll need to read the fine print to make sure you understand it fully!
According to member/reader Jean, they are an industry leader in customer service. Jean has been member at REI for years and just recently told me about an amazing experience she had there! Several years ago she bought a pair of sports sunglasses, but over the years through general wear and tear, the nose pieces dry-rotted. Since she didn't still have her receipt, she took them in and asked the customer service rep if they would help her contact the manufacturer to see if they would replace the nose pieces. Much to her surprise, the customer service rep informed her that she could pick out ANY pair of sunglasses they had in stock to replace the ones she brought in! The new sunglasses Jean got retailed for $139; hers absolutely free! They have a Lifetime Warranty on everything in the store when you buy through your membership - and you can bring them back no matter what, no questions asked - if you are in any way, whatsoever, dissatisfied! She said there was another person in line with a broken, beaten up, old-ragged back-pack; turned it in and picked out a brand new one! REI wants their customers to be so confident in their purchases that they won't look anywhere else when in need of an outdoor item - so they've structured their return policies to support their claim that they have the highest quality available!
So, invest the $20 for the membership, look forward to the annual 10% dividend return, and be confident knowing that if anything you ever buy there breaks or becomes less than what you want/expected - you can return it and pick something else out! Pretty cool, in my opinion!