Is REI Membership Worth It? 10 Reasons to Join the Co-op
The following is a sponsored post brought to you by REI.
REI is a co-op in the truest sense of the word. The outfitter traces its roots to the 1930s, when founders Lloyd and Mary Anderson pooled cash with fellow Seattle-based mountaineers to secure better prices on imported ice axes. Eighty-three years later, members still look to REI Co-op as a stalwart of the outdoor community and, yes, a way to save on expensive outdoor equipment.
If you’re not a member yet, now is a prime time to join, because the REI Member Moment Sale kicks off tomorrow. During the sale (3/19-3/29), Co-op members can save 20% off one full-price and one outlet item online or in stores. If shopping online, use the coupon code MEMBER21 to snag your discount.
Still on the fence? Here are ten essential benefits that make REI Co-op membership worth it.
10 Reasons REI Membership Is Worth It
1. The Dividend
Being a Co-op member means you’re entitled to a portion of the company’s annual profits in the form of a 10% dividend on almost all full-price purchases (excluding classes, rentals, gift cards, etc.). REI automatically tabulates your purchases for the year and issues dividends each March. They’re valid for 21 months after that.
Dividends typically come in the form of store credit that you can apply to future REI purchases, but you can also request a check from the Co-op as well. If you’ve already bought stuff from REI and have kept the receipts, you can still earn dividend credit retroactively if you get a membership during the same calendar year that you made the purchases.
“From a purely mathematical standpoint, the annual dividend means that getting an REI membership is almost certainly worth it. You can join the co-op for a one-time fee of just $20. So if you’re going to spend at least $200, your dividend will literally pay for the membership. And I guarantee you’ll have no trouble spending $200 at REI if you’re outfitting yourself for a thru-hike, because gear is expensive and you’ll need a lot of it.” —Kelly “Ibex” Floro (AT 2018, PCT + CT LASHer 2020)
2. The Loyalty
As stated above, Co-op members are entitled to dividends that represent a share of the company’s profits each year. But what if… oh, I don’t know. Perhaps one year a pandemic forces businesses to shut down for weeks on end, and as a result, there are no profits that year? For the first time in a very long time, there was no dividend to speak of in 2020. But come March, REI still issued “member rewards” equal to the amount the dividend should have been.
“Because of you, we made it through 2020 in better shape than we initially projected, and we believe the future is brighter than ever,” wrote VP of Marketing Vivienne Long in a blog post addressed to Co-op members last month. Long noted that the member reward “is our way of saying thank you for your loyalty and support in 2020, and our hope that you get to enjoy lots of time outside in 2021. In good times or bad, our community always comes first.”
3. Members-Only Sales (Including the REI Garage Sale)
REI hosts exclusive members-only sales throughout the year. The Member Moment sale that starts tomorrow is a timely example (remember: 20% off one full-price and one outlet item online or in stores). REI also puts on Garage Sales throughout the year where members can score awesome deals on gently used items. These events alone are enough to make REI membership worth it.
Pro-tip: although you never know what you’ll find at a Garage Sale, there will almost certainly be a massive selection of footwear. If you know your preferred style and size, there’s a decent chance you’ll find exactly what you’re looking for. Pro-tip #2: get there early—early—because Garage Sales are insanely popular (with good reason), and lines can wrap around the store.
Sadly, REI had to suspend all Garage Sales during the pandemic.
4. The REI Co-op Credit Card
Only members can apply for the Co-op credit card, and once approved, you can earn a $100 REI gift card if you use the card within two months. You also earn 5% rewards on REI purchases (on top of your 10% dividend, bumping your total savings up to 15%), plus one or two percent back on purchases made elsewhere. Finally, you can get a free cell phone protection plan if you use the card to pay your phone bill, which is pretty glorious. After all, what modern hiker trash hasn’t lost sleep over the possibility of dropping their expensive magic rectangle off a cliff or into a raging stream?
5. The Classes
“The best part about REI is the community. Everyone who works there is so amazing – and talking to anyone there makes you so stoked on your next adventure. I love being able to see how passionate people are about the activities they love!” —Katie “Gallon Smash” Kommer (JMT 2019, Grand Canyon R2R2R)
Members get discounted access to classes and events taught or hosted by the Co-op. Offerings range from short classroom sessions (usually free or low-cost) to multi-day field courses (you’ll be glad you’ve got a discount). You can take classes to learn about anything from map and compass navigation to basic bicycle maintenance. REI even discounts NOLS wilderness first aid certification classes for members.
Membership will also help you save on Co-op led outings and events—these range from day hikes and snowshoe tours to guided climbing and backpacking trips. On top of it all, you get access to a private, members-only online forum where you can connect and share knowledge with fellow outdoor enthusiasts.
6. The Stewardship
“The 10% dividend and Garage Sale deals are great, but it is REI’s focus on conservation and giving back to local communities that makes me proud to be a member. They help fund local trail projects in addition to supporting national environmental non-profits. I also appreciate their push for transparency regarding the environmental impacts of the products they sell.” —Owen “AtHome” Eigenbrot (PCT 2015, CDT 2019, many miles before, since, and in between.)
After issuing dividends, REI donated 70% of its profits in 2019 to non-profits. It invested in fair labor practices, sustainability, expanding outdoor access for underserved communities, and public land stewardship. The brand is well-known for spearheading the #OptOutside movement and shutting its doors on Black Friday. We think these awesome policies are reason enough to make an REI membership well worth it. After all, if you love a company’s policies, why not get more involved?
7. The Vote
Members get to vote for the Board of Directors each year. You can also participate in the annual members’ meeting each year to hear directly from the CEO and Board. One of the most incredible things about membership is that you get a say in the decision-making process. Voting for 2021 is open to members now through April 26.
8. The Repair Shop / The Rentals
“The dividend is great, but I especially love the deep discount I get on gear rentals, classes, and ski tuning. The return policy is also the #1 reason I buy as much gear as possible at REI. Being able to return gear that doesn’t quite hit the mark – or is the wrong size – gives me a ton of confidence when making a more expensive gear purchase.” —Colleen “Spot” Goldhorn (AT + CT LASHer)
Members can bring bikes, skis, and snowboards in for tune-ups or repairs for a discounted price. Besides saving you money, that means more mileage for your equipment and less outdoor gear in the landfill. Win, win, win.
REI also offers gear rentals if you’re looking to break into a new hobby (or help a friend do so). This program is a great way to try something new (or take new gear for a test drive) without a massive investment. You can rent equipment for hiking/camping, paddling, snowshoeing/skiing/snowboarding, biking, and climbing, all at a healthy discount with your membership. Gear can be rented on an individual basis (“a la carte”) or bundled into kits that contain everything you’ll need for your chosen activity.
9. The Used Gear Exchange Program
REI’s members-only Good & Used gear exchange program is a step toward the company’s goal of fostering a circular economy. The gear exchange program joins the company’s generous return policy, gear rental program, and Garage Sales in this effort. Through the exchange, you can trade in gently used gear for REI gift cards. Depending on the item’s condition, you can earn back up to 50% of the original price.
All you have to do is find your piece in the company’s trade-in catalog, request a shipping label, and mail it. Once your used gear has been accepted, you’ll get a gift card. Your equipment/apparel has to be in good condition and listed in REI’s trade-in catalog. As long as the product matches the catalog, you can trade it in even if you didn’t buy it from REI.
10. The Customer Service
“Being able to return gear that doesn’t work is a huge relief. If you’re spending hundreds of dollars on a tent or backpack, it’s great to be able to return it if it’s not absolutely perfect. I also really approve of REI’s commitment to inclusion and environmental issues.”—Eloise “Fun Size” Robbins (PCT 2016, CDT 2017, AT 2018, Long Trail 2019)
Customers stay loyal to REI because of the brand’s famous customer service and generous one-year return policy (heck, you can even return used gear purchases within 30 days), not to mention all the reasons discussed above. You can hardly throw a rock on-trail without hitting a thru-hiker who’s been helped through a backcountry gear emergency by REI (please don’t throw rocks at people, though).
And for hikers figuring out their gear setup for the first time, the return policy is invaluable. It allows you to experiment with different configurations without leaving you cash-strapped and stuck if something doesn’t work perfectly.
While REI’s customer service doesn’t discriminate between members and non-members, we think their customer-centric philosophy only enhances the appeal of becoming a member.
Have we convinced you that an REI membership is worth it yet? Learn more about the benefits of membership and how to join here.
And once you’ve joined the Co-op, don’t forget to head over to REI.com tomorrow through 3/29 for the Member Moment Sale.
Featured image: Graphic design by Libby Thompson (@libby.des).
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