Sustainable and affordable pre-loved gear for customers 24/7
Editor's Note: Today, REI's Divisional Vice President of Sustainability Vik Sahney wrote to staff about the new REI Co-op Used Gear Beta.
All employees at the co-op share a passion for being outdoors and helping our members find the best products and knowledge to fuel their pursuits. We are part of a community committed to improving access to the outdoors, stewarding the places where we play, and supporting happier and healthier lives.
As a part of this pursuit, today we launched the REI Co-op Used Gear Beta. It’s a new online program offering co-op customers a more sustainable and affordable way to purchase pre-loved outdoor gear and apparel that customers have returned.
I am fortunate that my role at the co-op is 100% focused on answering the question, “What should be better in the world as REI grows and thrives?” Imagining new services we can bring to our members to help them get outside in more sustainable ways is what the Used Gear Beta is all about.
Very often, thanks in part to our 100% Satisfaction Guarantee (on new products), we end up taking back product that is only lightly used. For years, we have sold this returned gear through our in-store Garage Sales, which are famous among REI Co-op members and draw huge lines.
The challenge with in-store Garage Sales, however, is that the selection at any single sale is largely determined by what was returned to that specific store. For a company like REI, which has been a leader in online retailing, this limitation is challenging for two reasons:
- We want to deliver great gear at great value to our customers, wherever they live
- Too many products at Garage Sales never get sold for reasons we can easily fix with the right digital solution
Despite REI’s growth in store count, members often live far from a physical store but are always connected to REI.com. These trends have resulted in stranded product—lightly used, niche items up for grabs in a Garage Sale event—but no interested customers in that market. For example, take a lightly used size 13 waterfall ice climbing boot. The audience is very narrow.
Used Gear Beta has the potential to help us understand if, with our scale, we can find new homes for pre-loved gear and apparel that might otherwise go to waste. We’re getting great products to more people. For a lifelong outdoorsperson, that is very exciting. The REI Co-op story started with gear, so putting used gear back to use through a model like this will help us accomplish several important things. First, connecting preloved gear to new owners keeps that gear out of landfills. Second, we can offer the gear at a discount because it had a previous owner, which lowers the cost barrier to entry for someone who wants to try out a new outdoor activity. Third, because we work across 1,400 different brands, we can be a platform for not just a single brand’s goods.
Used Gear Beta builds upon REI’s rock-solid foundation of sustainability leadership. For example, the co-op is 100% renewably powered—including our 150 stores, distribution centers and headquarters—through solar, renewable energy contracts and tariffs, and renewable energy credits and was named an EPA Green Power Leadership Awardee. We opened our newest distribution center as a net-zero energy building—it produces as much energy as it consumes annually. Not only is it the first net-zero LEED Platinum distribution center in the U.S., it also uses a minimal amount of water and restores water to the Phoenix watershed far beyond its consumption through a partnership with innovative non-profit partners.
On the product side of the Co-op, we co-founded the Sustainable Apparel Coalition to create consistent sustainability measures that hundreds of companies in the outdoor industry and beyond now use to design and manufacture more sustainable gear and apparel. This work, encapsulated in the Higg Index, is guiding how REI reduces the environmental footprint of the products we bring to our members.
There are scores of other examples of sustainability innovations that started here at the co-op and have influenced standard practices, not just here in the outdoor business but farther afield. With Used Gear Beta, we’re continuing to build upon REI’s foundation.
The initiative is starting with a small, thoughtful program that we believe will resonate. We’ll proceed if we think this is something that will really make a difference in our members’ lives, and if it will significantly further the work we’ve been doing for decades to drive sustainability at scale.