The film [Wild] is based on the memoir by Cheryl Strayed, who has a long-lasting, meaningful relationship with REI. The outdoor gear company earned a special place in her heart during her 1,100-mile hike of the Pacific Crest Trail. She lost her boots midway through the hike, but was able to phone the company—and they shipped her a new pair, no questions asked.
That customer service stuck with her, and made it into her memoir. And now it's in the film starring Reese Witherspoon. And Strayed confirmed to Adweek this week that REI's appearance in the film isn't a paid placement.
I love the REI even though I'm not an outdoorsy person. I think camping is staying at a Comfort Inn. I don't do well with bugs or dirt. I do like to hike, but I'm new to hiking, so I stick to the trails and I tend not to explore new area of woods with snakes and lizards and furry animals with teeth and fangs.
But I feel good when I go shopping in REI although I know NOTHING about outdoor equipment. At REI, the staff is passionate about outdoor living - and that extends to how they interact with their customers. Here's an example.
One holiday season I was looking for a solar powered phone battery charger for a friend. I saw a few options online, but I wasn't sure which to choose and I wasn't even sure where to start in the store!
As I was wandering around in the foyer of REI, trying to get the lay of the land, someone came over to help me get started and asked me if I needed help. I know I looked lost and clueless, so this help was welcomed. She guided me to the right area of the store and gave me advice and options as to what to buy. She didn't know a lot about solar chargers, but she definitely knew more than I did! After her consultation, she left me alone to make my decision - she was around, but not hovering.
At the register, this same woman also told me about their store club and courses REI offered. She was very excited about the class was teaching one in a few weeks. Just hearing her talk about mountain bikes and how they worked got me so excited about them that I was tempted to attend her class. Then I remembered that I don't own a mountain bike, so why would I learn how to fix one?
Cheryl Strayed went on a hike to find herself (the movie Walk tells the story). During the hike she lost her boots. REI sent her a new pair.
Yes, they sent her a new pair.
What do you think about REI now, 19 years after its return policy saved you on the trail?
I am a fan of REI. It’s a great store. It’s such a great go-to place for outdoor equipment. And you walk in there and you get to have a lot of dreams. You can look around and say, “Hey, maybe I could do this.”
That’s where it began for me. I was in an REI and found that PCT guidebook, and I thought, “Wow, maybe I could do this.” You’re surrounded by all this stuff—and I make a lot of comic hay about it in Wild: “If I have all this stuff, that must mean I am a backpacker.”
I bought those things, I dressed the part on day one, and then I became that person. It allowed me to fulfill this vision I had of myself in a time in my life when I really, really needed to have a different vision of myself than the person I was at that moment.
We can remake ourselves in the wild, and REI, like any number of stores that sell those products, teaches you how to do it.
--Joe Jackson, What Gear Did Cheryl Strayed Use While Hiking the PCT?, Gear Shed
So why is REI so awesome and supportive of their customers and give a great customer experience? It starts with the employees.
- They have passion - and they understand your passion. The employees are passionate about their own outdoor experiences. That passion is so infectious that it rubs off on you. You can feel it when you walk into the store, based on the entire experience. You feel like you are already in the outdoors and you are finding what you need for your passion mission.
- They care. REI wouldn't have delivered new boots to Cheryl if they didn't. That REI salesperson wouldn't have tried to help me figure out the right solar phone charger to get if she didn't care. She wouldn't have let me know that they have classes in case I was interested if she didn't care. REI takes an interest in their customers and care about what they want to do - and it is that caring that makes a customer feel special, welcomed and begging to come back.
- They educate. Every time I go to REI, I learn something new about the outdoors and outdoor equipment. I still need to go to one of their classes or events (not to fix a mountain bike, of course, but maybe a hike or a movie about the outdoors). I learn from the site, sales - I get insights into everything, everywhere.
- They are helpful. You could say that the definition of being helpful is caring and providing education, so in a way, this isn't a characteristic of supporting a customer. But what does make it a characteristic is going the extra mile with the logistics to help you solve your problem or challenge - like delivering shoes to a stop along a hiking trail.
- They are open and friendly with a positive, can-do attitude. I know, it's like I'm describing a Boy Scout, but it's true. I feel like I could ask for a grilled cheese sandwich and an REI employee would tell me where I could find one nearby. In some stores, the salespeople don't have a can-do attitude; many have an I guess attitude. I guess you can get this sweater, doesn't matter to me. I guess I can ring you up, I don't really want to help you and would rather hang out doing nothing for a few more hours collecting $10+/hr. REI employees are ready and willing to help. it's awesome!
- No hovering. Each time I went there, salespeople were around and available to help you, but they weren't hovering over you like a vulture waiting for an animal - Are you ready to buy yet? Ready? Want it? Yes? Ready to buy?
- Confidence. Confidence comes with education - if you know some thing and feel secure about the answer, usually you are confident about what you are saying. I get that impression from REI salespeople. And if they don't know the answer, they find out or tell you that they aren't sure (but usually they find out). You aren't left hanging.
Other companies do this as well, but REI is a great example of a company that supports its customers. This is one of the main reasons why customers have a good experience going to the REI store - ok, maybe more like a great experience.