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Why the hard sell on REI memberships?
August 18, 2008 7:54 PM   Subscribe

Why do REI employees always push membership so hard?

I feel like I get the hard sell for membership from multiple employees every time I walk into REI, which is strange, because they never seem to give me the hard-sell for anything else. Is there a quota or reward for getting people to sign up as new members? Is it just something they're directed to do by management?

Please do not speculate. Someone here has to either have worked for REI or know someone who has that they can ask.
posted by grouse to Shopping (32 answers total)
 
They're a co-op. More members means more available capital and more people that have an incentive to shop there.
posted by electroboy at 8:03 PM on August 18, 2008


It is easy to understand why it is beneficial to the enterprise to have more members. This question is about why the employees seem so keen on new members. Far more keen than any other co-op I have ever shopped at.

If you do not have direct knowledge of the answer of this question from an REI employee, please do not answer.
posted by grouse at 8:12 PM on August 18, 2008


Not an employee (sorry -- I did get this second-hand from someone who talked to an REI employee, who offered to sign up their dog for a membership) but there's a quota the checkout staff is supposed to meet, which is why they push it so hard.
posted by LionIndex at 8:20 PM on August 18, 2008


Coops typically have a non-member surcharge. REI does not. That's why employees push (if you can call it that) membership on customers (also see electroboy's comment). REI employees also don't ask if you're a member until you flag them down for a question. Otherwise they just smile and leave you alone.
posted by special-k at 8:20 PM on August 18, 2008


This question is about why the employees seem so keen on new members. Far more keen than any other co-op I have ever shopped at.

I've never experienced this at either of the two local REIs I frequent. I think confirmation bias. Or possibly the ones at your local are just pushy. Maybe they have an overbearing manager. There are so many things it could be,it's almost impossible to speculate!
posted by electroboy at 8:23 PM on August 18, 2008


Thanks for providing an answer to the actual question, LionIndex.

For the avoidance of doubt, this is something I have experienced in REIs in different regions of the country over several years.
posted by grouse at 8:29 PM on August 18, 2008


Six years of shopping at MA REIs, and I've never experienced this.
posted by ellF at 8:33 PM on August 18, 2008


Coops typically have a non-member surcharge. REI does not.

Not quite true. Members get about 10% back on most purchases, which can add up to real money if you buy enough stuff.

They are smoother about it than they are down at my local hippy coop, where indeed they tack on extra money right there at the cash register for non-members. REI charges everyone the same price, but returns the surcharge to members once a year (your choice, cash or in-store credit).

And so that's the other reason, besides the quotas, that the people there push the membership so much — the $20 for membership (and it used to be a lot less) pays for itself with one pair of boots or a tent. It just makes sense to have, unless you really are only going to buy the one pair of socks and will never again shop there for the rest of your life.
posted by Forktine at 8:45 PM on August 18, 2008


The person next to me in line asked the REI employee with whom they were dealing this same question (why do you push membership so hard). Their answer was that they do NOT get any reward for sign-ups, but (a) they were in a contest with another employee and (b) they really believe in it. They didn't mention a quota (though that obviously doesn't mean there isn't one).
posted by inigo2 at 8:45 PM on August 18, 2008


I've never experienced this at my local REI in downtown Portland. Sure, when I get to the register, they ask if I'm a member (I'm not) and if I'd like to join (no thanks), and then that's it. They've never been rude or pushy.

Aside from when I get to the register to pay for something, I've never even been asked about membership. My experiences at REI have been really positive - and that's putting it mildly. Their people seem to be low key, knowledgeable and really cool overall.
posted by 2oh1 at 9:21 PM on August 18, 2008


While I've never gotten the membership hard-sell at REI, I do know a guy who worked there and he claimed that it was easy to offer to people because it's such an obvious good deal. As someone said up-thread, you make your one-time membership cost back as soon as you buy a single decent piece of equipment, and from then on you're just getting free money back from your purchases. Not pointing this out to people would be pretty crappy customer service, and everyone I've ever dealt with at an REI seemed genuinely out to help the customers. It's like being pushy about free ice cream or something - you don't feel sleazy offering it to people because there's no catch. You just want them to be aware of the goodness that is available.
posted by vytae at 9:37 PM on August 18, 2008


i've never gotten the hard sell from any REI i've been into as well. in fact, when i got my membership, i had to ask for it.
posted by violetk at 9:42 PM on August 18, 2008


I was one of those dudes who pushed BN (Barnes & Noble) cards way back when. We had a quota to fill, and I'd rather irritate you than lose my job.
posted by OrangeDrink at 9:47 PM on August 18, 2008


I've only been asked about membership at the register, but it does have its privileges.
posted by padraigin at 9:59 PM on August 18, 2008


Actually, there is sort of an obvious surcharge for non-membership if you rent things -- the rental rate on their gear is quite a bit cheaper for members. On some gear (like kayaks or something) the difference between the member and non-member rates exceeds the cost of membership, and it blows my mind that people wouldn't just pony up at that point.
posted by LionIndex at 10:00 PM on August 18, 2008


REI makes more money from non-members than members because they only pay rebates to members. The reason employees encourage you to join is because you immediately save money and they are true believers -- they want you to save money. REI has been a co-op for almost 70 years, gives good employee benefits, and has consistently been ranked in the top 100 companies to work for in the U.S. I have never encountered anyone pushing memberships but if you have, it may be because they can't believe that you don't want free money. I know people who work there and none has ever mentioned quotas. Perhaps your cynicism is coloring your perception.
posted by JackFlash at 10:14 PM on August 18, 2008


I haven't been asked this in years, but then, I've been a member for years. not bad getting 15% off (or whatever?) of your non-sale purchases.
posted by schmoppa at 10:50 PM on August 18, 2008


Believe it or not, they're doing it because they like the company and they believe you'll save money in the long run. It's $20 FOR LIFE and you get annual dividends. If you shop regularly, you should have done the math and gotten it a long time ago.
posted by junesix at 11:00 PM on August 18, 2008


Perhaps your cynicism is coloring your perception.

Maybe. On the other hand, here's at least one person claiming to be an employee who says that making membership quota was the only downside of working for REI.
posted by grouse at 11:08 PM on August 18, 2008


I know people who work there and none has ever mentioned quotas. Perhaps your cynicism is coloring your perception.

I wonder if it's a store-by-store kind of thing? I've heard of my local store being pretty aggressive about it, but I wouldn't know myself, having been a member for over a decade. And I've had to temper my enthusiasm in this thread so that I don't sound like an ad for REI, but yeah. You get 10% back (generally) on everything you buy, and then you get a "20% off one item" coupon once a year, which has been great for me, slowly building up my camping gear supply.

However, there's enthusiasm, and then there's being a little ridiculous about it. Whenever I go to Barnes & Noble or Borders, where they also have membership programs, all they'll do at the register is ask if I'm a member; I answer "no" and that's the end of it. It seems contrary to general human nature and principles of decent customer service that they would go much further beyond that, so if grouse is consistently getting more of a push than just one simple question, I'd think that there would have to be some kind of policy in place. Otherwise, it's kind of rude, and I seriously doubt that REI's cashiers are that socially inept across the board, regardless of their enthusiasm for the company.
posted by LionIndex at 11:11 PM on August 18, 2008


If you do not have direct knowledge of the answer of this question from an REI employee, please do not answer.
Even if they have a really good answer? Possibly a correct one that adds to the conversation but which they didn't get by working there or getting the answer directly from an employee?
posted by dmz at 11:23 PM on August 18, 2008 [5 favorites]


I would not describe it as rude, but it is pushy to a degree I have not experienced at other co-ops, which also provide worthwhile membership benefits and employ true believers.

Another data point: a former REI employee's resume, where he lists always making 100% membership quota as one of his achievements there.
posted by grouse at 11:24 PM on August 18, 2008


At the Houston Westheimer store, I've never been questioned about membership unless they were trying to sell it to me at checkout.
posted by mrbill at 3:08 AM on August 19, 2008


You know, I haven't been here too long, but I get the idea that moderating your own threads is generally frowned upon. It also just seems plain rude. After all, the answers to the question aren't just for you - if they were, this would be a website where you post the question and people reply to you privately through email. Maybe other people who clicked on your question might be generally interested in the way that the R.E.I memberships work, and might find speculation/second-hand information/personal experiences to be interesting and useful. I know I did. And boy-o-boy, did I miss R.E.I when I recently had to buy a new pair of hikers here in the UK.

Anyway, based on the links you provided, it would appear that you answered your own question to your own satisfaction, so to me, your questions seems like a bit of an 'I hate it when they try to sell me stuff to meet a quota, don't you?' kind of axe-grinding thing.

(And, also, by the way, I worked at R.E.I. in Atlanta in 2000. There was a quota, but there were no specific penalties for not meeting it. It think maybe management would bring it up in performance reviews or something if you fell short, but I don't know because I certainly don't remember anyone *not* meeting the quota. )
posted by Wroksie at 3:38 AM on August 19, 2008 [7 favorites]


You know, I haven't been here too long, but I get the idea that moderating your own threads is generally frowned upon. It also just seems plain rude. After all, the answers to the question aren't just for you - if they were, this would be a website where you post the question and people reply to you privately through email.

Moderating your own thread is more frowned upon on the blue, where it's pretty much all about opinions and there's no real downside to blind speculation. On AskMe, it's perfectly acceptable to set standards for what type of answers you're looking for, within certain limits. All grouse is asking for is that people that answer this question aren't just saying what they *think* is the case - he's looking for people who have actual experience with the matter. In this case, it actually makes the site more useful for future users. If you were someone coming along in the future with the same question, would you rather have a bunch of guesses or first-person accounts? AskMe guidelines generally stipulate that guesses are frowned upon to begin with, but that doesn't really stop people, and I can understand grouse's trepidation with that. I mean, you, me and a bunch of sources grouse found all say that there's a quota (based on first-hand experience), but look at all the people in here saying the membership push exists just because REI employees are extra-enthusiastic. In AskMe, there's more of a value on the "correct" answer than there is on other branches of Metafilter.
posted by LionIndex at 7:21 AM on August 19, 2008


Because operationally, it's cash flow. They are getting $20 and giving you nothing. And because they are lifetime memberships, that cash flow tends to go down over time as the percentage of the recreational equipment enthusiast community who doesn't have memberships goes down. So to maintain that cash flow, they need to push harder.
posted by gjc at 7:41 AM on August 19, 2008


This question is silly, since you can pretty much assume that any place that has some card or program to push on you at the register told the clerks they had to push it or else.

Target, for example, is always trying to push their Target card on me at the register. "Do you want to save 15% to day by opening a Target Card?" No, I don't. But now, I don't even notice when they ask the question. It's just part of the ritual of shopping there.

I've been an REI member for 13 years, so I don't even get the question. But I'm not sure why you're running in here to have your axe-grinding validated when it's patently obvious to anyone that if they're asking that question there's an incentive involved in asking it or a disincentive involved in not asking it. The point of a cashier is to get people moving through the lines as fast as possible. In order to do that, they need to ask as few questions as possible. So anything they ask you has to be associated with the process, other than the pleasantries.

So, yeah, duh, there's a quota. It's been confirmed. Satisfied? Axe nice and sharp?

Because there's one other really nice thing about that evil, horrible membership you go on about -- if you buy anything with your membership card, they store the receipt in their database. So when you invoke their lifetime guarantee on something, like a raincoat I had where the lining in the hood was flaking off and losing its waterproofness, they can look up the receipt and refund your money. Which they did for me -- and it paid for a new raincoat.

If you're not a member, the lifetime guarantee is harder to invoke, since you need the receipt, or else they attempt to estimate value.
posted by dw at 7:53 AM on August 19, 2008


If you were someone coming along in the future with the same question, would you rather have a bunch of guesses or first-person accounts?

...says the guy who posted a second hand account. There's several problems with this question:

1. It assumes that this phenomenon is universal and not limited to the stores in his area. (Possible, since several people have posted that they haven't encountered it. Also see confirmation bias.)

2. It assumes that only first person accounts have value in the discussion. The workings of the co-op business model are relevant because they provide background to why they might be pushing membership.

3. It's douchey to moderate your own thread. This is not your blog, you don't get to control who posts what. Your $5 is not a fee for a question answering service.
posted by electroboy at 8:15 AM on August 19, 2008


...says the guy who posted a second hand account.

Which I qualified as such. It's still better than somebody just making a guess.

It's douchey to moderate your own thread. This is not your blog, you don't get to control who posts what. Your $5 is not a fee for a question answering service.

It's a bit douchey, but all grouse asked was for people not to speculate about the existence of a quota or incentive. That's not such a horrible request, and I didn't see it as black-and-white as you seem to (hence, me posting with a second-hand account). Paying $5 doesn't entitle you to put your random thoughts in any AskMe thread you want, either. "AskMe is as useful as you make it." If you'd like to discuss it further, please start up a MetaTalk post.
posted by LionIndex at 10:00 AM on August 19, 2008


It's amusing to me that the answers have changed from things like "employees... are true believers... your cynicism is coloring your perception" to "This question is silly... it's patently obvious... there's an incentive involved... duh." It's amazing that there are people that think the answer to this question is so obvious that it is offensive that I asked it—although their "obvious" answers are diametrically opposed to each other.

For the newer users: it's not unreasonable at all to clarify what your question is about in AskMe and try to steer people away from questions that were not asked. This is part of why the original poster gets a special typographic treatment here in AskMe, and doesn't in other parts of the site, where the discussion is more free-flowing. Here are some questions I did not ask:
posted by grouse at 10:47 AM on August 19, 2008


[comment removed - further conversation about the metaquestion here relly needs to go to metatalk]
posted by jessamyn at 11:05 AM on August 19, 2008


Just a data point you might find interesting: At Canada's REI clone, Mountain Equipment Co-op -- which is also a customer-owned co-op and which was explicitly modeled after REI -- you can't make purchases at all without membership.
posted by mendel at 12:57 PM on August 19, 2008


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