The outdoor gear retailer brings its 'garage sales' online and expands its rental program to 75% of stores. The initiatives aim to make REI's business more sustainable and have its products reach their maximum number of uses.

Outdoor gear and apparel retailer REI Inc. today announced two initiatives that will help with the brand’s sustainability efforts: rental products and selling used gear.

The goal of these programs is to extend the life cycle of the products it makes and sells, REI says. REI has offered a resale program through its store-based “garage sales” and rentals at a small percentage of its stores, but this is a “major and deliberate investment and expansion in the programs,” an REI spokeswoman says. It took about 12-18 months to get these initiatives deployed, tested and now launched at scale, she says.

Consumers can visit REI.com/used and browse the used products, which are priced about 30-65% less than the same product new, the spokeswoman says. REI displays the new and used price, and what condition it is in, such as excellent, lightly worn, moderately worn or well worn.

REI launched REI.com/used in August 2018 and worked with resale app Yerdle, which also helps merchants build online platforms for used goods.

The used products are items shoppers have returned that REI has inspected for quality. REI allows shoppers to return products within one year of purchasing them if they are not satisfied. For example, if a shopper buys hiking boots, wears them on a few hikes, determines they are too bulky and would prefer lighter weight hiking boots, she can return them. After REI determines the shoes are in good quality, the retailer would then sell them at its garage sales, which it held a few times a year at its stores. Now, REI can also sell those shoes online.

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REI expects the online resale initiative to have high demand, as REI is on track to resell nearly 1 million used items in 2019, the spokeswoman says. Plus, “REI’s online used business is on track to nearly double in revenue this year,” she says.

REI also is allowing shoppers to rent camping gear, backpacking kits, snowshoes, skis and snowboards at 115 of its 154 stores.

REI began expanding its rental program in December, by offering snowshoe rental at 85 locations, up from 35. To date, REI has rented nearly twice as many units versus this time period in 2018, the spokeswoman says.

Rental procedures and prices vary by store. Shoppers need to make a rental reservation in person or by calling a store. Consumers can see what types of products are available for rent at nearby stores at REI.com/stores/rentals. It plans to phase in digital rental reservations in 2019 and 2020, the spokeswoman says.

The rental program is geared toward consumers who may want to try a new activity or gear before investing too much, REI says.

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Used gear and rental gear appeals to consumers who may not want to buy products for environmental reasons, lack of storage or are looking to save money, says Peter Whitcomb, director of new business development for REI.

“We’re trying to respond to evolving customer behavior—they’re looking for alternative ways to access products,” Whitcomb says.

Nearly 35% of consumers say a retailer’s values and product attributes that align with their values would be a reason they would shop with a small online retailer compared with a large mass merchant, according to an Internet Retailer and Toluna survey of 1,000 consumers in July 2018.

From a business standpoint, REI can rent a product multiple times while it is in like-new condition. If it is still in good condition after being rented multiple times, REI can then sell the product through its used gear program, the retailer says.

REI is hoping to shift from a “linear” product life cycle, in which shoppers buy products, use them, and then throw them out, to a “circular economy” in which shoppers buy products, repair them when they are broken and recycle them when they are done.

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“The ultimate goal of a circular economy is decoupling economic growth from resource consumption,” says Gregory Gausewitz, manager of product sustainability at REI. “How do we continue to attain a higher standard of living without continuing to deplete the planet?”

REI cites a United Nations study that finds 36% of millennials would rather rent than own a product as proof there is demand for these services.

Some online retailers have based their entire business model on the rental market, such as rented clothing subscription service Le Tote Inc., rented formal wear merchant Rent the Runway Inc., and high-end furniture rental service Feather.

Other traditional apparel retailers, such as Express Inc. and New York & Co. Inc. have also added rental services to their business model.

Recreational Equipment Inc. is No. 73 in the Internet Retailer 2018 Top 1000, Express is No. 97, New York & Co. is No. 141, Rent the Runway, No. 252, and Le Tote No. 985.

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