You can now buy a lot more used jackets, midlayers, and lifestyle clothing from REI. Last Wednesday, the retailer announced that its Used Gear program, which launched in beta last year, is here to stay—and it’s going to get bigger.
Used Gear began in October 2017 as an online extension of REI’s popular Garage Sale events, where customers could buy discounted gear that’s been returned to REI stores. The best-quality returns—the ones that just require cleaning, not repair—are set aside and sent to a distribution warehouse, where they get cleaned, cataloged, and put online for sale, also at a steep discount. A range of gear, from Marmot ski pants and Outdoor Research puffy coats to Burton mittens and Patagonia fleeces, is offered for an average of 60 percent off.
The promise of cheaper high-quality gear drew more customers than REI anticipated. Peter Whitcomb, REI’s director of strategy and lead on the Used Gear project, says that the brand surpassed its sales benchmark. But there were some kinks to work out. For example, the original beta site had no search function; customers had to scroll through the entire product offering to find what they were looking for.
“We were conceptually committed to the program,” says Whitcomb. “But we wanted to figure out the right way to do it.” REI used the last ten months to fine tune the customer experience and smooth out the back-end operational details for moving product from stores to a central distribution center and getting it online. The company added that search function so customers can filter product just like they can on the normal REI site, and it gradually brought more brands on board, to expand the product offerings. (REI needs to get permission from each of its partner brands before selling their used product again online.) That growth is going to continue, too. Whitcomb says REI is looking to scale up the Used Gear business by encouraging even more of the brands it sells to join.
This all underscores the popularity of and demand for used gear, which has increased over the last few years as consumers have become more conscious of what happens to the stuff they throw out. And brands are taking that seriously: In the past ten months alone, both Patagonia and the North Face launched their own online used gear platforms as well—giving the people what they want.