Deciding on a new waterproof shell, backpack, or pair of ski pants isn’t easy. High-end gear is expensive, so you want to make sure you’re getting the best bang for your buck. You can try on clothing in a store or wear it around your house before throwing away the receipt and committing, but you never really know how it’s going to perform until you spend a day sweating and moving through the mountains in it.
Lucky for us, then, that a company notorious for its high prices is starting a free demo program. As part of Arc’teryx’s Gear Library, company stores now feature on-site collections of apparel, backpacks, and boots available for people to check out for up to four days. Pick the pieces you want to test (as many as you desire, depending on availability), put down a deposit equal to half the retail value of your chosen items, and the gear is yours to use and abuse. When you return the equipment after the allotted time, you’ll get the deposit back.
Arc’teryx guarantees it won’t hold your deposit if you bring back damaged or worn products. Instead, it’ll repair the items and rotate them back into the gear library’s circulation, put them to use in its quality-control lab, or recycle the fabrics for other uses. However, there is a $20-per-day late fee.
Stephanie Jamieson, global retail marketing manager for Arc’teryx, says the program is intended as much for brand loyalists who want to test out the latest gear as it is for new customers intimidated by Arc’teryx’s high prices, and even those who are simply missing a rain shell or pack for their weekend trip. With employees available to bookend the demo experience by answering questions, Arc’teryx is hoping that the program becomes a kind of extension and enhancement of the in-store shopping experience.
Gear demoing has been around for years in specialty bike and ski shops, where you can go to test-drive high-end hard goods on snow or the trail. But according to Matt Powell, senior sports-industry adviser at the NPD Group, this is the first time it has made its way into the apparel industry, and he expects we’ll see more brands roll out similar programs in the near future. Samantha Searles, director of market and consumer research at the Outdoor Industry Association, thinks the concept could help drive an increase in sales and loyalty, particularly when it comes to specialized big-ticket items that are difficult to buy blind. “The model could work for brands that focus on technical apparel for a specific purpose,” she says. While the demo program won’t turn a profit directly, it could help get people hooked on Arc’teryx gear, driving sales in the long term.
Currently, access to the gear library is limited to brick-and-mortar Arc’teryx locations in North America—18 across the U.S. and Canada—plus one in London. (Each store curates a unique collection of demo gear based on the local climate, terrain, and popular activities.) In the future, however, Jamieson says the program could expand to online.
Of course this doesn’t make that $700 jacket you’ve been eyeing any cheaper, but at least now you can make your purchase with some confidence that it will perform the way you need once you rip off the tags.