No doubt at least three out of the six of you recall my rant against LuluLemon last year. What I am about to tell you today does not involve a request for you to boycott, as I believe I asked for with the LLL-Losers. Nor will I likely full-on boycott REI myself. Really, I just want to share a little story.
So it was SXSWi and I was nannying for my friends, spending my days strolling downtown Austin with the most adorable five-month-old in the world. One day, we walked from the Hilton over to REI. I'm not a big shopper by which I mean a) I hate shopping and b) when I do shop, I usually get in and out in five minutes. Once, I walked onto a Toyota lot, asked if they had any Scions and when they said they did, I said, "Good, please ring one up for me." I didn't even test drive it. (And I have no buyer's remorse.)
This particular day in REI, I did sort of go into a trance. I'm convinced retail stores (especially Target) play soundtracks which, like dog whistles, are inaudible to the human ear but nonetheless have a way of lulling you into this drooly state that leaves you buying way more than you intended. I really just wanted one pair of pants. See, I bought this pair of Mountain Hardwear pants last year, and they fit so well, and are so comfortable, that I seriously wear them 5 - 6 days in any given week. I'm very Orphan Annie like that-- find something that works and stick with it. I wish I'd bought three pairs last year, since I find that a lot of companies discontinue styles from season to season.
Of course I couldn't find the pants I wanted so I kept wandering around, semi-believing that if I walked through the store enough times, a heretofore unseen rack-- full of the pants I desired-- would materialize. Never happened, though I found a pair by Patagonia that looked okay. Only they were $70+, which, even if I am going to wear a pair of pants every day for three years and even if they were made by fairly paid workers, is pretty steep for my budget. (I know, I know First World Problem.)
Finally, after way too long, I decided to get the pants and a swimsuit, also pricey but also something I wear everyday of summer as I swim my beloved laps over at the Eastside Y. I approach the register (don't worry, I still had the baby with me). And the chick behind the counter says, "Are you a member of REI?"
This immediately makes me wince. Can I not fucking go to a store and buy something and be done with it? Why does every store I go to want my zip code or blood type or a stool sample or my phone number? I fucking can't stand this.
"No." I say, and I say it firmly.
"Do you want to join?"
"No." I say.
"Do you mind if I ask why not?"
Okay, now I'm chapped. And I give into that chapped feeling. And the conversation proceeds to a place that really does sully my otherwise lovely day. I tell her I don't want to tell her why. Then she says something else, goads me on. And I finally tell her that, you know, I'm fucking sick of corporate America, I just want to buy the pants and can I please buy the pants and be done with it?
She, amazingly, gets in my face and tells me REI is NOT a corporation. Hello? Has she not ascertained that, in saying NO to her several times, I have clearly demonstrated my boundaries and my lack of interest in her store? Apparently not.
Now I'm more chapped. And so I say something like, See-- see, this is what I'm talking about. This upsets me. I come in here to buy pants. You want something from me. I don't want to have the discussion. And now I wind up looking like a bitch. No. I'm not a bitch. I just want my pants.
At which point she, unconvincingly, tells me oh no, I don't seem like a bitch, and that we'll just have to agree to disagree.
Oh we will, will we?
But then, oh get ready for it... After she rings me up, she takes my receipt and TUCKS IT INTO A PAMPHLET ABOUT THE "BENEFITS" OF BECOMING AN REI MEMBER! And she says, "I'm just going to give you a little bit of light reading for later."
You're fucking KIDDING ME, right? I mean, This. Must. Be. A. Joke. I tell her I don't want her stupid fucking pamphlet (only I said stupid and fucking just in my head-- really. See, all the meditation is really paying off!).
But wait, there's more! I then go up the elevator (remember, I have a baby in a stroller) to use the dirty bathroom, and on the way I pass an open office door with a manila folder stapled to the wall. I kick myself for not having photographed it but it said something along the lines of, "Adjusted Goals for Membership." Not that I'm surprised that REI HQ forces their (probably underpaid) employees to try to force membership on shoppers, but this folder clearly contradicted that salesjerk's insistence that she was just trying to serve my best interest.
And then... and then... when I got home and tried the pants on, I thought, You know, these just are not worth $70. So after all that, I took them back. And I know that the extra little nudge I needed to motivate myself to go back to the store came from remembering how the salesjerk refused to take no for an answer, and tried to push that goddamned pamphlet down my throat. After I make the return, I say to the dude now working the register, "So, this will just turn back up on my debit card?"
He says yeah, it will. But probably not for a few days since, he says, the debit refunds are "a little slow." Funny-- when I paid for the damn pants they pulled that money out of my account on the spot.
A week or so later, I went to my favorite thrift store, Top Drawer, and got not one but two excellent skirts for about $5 total. Please remind me, the next time I want some clothes, not to go to REI when a local thrift shop that supports a good cause will do.