REI announced an expansion of its gear rental program Monday, allowing customers to rent snowshoes in 70 stores this season, according to a company press release, with plans to expand products and locations through 2019.
The outdoors retailer called the announcement the beginning of a "significant expansion" of its rental program, noting plans for a wider breadth of gear and quality going forward for customers interested in renting.
In addition to renting gear for the season, the retailer will sell some of the gently used equipment through its used gear program at the end of every season, per the press release, furthering its re-commerce efforts.
The outdoor retail space has been at the forefront of the re-commerce movement, and REI has made several moves this year to reassert its interest in product sustainability and environmental practices.
In April, the outdoors retailer released a series of sustainability standards it planned to enforce on vendors, and in the summer upgraded its used gear website, adding more product categories and a wider array of brands. The retailer also invested in rewilding efforts in June and dedicated $1 million to research this Black Friday to study the link between human health and time spent outdoors.
"At REI we believe in the transformative power of spending time outdoors," Peter Whitcomb, director of new business development and head of REI's rental program, said in a statement about the expansion of its rental program. "Factors such as price and storage space can be barriers to getting outdoors. Offering rental gear makes it that much easier for people to learn a new hobby, check out new gear, connect with friends, and get outside."
The often high costs of outdoor gear, apparel and outerwear have led many other retailers in the space to take similar actions. The North Face, for example, introduced a pilot program in June that allows customers to buy refurbished North Face gear at a lower price point than the offerings in stores, thereby making outdoor products more accessible to a wider group of shoppers and also ensuring that damaged or otherwise defective pieces are not thrown away if they have a chance for second life.
In many ways, outdoor retailers have been leading the charge in the re-commerce space, partially because of company values and partially because of the values of their often environmentally minded customers. For REI, the move also adds to its model of offering not only high quality gear and apparel, but also experiences and services in the outdoors, including lessons and camping trips led by staff. A robust rental program could allow REI to play more widely in that space, as it establishes the company as more of a lifestyle brand — a store to buy or rent gear, and also a building that plays host to category experts and travel advisers. In short, everything a customer needs to take advantage of the outdoors, no matter their experience level.