Did you get honest advice or did you get sold?
This should be the first question you ask yourself when going to a retailer, and in particular after leaving! I get it, as a retailer, we need to sell stuff in order to stay in business. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that every retailer carries what best suits your needs. Further, just because they seem to carry everything, doesn’t mean they are there to help or know what you need.
How much research did you do before going shopping for your next widget? How did you do your research?
YouTube can be a great information resource but it can also be a bottomless rabbit hole. Popular magazines (Backpacker, Outside, Etc.) can also be great resources but you need to understand the inherent biases. The magazine is generally going to weight reviews more favorably to those companies that also advertise with them. The same goes with the people doing the review. On top of that, how similar/different are you from the person writing the review? For example: I’m a 6’ 3” dude in my early 40’s. I probably have a radically different take on a product than my store manager. At 5’ 2” she’s much smaller in stature than I am. She’s also a little older. But she hikes way farther and faster than I do! She carries a lighter pack than me, but our packs are actually the same size. Sorry guys… neither your height nor your ego should play a factor in your pack size. Ego may affect pack volume but pack size (torso length) has next to nothing to do with how tall you are.
Did the sales associate ask you any questions?
Again, let’s look at the differences between my store manager and me. My idea of fun is a weekend backpacking trip to an alpine lake, a multi-day river trip, or a backcountry ski excursion. Her idea of fun is hiking 30 miles a day on a mission from Mexico to Canada! We use some of the same products, some similar products, and some completely different products. Each have their merits, their strengths, and their weaknesses. That’s where the knowledgeable sales associate plays an important role… to help you decide which product is right for you!
What’s your idea of fun?
If the sales associate didn’t at a bare minimum ask you this question, how are they going to help get you the right piece of gear to fulfill your needs? They don’t know how you are going to be using the piece of gear. They don’t know what kinds of weather conditions you’re going to be using the gear in. Performance varies widely between sea-level and at elevation! Performance also varies widely on the spectrum between 0 degrees and 100 degrees.
Are they just trying to sell you stuff?
My experience has been that the larger the retailer, the less each staff member knows. The smaller the retailer, the better educated and knowledgeable each individual staff member is. Yes, they are a co-op, but REI is still a “big box store”. My experience is also that smaller retailers are more willing to do research with you, provide advice, help repair a product, and get you into the right equipment. The larger retailers tend to just sell you what you asked for, no questions asked. Maybe your piece of gear could have been repaired. Selling you a new one is the lazy way out. Showing you how to repair it may take a little more time but it saves you money. The retailer may not make any money this time but they are building a relationship with you. It isn’t about the immediate sale. It’s about the long term!