pulling hair out

This is the story of my recent frustrating customer service experience with a San Francisco based outdoor company. I decided to write about this not to name and shame the company, but to highlight the importance of customer service for the outdoor industry. In a time where we are trying to get more people outdoors, you can spend all the money and focus on getting a consumer to buy your product, but if you drop the ball on the back end, that customer is most likely not coming back and if a newcomer, may taint their initial overall outdoor experience.  

Let me start by saying I love this company, from the people that work there to the company's involvement in the local San Francisco community. I already own 4 of their bags that I use on a regular basis, so it pains me to see them drop the ball so badly on the customer service side.

For my husband's birthday last March, I ordered a carry-on roller bag (at full price) from the company. The bag arrived within a few days and the husband was happy with his gift. Unfortunately, after only one trip with the bag, the top handle panel completely ripped open.

April 14th

As the company prides itself on the durable quality of their bags, I decided to send an email to their customer service department (the only way possible to contact customer service) to let them know about the tear. 

The initial response was fairly quick:

"Hi Amy,

Oh no! That's not good at all. Could you possibly send us a photo or two of the damage? We can then best advise what the next steps will be once we see how it looks."

The same day, I sent two photos of the ripped bag in reply to the email. The next time I hear anything would be over 6 weeks later.

June 28

I receive this email:


I was just going through a bunch of emails that were lost in the system and found this, were you able to get this taken care of? I just want to be sure and not just assume. Please let me know."

I respond that no indeed nothing has happened and inquire what I should do next with my ripped bag.  

July 1

I receive a follow up email telling me to go to the company website and open a warranty claim.

"When you're done reading this, head to our website and fill out the warranty information, then send your bag to us."

July 2

I head to the warranty services website and open a ticket. The response is an automated email that gives me an RMA number and tells me where to mail back the bag. The email finishes with:

"Once we receive your product, we will notify you via email. Warranties are processed within 7-10 business days upon receipt into our warehouse."

July 6

I had the bag personally delivered to the warehouse as I wanted to make sure that the bag arrived and I also did not want to pay a ton of money to ship a bulky package to a place less than 10 miles from my house.

August 14

Yet another six weeks go by and I have not heard anything since the bag was delivered to the warehouse. I decided once again to send an email to customer service to check on the status of both my bag and the warranty claim.

Response so far: Crickets.

So now the company not only has my money but my bag as well. What am I doing wrong?

This may just be a fluke bad experience from the company but frustrates me when compared to some other outdoor companies I think are particularly good at customer service such as JanSport, REI, and Backcountry.com.

How about you? I would love to hear about your outdoor industry customer service experiences, both good and bad.

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  1. well, to cast the first stone…

    I have been using self-inflating mattresses for the better part of the last 10 years, not only for travelling, but also to sleep on in my home, because experience told me they work best with my back. The company (I will name it “company” from here on out, they are easily identifiable, but I would stay in keeping with your anonymity approach, which is good enough for me, since I don’t want to trash-talk them, I just would like them to get their ducks in a row as far as quality is concerned and to straighten out their customer service) offers a limited life time warranty, to quote, “against defects in material and workmanship”.

    I have been having delaminations with their mattresses every 8-14 months like clockwork, and all of them, save two, in my home, where temperature is on a year-long profile between 17-24 degrees, no direct sunlight, nothing on the ground that would warrant any sort of interruption of the functioning of the mattress, I am even using an inliner which soaks up most of my sweat, and am inflating the mattresses (they don’t self-inflate, ever) so that they are reasonably hard when I come to lie on them but they can still be depressed when I am not, so, pretty much laboratory conditions. I also was so far unable to discover any relation between degree of inflation and frequency of delaminations; I used to inflate the mattresses a lot harder a couple of years back than I do now (simply because my back seems to be oK with a slightly softer mattress), but there is no significant change in frequency; if anything, they delaminate more frequently now.
    A short aside on what is a delamination: it happens when the surface material disconnects from the foam underneath and you get tiny bubbles first on the surface of the mattress, which evolve rapidly into big honking semi-globes of air and render the mattress unusable.

    Since I was using my mattresses every day, over the years I bought a total of three mattresses (and had two or three more that I, for some reasons I don’t remember, discarded without claiming the warranty) since I usually have at least one mattress in warranty claims. Oh, and I am using also their seat cushions (as a head pillow), which delaminate with a slightly lower frequency, but delaminate they do as well.
    WIth the first couple of occurrences I got replacements without problems, but recently (like, the last three years), their distributors and service centers in Spain and Germany, before and after eventually sending the mattresses in, keep insinuating that I am exposing the mattresses to direct sunlight, which heats the mattress and builds up too much pressure inside, and thus am not entitled to receive the warranty treatment due to bad treatment on my part.
    First of all, this claim is a complete construction, they have no way of proving it, although I, of course, have no way of disproving it either, just my description as given before. The warranty treatment, until return of a refurbished mattress, takes on average 4-6 months. For my latest claim, that I brought in last December, the distributor simply gave me a new mattress out of his stock 2 weeks ago, since he had not received an answer of the distribution center in Spain, as far as he told me.
    It also seems that there are quality differences between their mattresses produced in the US and in Ireland. Mine are exclusively those from Ireland, so I was unable to verify that, but at least it seems to be a known problem. My knowledge is second-hand from outdoor suppliers in the US and New Zealand.
    With the recent tendency in response to my warranty claims I can simply see the approach of the day where they will make an inane counter-claim to my claim, and thus effectively try to declare their own warranty null and void. Which does wonders to improve my confidence and satisfaction as a customer, of course. I am already pissed off enough by the smug declarations of their cs-centers that I am the one to blame. So, you be the judge: bad customer experience?
    Unfortunately, the alternatives in the market that I have tested so far, are even worse (quality-wise), so I can’t judge with my money. But 200 days of average usage for an €120-piece of equipment, under the most benign conditions imaginable, is hardly a vote of confidence in my book, and that doesn’t include the recent slump in customer service.

    I would just imagine that their lifetime warranty is not claimed by most (and thus it doesn’t do too much financial damage to them to keep it up), since they maybe use their mattresses 10 days a year, and when they give out after 100 uses (to make up for the difference in home and outdoor use between my setup and the usual one), they are already 10 years old and no-one remembers the quite substantial investment they had to make in the first place and thus just shrug it off. I mean, I can get entire (good) tents, which are much more complex and much more reliable for about double the amount of money, so I should expect impeccable quality and service for what is essentially a piece of foam enclosed in plastic.

  2. Hey, I know you guys don’t want to upset anybody but if you don’t name the company, how on earth are they going to know they need to fix something?

  3. right. I didn’t want to be the first whistleblower and just followed the example. I wouldn’t mind naming them (already did so on Gizmodo and caught some flak for it). Just thought I’d be ‘nice’.

  4. How about a like to the Gizmodo story? It would be nice if someone would just say who it is so I don’t accidentally order anything from them. You can say the business name with out trashing them. As the story goes they are trashing themselves with their poor customer service.

  5. well, so, if yo wanted the money back, I guess you should be (sort of) satisfied. If you wanted a functioning product, maybe not so much.

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