In the past, I have frequently purchased my outdoor gear from Backcountry.com. Although they would likely not be classified as a startup in today’s e-commerce environment, initially, they were an e-commerce startup that offered an alternative to REI and directly competed for REI’s business with a guaranteed return policy. I first heard about Backcountry.com through retargeting – I would go to REI.com or another outdoor apparel retailer (Patagonia, Arc’teryx, etc.) and then items I viewed would show up as an advertisement for Backcountry.com as I navigated to different websites. Backcountry.com’s retargeting strategy certainly increased my awareness of the company and their PR and community management activities are primarily geared towards people at the top of the funnel. Backcountry.com wants to drive awareness and interest through retargeting and direct mail (email) to increase the likelihood that they obtain repeat purchases from customers. I frequently have emails from Backcountry.com letting me know about an upcoming sale or the release of new items.
Backcountry.com does an excellent job of designing marketing campaigns that communicate directly with their target audience. However, they do a very poor job of communicating changes to their business model to their customers. For example, Backcountry.com recently changed their return policy because customers were using their liberal return policy as a long-term gear rental. This is not a sustainable business model and REI and other outdoor retailers have recently experienced similar changes. The difference is that REI was very explicit and transparent about communicating the reasons for the change and utilized mainstream media channels to increase customer awareness. Conversely, I never received any information from Backcountry.com about this change to their policy and the only way I found out was when a piece of gear I recently purchased failed. To make things more confusing, their website still displays a “100% Guaranteed Returns” statement in a very prominent position at the top of their landing page. They still have 100% guaranteed returns, but only within a 90-day window and customers have to search for the fine print. REI still advocates for their return policy as well, but it is not nearly as prominent. This lack of transparency by Backcountry.com with respect to their PR and community management policies has negatively impacted my purchasing habits.