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Why It's Time to Rethink How Product Warranty Works

By Katherine Donnelly on

Welcome to the world of warranties. My name is Katherine, and I have been managing TREW's operations - including warranties and repairs - for just over a year now. In that time, I have seen a LOT of things come through our (virtual and physical) doors.

I am here now to talk a bit about my experience since starting with TREW, specifically around the topic of product warranties and how we are making some big changes heading into the 2020/21 Winter season in order to improve both our internal operations and our repair and replacement coverage for the TREW community. 

As this article's title suggests, myself and my team here at TREW believe that it's high time for many folks (ourselves included) to begin rethinking how warranties work - and in turn, what a warranty should and should not cover, and for how long. Beware: this is a long, in-depth read. But without further ado, let's jump in...

Warranties 101

Before I get ahead of myself, let's cover some basics around what a warranty policy is. 

In the case of TREW Gear, we are talking about a product warranty. Essentially, our warranty program acts as a protection or insurance plan for the customer, stipulating company coverage against defective items. Another way to look at it would be that a product warranty lays out an agreement between the seller (TREW) and the customer (you!) with specific terms and situations in which repairs or exchanges will be made, in the event that the product does not function as originally described or intended.

Warranties within the outdoor industry

Companies are not required by law in most cases to provide any warranty coverage, but it is a standard practice for businesses to stand behind the durability and quality of their products - and in the case of the outdoor industry, nearly every outdoor brand has its own version of a warranty backing behind their gear. If you begin to dig deeper within the industry, you will begin to see some common trends...

1. Manufacturing defects are covered, wear & tear is not. This is a common practice, not just within the outdoor industry - but because outdoor enthusiasts are likely putting their item(s) through more use and abuse than say a product aimed at city living or couch lounging, it is even more likely that your favorite outdoor brand will not cover against wear & tear. *What's the difference between wear & tear and manufacturing defects? Read this.

2. Some brands offer specific timeframes on their warranties. Whether it be one year, two years, or maybe even three - many companies have chosen to honor certain repairs and replacements for a set amount of years time after the purchase date.

3. Some brands offer Practical/Limited Lifetime Warranties. These are warranty policies that claim to cover certain defects and product issues for the practical or limited lifetime of the product. This is what TREW was perviously offering, keep reading for more information on what this means.

4. Bigger brands have more flexibility in what they cover. I do want to note that despite what some Warranty policies claim, many of the larger brands within the outdoor industry - think The North Face, Arc'teryx, Patagonia, etc. - will oftentimes repair or replace an item for customers even when that item isn't covered under warranty. You may have already experienced this or merely heard about it happening to a friend, and while we are very excited that you were able to get a new jacket from a big brand after 7 years of abuse - I myself have even been sent a brand new pair of bibs from one of these brands when a zipper failed, even though they were no longer covered - the reality is that a lot of companies do not and cannot do this. Not for a lack of wanting to, but typically because of a lack of resources. I will discuss this a bit more in the sections below, but for now remember that this is a common trend when it comes to handling warranties.

Out with the old: The Practical Lifetime Warranty

Up until this year, TREW has offered a Practical Lifetime Warranty on our products. What exactly did this mean? Allow me to copy and paste directly from the Practical Lifetime Warranty policy: 

"To keep you and your TREW products happy for those righteous powder days to come, we offer our customers the TREW Practical Lifetime Warranty...any gear with manufacturing defects in materials or construction will be replaced or repaired at no cost to you for the practical lifetime of the garment. Plain and simple."

Which then brings up the question: what does 'for the practical lifetime of the garment' mean exactly?

"Unfortunately, no gear will last indefinitely. Materials will breakdown and fade over time and we will cover your gear under our warranty until such a time that the gear has been worn out beyond reasonable repair. If the product shows signs of age such as the material has become thin or frayed, then we will take that into consideration when assessing your product for a warranty request. All our gear ages differently depending on the user. Bibs worn 150 days a year will age quicker than bibs that are worn by the weekend warrior."

While there is nothing inherently wrong with this warranty policy, or any other warranty program that follows a similar concept, we here at TREW have begun to rethink how we approach warranties - and we strongly believe that our warranty program can be greatly improved. As we began to rework our warranty, the following goals were prioritized:

1. Build more transparency, less confusion. 

The ambiguity around a Practical Lifetime Warranty creates a lot of unintentional confusion for our customers. As a core member of TREW's customer service and warranty program, I can't tell you how many times we have customers coming to us claiming that their gear was covered by a 'lifetime warranty' when they purchased it. Many customers read the policy and have interpreted the policy as covering for their personal lifetime, only to learn later on that our products are covered for the practical lifetime of the garment itself.

It's hard to tell a customer that they were wrong, that they read something incorrectly, and that we will not be able to cover the cost or repair or replacement for them. It's actually more than just hard, it's downright shitty - and honestly one of the worst aspects of my job. And so this is the #1 reason why we are revamping our warranty program, and we have high hopes that our new policy launching soon will be much less ambiguous for everyone involved. 

^ Forget the confusing text. Let's make our warranty policy easier to follow so you can spend more time outside chasing moments like by Zoya Lynch

2. Create a more streamlined and structured approach to warranties...

We spend a lot of time working with customers on warranty solutions. I don't foresee that ever changing, but with the Practical Lifetime Warranty in effect a lot of that time is spent clarifying customer interpretations due to the confusing, vague stipulations.

The new TREW Warranty will be much more clear in its language, and will create much less confusion around what's covered (and not covered) and for how long. By updating our policy to something more structured, we hope to streamline the warranty process for both the TREW team and for you. Because less time spent on this means that we can spend more time on creating solutions, and eventually maybe even provide more coverage for customers when these valuable resources are freed up.

...while still maintaining a personal touch on customer warranty cases.

Don't worry. Just because the new warranty policy will be more 'cut and dry' so to say, we still hold our customers in the highest regards and plan to still work with you and your warranty issues on a case-by-case basis. 

As a practice, the TREW team does everything in our power to help out our customers when they run into product issues or defects. After all, we all love spending time on snow and out in nature, and everyone who works at TREW knows that sometimes shit happens when you're playing in the mountains. If you have ever worked with myself or Jordan on a warranty claim, then you know what to expect.

^ TREW CEO Chris rocking a thumbs up on a product testing trip to Mt. Hood. If you time your warranty right, you might even get to work with him!

3. Maintain sustainable business practices.

 We don't like saying no, and if we had our way we would cover the cost of every repair to keep both you and your TREW gear happy forever. But unfortunately, running a sustainable small business requires us to draw some lines in the sand on what we can and cannot cover, and for how long.

While a larger brand might be able to make exceptions long after coverage has expired, we are unable to fix and replace every product that comes back to us; again, not because we don't want to but because we just can't afford to. 

4. Manage product expectations

A big part of creating a better warranty policy stems from managing product expectations. In doing so, we must consider the product in question - more specifically, the role of that product in a customer's life and the expectations associated with the purchase. 

It should come as no surprise that TREW is extremely passionate about providing durable, quality products to our customers. But even the best outerwear is not meant to last forever.

With proper care, regular washing, and little to no accidental damage, we've seen our bibs and jackets last for a very long time. But if you wear your gear hard and pay little attention to maintaining it, then you will likely begin to see expedited wearing and residual damage. Add to that the possibility of tree branches, ski and board edges, crashes, or just plain old bad luck causing additional harm to you product and you start to see the many elements working against the longevity of a garment. TREW is here to help you out when these things happen to the best of our ability, but that does not mean that we will cover the cost of everything that could go wrong.

Think about it similarly to a car purchase. You buy a new vehicle at the dealership, and it comes with some sort of warranty. You can pay more for more coverage, less for less coverage. But with that warranty comes conditions on what will be covered, for how long, and possibly even stipulations about the maintenance on that vehicle to be covered at the owners expense (ex. regular oil changes required; 10,000, 20,000, 50,000 mile check-ups; etc.). To get additional protection in case of accidents or damage on your vehicle, you pay even more in car insurance and extended warranties. But after all that money spent, a vehicle (while one of the larger purchases a person can make) is not meant to last forever without maintenance! The scope may be quite different between a new car purchase and a TREW Gear purchase, but the conceptual parallels between the two should be easy enough to visualize. 

5. Manage company expectations

Just as we care about the quality of our products, we also take customer service, satisfaction, and product warranties very seriously. We want to be open, honest, and transparent about who we are, what we do, and how we do it. If anything, the myriad of support resources that we have worked hard to provide to our community online - this article included - should be a testament to our dedication to you, the customer. 

We are a small, tight-knit group of incredibly passionate skiers and riders who love providing our gear to fellow outdoor enthusiasts. We are incredibly honored that so many of you fine folks have shopped TREW and supported us over the years, but to expect a small company to be able to go toe-to-toe with household names and larger corporations is just unrealistic. What you can expect from us is a personalized customer experience with one of our friendly faces, where we will work hard to get you what you want and provide custom solutions to any situation that may arise.

Who knows what the future may bring, but at this time we are still a small business just working to make it through the ups and downs that come our way - all the while keeping our thumbs up and the positivity flowing :)

^ Hey it's me, Katherine. Working hard to keep you happy from the TREW HQ! Yes, I sometimes wear my full kit while doing so...

And in with the new: The TREW Warranty 

This long-winded and hopefully slightly enlightening read is meant to give you an insiders look at our warranty mindsets, and to preface our new and improved TREW Warranty Policy. Not have we taken the misleading language out and made the terms and conditions crystal clear for everyone, we've amped up our warranty coverage to the next level. 

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