Read all the replies in this thread, and I'm still not getting it, REI especially.
I've NEVER seen REI as a major player in ski gear. I've never purchased ski gear from them as I've never found an advantageous price. Prior to this thread, I've never heard anybody decide to shop at REI for ski gear for the ability to return it. For ski boots, I won't shop at a shop that will not stand behind their fit and agree to tweak it until it is right or give me a different set of boots if the fit can't be dialed in, which is most shops above the Sports Authority level.
REI is not dominating the market in ski or even outdoor gear to the extent of say, Wal-Mart- they are just one of many, many major players. For this argument to have any validity, I would need to see them as the largest ski retailer out there, and I am pretty sure they aren't. Am I wrong? At least in Colorado, they are the store you go to, look at their smaller selection of ski gear vs. what Colorado Ski & Golf, Mountain Sports Outlet, Christy Sports, and many of the larger independent shops have, and then leave to go buy stuff somewhere else at a better price. They are certainly not running away with the market here.
From a health of the local retailer perspective, I'm more concerned with online discount sites, but not because of a liberal return policy. I'm concerned that people will spend 2 hours in a boot shop finding the perfect boot, leave, and order the boot online to save $50.
With regards to online shoppers using the liberal return policy as a demo plan or replacement plan, doesn't BC.com make people pay return shipping? The pain of boxing something like skis up and paying to ship it back is a significant deterrent to somebody casually abusing return policies like these.
I don't know, I just can't buy into the whole argument that return policies are A) created with the specific intent of grinding smaller players out of business B) A significant factor in determining where a buyer chooses to shop that can trump price by more than a very marginal amount (say $20 on a $300 item) or C) Allowing the big mean retailer offering the policies a major competitive advantage that is allowing them to corner the market.