It doesn’t matter whether you’re walking into an REI retail store, visiting REI.com, or opening up an REI mobile app—the REI experience is about a lot more than just buying an awesome backpack or ski parka. No matter how you interact with the company, its core purpose shines through: going the extra mile to help its members and customers not just buy great outdoor gear, but to live and enjoy an active outdoor lifestyle, with helpful advice, empowering classes, and inspiring adventure trips.
Passionate devotion to that approach has helped REI become the nation’s largest consumer cooperative, attracting 16 million members and notching double-digit growth for the past two years—even in an increasingly challenging retail environment. But what does it take to create a digital customer experience that delivers on REI’s core ethos?
Seeing beyond e-commerce: Toward a broader digital vision
According to REI CIO Julie Averill, there are many ways that technology can help people get outdoors. “It can help them find great gear, help them have a great experience in our stores. It can help them find a great trail, help them get access to expertise, and it can help them find community.”
While e-commerce remains central, REI’s wider approach takes many forms, including a series of activity-focused community apps, including the Mountain Project and the Hiking Project, which let people share information about things like “Is this climbing route open? Where is it safe? Where is it not safe? How scenic is it?” REI’s IT team helps make sure that those apps are visible and usable, on brand, and consistent.
Similar efforts have included a National Parks app and the widely covered #OptOutside initiative—when REI decided to close its stores on Black Friday to encourage people to head for a trail instead of a store. To support #OptOutside, the company built an online activity finder designed to help people find the right outdoor activities for them. Averill believes #OptOutside has been a catalyst for hundreds of thousands of people to get outside in ways they otherwise wouldn’t have, and sparked a dialogue about the value of an adventurous, outdoor life.
Improving digital customer experience with New Relic
But creating a broad, multi-channel experience is only one part of the job. REI also needs to make sure all its apps and websites deliver on the promise of a great digital customer experience by being consistently fast, available, and easy to use.
So over the past two years, REI has moved aggressively to build a more automated shop for its more than 350-person IT team, shifting to a series of distributed microservices, building a common open source platform, and moving to a DevOps structure designed to avoid silos that could slow communication and stifle innovation. And to make sure it was seeing the desired results, REI implemented multiple components of the New Relic platform—including New Relic APM, New Relic Browser, New Relic Mobile, and New Relic Insights.
“New Relic has been a key technology through this evolution,” explains Todd Wilson, REI’s director of platform engineering. And it’s making a difference: REI is seeing up to 20% performance improvements on its websites and mobile apps, plus a 50% reduction in production incidents.
As part of the company’s DevOps push, the IT team follows a continuous deployment model, pushing code multiple times throughout the day. That requires visibility into what’s going on in production so that when a developer deploys a change, they can quickly see any changes to business metrics, performance, error accounts, and so on.