LL Bean Bows Out of Lifetime Return Policy

Randall Padilla
February 10, 2018

L.L. Bean has always been known for its promise to replace a defective product over the course of the item's life, but leaders in the company say a select few are taking advantage of that promise. Now, thanks to growing abuse of the program, the bootmaker is drastically cutting back its generous policy.

In a letter to customers this morning, the label announced that it was nixing its generous lifetime return policy in favor of a one-year return limit for most purchases with a receipt.

Now, items will only be covered for one year.

Apparently, though, some folks were taking advantage of the policy, per a statement emailed out to customers on February 9: "Increasingly, a small, but growing number of customers has been interpreting our guarantee well beyond its original intent", it reads. Some people had sought "refunds for heavily worn products used over many years", he added.

Customers who bought products at Goodwill or Salvation Army specifically in order to return them and get better products and gift cards also contributed to the increased losses, L.L. Bean said.

L.L. Bean's new store in Colonie, N.Y. After one year, the company said it will "work with customers to reach a fair solution if the product is defective in any way". Instead, they'll now have a year to bring back an item for return and need to provide proof of purchase. That includes items that were returned after decades of use, damaged beyond fix, or had been re-sold at stores such as Goodwill. Over the last five years, L.L. Bean lost $250 million on returned items that were so low quality, they had to be destroyed rather than donated.

In a letter from Executive Chairman Shawn O. Gorman posted to Facebook, he cited a problem with some customers who have exploited the policy as the reason for the shift in their "100% satisfaction guarantee". My mother-in-law has been wearing the same L.L.Bean watch for at least as long as I've been alive, having sent it in to be replaced a couple of times. The company offered buyouts to nearly 1,000 workers last winter and froze its pension plan. Its famed duck boots sell out each year, with the back-order line stretching through winter despite efforts to increase production capacity at its ME facilities.

On a recent day in the returns department, Dawn Segars recounted the story of a family that cleared out their grandfather's attic and returned a pile of 20- to 30-year-old clothes.

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