L.L. Bean Ditches 106-Year-Old Unlimited Return Policy

Since L.L. Bean was founded by Leon Leonwood Bean in 1912, shoppers have taken advantage of the outdoor specialty brand’s famous 100 percent customer satisfaction guarantee.

But as the old adage goes: All good things must come to an end.

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.

“Increasingly, a small but growing number of customers has been interpreting our guarantee well beyond its original intent. Some view it as a lifetime product replacement program, expecting refunds for heavily worn products used over many years. Others seek refunds for products that have been purchased through third parties, such as at yard sales,” executive chairman Shawn O. Gorman wrote. “Based on these experiences, we have updated our policy.”

L.L. Bean had previously allowed customers to exchange any item for a replacement if it failed to live up to expectations — no questions asked, regardless of the product’s age. The company, which began reviewing its policy last year, has now updated its site to read: “If you are not 100 percent satisfied with one of our products, you may return it within one year of purchase for a refund. After one year, we will consider any items for return that are defective due to materials or craftsmanship.”

It will also no longer accept products that have endured circumstances including misuse or pet damage, excessive wear and tear, loss or damage due to natural disasters as well as “habitual abuse of the company’s return policy.”

Spokesperson Carolyn Beem told the AP that the company has lost $250 million on returned items classified as “destroy quality,” which end up in the landfill, while first-quality products find their way back to store shelves and “seconds” are rerouted to outlets or donated to charity.

Liberal return policies — some of which accept even death, divorce and weight loss as among the valid reasons to return items — might sound risky, but some retailers have found such policies to be rewarding by encouraging shoppers to buy more as well as fostering long-term bonds.

“[Liberal return policies] can lead to shoppers’ taking more risks on purchases, and therefore buying more in a store visit than they might otherwise,” Loretta Brady, Ph.D., professor of psychology and co-director of the Media Engagement and Developmental Impact Lab at Saint Anselm College in New Hampshire, previously told FN. “In general, most people will adhere to the choices they make unless they feel there is a real quality issue with a product or some reason to feel the value did not hold up over time.”

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