At L.L. Bean, the products are guaranteed to last — and so is the retailer’s return policy.
The brand famous for its iconic winter boots has maintained a 100-percent customer satisfaction guaranteed mandate since it was founded in 1912 by Leon Leonwood Bean.
The manufacturer’s commitment to its generous lifetime return policy was highlighted Saturday on the podcast public radio program “This American Life.”
Undaunted by abusive returns, the retailer accepts personal reasons such as death, divorce and weight loss as valid to return items, in addition to normal — or excessive — wear and tear.
Satisfaction is determined by the customer, but that might not be a bad thing for retailers.
“This 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, tells Footwear News. “But certainly more generous policies do lead people to be less selective in their original decisions.”
Speaking to the program, a customer recalled returning boots that he received in 1992 for a full refund after they “gave out” 15 years later, and another customer at the Freeport, Maine, flagship received a full refund after citing concerns that the threading had worn out on his shirts after more than 40 years of use.
Printed on every receipt, L.L. Bean’s return policy reads: “Our products are guaranteed to give 100% satisfaction in every way. Return anything purchased from us at any time if it proves otherwise. We do not want you to have anything from L.L. Bean that is not completely satisfactory.”
Not much has changed after 104 years for the company, but some measures in the policy are a sign of the times.
To circumvent resellers, the brand has reached out to thrift stores to mark an “x” on its labels. Additionally, some L.L. Bean stores require proof of identification on some returns, and the company now gives out store credit instead of cash.
Other retailers have changed with the times, too.
In 2011, L.L. Bean competitor REI dropped its lifetime guarantee after determining that too many customer returns were not acting within the spirit of the policy, the brand’s senior vice president Tim Spangler previously told NPR.
Brady, who studies organizational culture, added that most consumers aren’t out to game the system.
“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,” Brady added.