Why LL Bean’s New Return Policy Continues to Be Upheld in Court

After L.L.Bean announced last year that it was revoking its generous lifetime return policy, disgruntled shoppers expressed their disappointment in the change of the retailer’s 106-year-old guarantee.

Berkeley, Calif.-based resident William Shirley was among the customers to file suit against the Maine-based company —seeking class action status — alleging that he “paid more for L.L.Bean’s products than he otherwise would have because of its 100 percent satisfaction guarantee and has used the guarantee at times when items he purchased were unsatisfactory.”

In the complaint, which was submitted last May, Shirley said he had been a customer of the retailer since he was 6 years old and seen many advertisements in stores and through catalogs touting the liberal return policy. (He added that he had most recently bought an L.L.Bean product in November 2017.)

He further claimed that the retailer’s February 2018 announcement that it was nixing the lifetime policy “constitutes a violation of the law and a breach of warranty” and demanded that the L.L.Bean “continue to honor the warranty with no end date and no questions asked as to goods purchased prior to February 9, 2018.”

Meanwhile, a company spokesperson said last year that lawsuits — such as Shirley’s — misrepresented the amended return policy, which states that purchases made before Feb. 9, 2018, when the change was announced, are still covered under the original lifetime policy, so long as customers can provide proof of purchase.

And last week, courts seemed to side with the retailer: the United States District Court for the Northern District of California threw out Shirley’s case, claiming that the plaintiff “alleges no current, concrete injury.”

In the decision, Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers wrote, “Implicit in [L.L.Bean’s] satisfaction guarantee — a promise to refund customers who are not satisfied with their products — is a reciprocal requirement that customers seek refunds under the guarantee in good faith. By their very terms, misuse, abuse, improper care, negligence and excessive wear and tear all signify that a customer’s return is for reasons other than a good faith lack of satisfaction with the product. Logically then, the addition of these reasons to the return policy did not change the satisfaction guarantee at all, and therefore did not lessen the value of the product [Shirley] purchased.”

Starting in August 2014, L.L.Bean began to make a few revisions to its return policy, including a change in September 2017 that refused the returns of items that were either lost, damaged or sent back “for personal reasons unrelated to product satisfaction.”

Last February, L.L.Bean said that it was ditching the longtime system in favor of a one-year return limit for most purchases with a receipt. It would 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.”

“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 in a letter shared with customers. “Based on these experiences, we have updated our policy.”

Another plaintiff, Victor Bondi, had filed a similar suit against L.L.Bean last year. His, too, was dismissed.

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