LL Bean Dropping Its Unlimited Returns Policy

By Associated Press

FREEPORT, Maine — L.L. Bean’s generous return policy is going to be a little less forgiving: The company, which has touted its 100 percent satisfaction guarantee for more than a century, is imposing a one-year limit on most returns to reduce growing abuse and fraud.

The outdoor specialty retailer said returns of items that have been destroyed or rendered useless, including some purchased at thrift stores or retrieved from trash bins, have doubled in the past five years, surpassing the annual revenue from the company’s famous boot.

“The numbers are staggering,” CEO Steve Smith told The Associated Press. “It’s not sustainable from a business perspective. It’s not reasonable. And it’s not fair to our customers.”

L.L. Bean announced Friday that it will now accept returns for any reason only for one year with proof of purchase. It will continue to replace products for manufacturing defects beyond that.

The company is also imposing a $50 minimum for free shipping as part of a belt-tightening that includes a workforce reduction through early retirement incentives and changes in workers’ pension plans.

In this March 17, 2017 file photo, a early version of the Maine Hunting Shoe is displayed at the L.L. Bean flagship store in Freeport, Maine.  (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty, File)

The Freeport-based company joins a list of other retailers that have been tightened return policies. Outdoors retailer REI, which was once jokingly dubbed Rental Equipment Inc. and Return Everything Inc. because its unlimited returns policy, imposed a one-year restriction five years ago. Other retailers have been narrowing the window for returns or imposing new conditions.

L.L. Bean’s announcement in a memo to employees and in a letter to customers represents a seismic policy shift for a 106-year-old company that used its satisfaction guarantee as a way to differentiate itself from competitors.

Leon Leonwood Bean, the company’s founder, is credited with launching the policy when 90 of his first 100 hunting shoes were returned. He earned goodwill by returning customers’ money, and he came back with a better boot. Thus the satisfaction guarantee was born.

But the merchant never intended for his satisfaction guarantee to become a lifetime replacement policy, company executives said. Abuse of the generous return policy with no time limit has accelerated thanks to people sharing their return stories on social media, they said.

In this Friday, Feb. 2, 2018, photo a worker marks boots that were returned to the LL Bean retail store in Freeport, Maine. L.L. Bean’s generous return policy is going to be a little less forgiving: The company, which has touted its 100 percent satisfaction guarantee for more than a century, is imposing a one-year limit on most returns to reduce growing abuse and fraud. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

 

The family-owned company is prepared for a backlash, but the changes honor the spirit of the founder’s original guarantee, said Shawn Gorman, L.L.’s great-grandson and the company’s chairman. Internal surveys indicate 85 percent of customers are OK with the new return policy, he said.

“There is no one in this family who would’ve allowed this to happen if they thought that L.L. would be upset with us, like, if he would be rolling over in his grave,” Gorman said.

Over the past five years, the company has lost $250 million on returned items that are classified by the company as “destroy quality,” said L.L. Bean spokeswoman Carolyn Beem.

 

 
 
 

First Lady Visits Children’s Shelter on Texas Border

First Lady Visits Children’s Shelter on Texas Border
WASHINGTON—First Lady Melania Trump took a surprise trip to visit children’s shelters on the border in Texas on ...
READ MORE >
 

FBI Official Who Vowed to ‘Stop’ Trump Loses Security Clearance

FBI Official Who Vowed to ‘Stop’ Trump Loses Security Clearance
FBI official Peter Strzok has lost his security clearance, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said on Thursday. Strzok is ...
READ MORE >
 

Supreme Court Ruling Boosts Presidential Control Over Key Federal Jobs

Supreme Court Ruling Boosts Presidential Control Over Key Federal Jobs
WASHINGTON—The U.S. Supreme Court gave presidents more control over key jobs in federal agencies on June 21, ruling ...
READ MORE >
 

Trump Admin Announces Plan to Merge Labor and Education Departments

Trump Admin Announces Plan to Merge Labor and Education Departments
The White House announced a plan on June 21 to merge the Education and Labor departments to form a ...
READ MORE >