L.L.Bean is officially bringing its well-known lifetime return Policy to an end. The reason, according to the venerable American purveyor of outdoor gear: too many fraudulent returns.
In a letter sent to customers and posted to the brand’s Facebook page, L.L.Bean explained that people were abusing its famously generous policy. “Increasingly, a small, but growing number of customers has been interpreting our guarantee well beyond its original intent,” the letter states. “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.” We have reached out to L.L.Bean directly for comment and will update this story with any reply.
It’s a momentous change considering that the policy had persisted for more than a century and was an integral part of the L.L.Bean brand. It let generations of customers know that if they became unsatisfied with a purchase for any reason, at any point, L.L.Bean was willing to accept the item back. News of the new approach caused some dismay among its customers on social media:
Others were supportive of the change:
Now, customers who wish to return an item for a refund have one year to do so, according to L.L.Bean’s updated policy. After a year, L.L.Bean will still take returns for items that are defective because of the materials or craftsmanship. But any refund or exchange also now requires a proof of purchase. L.L.Bean should have information on file for customers who bought from it directly and provided their information at the time. For those who bought from other retailers, L.L.Bean requires a physical receipt.
For at least a year, the Maine-based brand has been mulling the measure as a way to cut costs. Like other American retailers, it has struggled with years of slow or nonexistent sales growth. In February of 2017, it started freezing worker pensions and offering incentives for workers to take early retirement, which it expected to slim its workforce by about 500 people. It also warned at the time that it might have to rethink its return policy.
Though L.L.Bean says the number of people who abuse the policy is small overall, it claims the abuses have a big effect on the company’s finances. It told the AP that returns of destroyed and completely worn-out items, including items bought secondhand at thrift stores or even recovered from trash bins, have doubled in the last five years. These returns, it says, have overtaken the revenue it makes from sales of its perennially in-demand duck boots.
“The numbers are staggering,” L.L.Bean CEO Steve Smith told the AP. “It’s not sustainable from a business perspective.”
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