Bean Gives Unlimited Return Policy The Boot

I actually had no idea how generous LL Bean has been for the past century with its return, exchange and replacement policy. It took our Millennial Fogey to explain that for a certain kind of consumer, a one-time purchase was a lifetime guarantee of replacements. New England kids would even source old Bean Boots and other items from yard sales and convert them into cash, he said.

New England kids raised by wolves, apparently.

Well today Bean announced that it is giving the boot to its unlimited lifetime return policy, citing abuses that include things like kids cashing in on beat-up goods they found at yard sales. According to a news report:

[CEO Stephen] Smith said the company is specifically cracking down on two forms of product return abuse: returns on older items that are not defective but merely worn down from regular use or totally undamaged (because the customer outgrew the item or wanted an upgrade), and returns on items purchased from a third party such as Goodwill or a yard sale. About 15 percent of recent product returns abused the lenient guarantee policy – double what it was just a few years ago, he said.

Now I don’t mean to get preachy by tacking on feel-good messages to every post from now on, but a friend recently lent me the Depression-era classic “Think And Grow Rich” by Napoleon Hill. Though primarily focused on how to get you to believe that you’re a super-salesman in a down market, there was much fodder I found of use for my own personal development. And after a couple hundred pages of all this rich talk and the importance of changing your attitude, I put the book down with the sudden and most astonishing realization:

I’m rich.

Now obviously not in the heavy wallet sense, and that’s not what Hill means anyway. But “rich” in life in general: I’ve a fine and varied wardrobe, stylish home, great people in my life, the cultural treasures of one of the world’s great cities at my fingertips — stuff like that. I’d never really thought of it like that. I was developing a new sense of gratitude.

We tend to focus on the things we don’t have, rather than what we do. But remember the old quote, “I wept for having no shoes, until I met a man with no feet.”

Read more about Bean here. And whether you find yourself today shod in shoes old or new, make sure they’re beating their way down the right path. —  CC

28 Comments on "Bean Gives Unlimited Return Policy The Boot"

  1. The only surprise is that it took them this long to change. I guess that when LL’s descendants were still running the shop they wanted to keep his policy in place, but once the “yard sale return” scam became well known, it was only a matter of time.

    Still sad, though.

  2. This is a new low for Bean. This policy is one of the things that made them a great company. It’s one of the things that set them apart from all the other retailers. Guaranteeing their products for a lifetime meant that they made quality goods and they cared about making their customer happy. This gives them license to make poor quality goods knowing that the customer can’t return them after a year. How many customers were actually abusing their policy by purchasing their products at tag sales and returning them? I would imagine it must have only been a small handful. That should be the price you pay to keep all your customers happy. I guess I can recycle the huge overstuffed folder containing at least 40 years of receipts I’ve been saving from them in case I ever needed to return anything. This was just one of many recent poor decisions by Bean. They are going down fast.

  3. We knew this was coming for months now. The new CEO is behind this. Of course the whole ‘yard sale scam’ is unacceptable because you’re not a Bean’s customer therefor are not entitled to a refund. However, the company is reknowned for its lienient return policy for actual customers. A lifetime guarantee is a lifetime guarantee, it’s not We The Customers’ fault that most of their products are shoddily made these days. My camp mocs soles barely lasted two years of Fall/Winter wear and they no longer resole them. It’s as though they’re asking me to return them. Wonder what old L.L. would think…

  4. @Christian

    Find a good woman and marry her and become even richer my friend.


  5. Did not LLBean require receipts as part of their return policy?


  6. New CEO comes from WalMart, where quality is just high enough to get out the door and last 1 day longer than any warranty. New CEO wants to go after less waspy, more trend seeking customers. Disposable fashionistas. New CEO wants to expand in China, and all understand that to expand sales in China means expanding manufacturing in China were quality levels are generally the lowest level the customer can be forced to accept. So does this change in LLBean warranty really surprise anyone ?

  7. Except for the first and only pair of L.L. Bean duck boots that I purchased in 1986 and still wear today, and a couple of Shetland wool sweaters that I purchased two years ago, L.L. Bean’s product quality is in the toilet. A CEO whose background includes time working for WalMart does not inspire confidence that L.L. Bean will return to its roots of manufacturing (or at least importing) quality clothing and selling it at a reasonable price.

  8. I think it’s great, makes me feel less like a holy fool for buying new boots instead of sending them in

  9. I still wear the 18″-ers I bought in 1998 into the deer woods in the Fall, and the turkey woods in the Spring. I almost burned a hole in the rubber this year, though, taking them out of the oven to apply wax to the heated leather uppers. If that leads to a leak, it’s my own damned fault and I’ll gladly pay for a new pair: 20 yrs is fair enough to ask from pretty much any product. I’d feel like a real jerk asking the company to replace them.

  10. Will, no which is how people who didn’t actually purchase items from Bean’s were able make returns. The item that carries their label is (now, was) a proof of purchase.

  11. No honor system can survive contact with the internet.

  12. Allow yourself to say bye, bye to “unconditional” returns as a company; ergo, allow yourself to source and sell more junk you’ll never have to stand behind.

  13. When it comes to the function of L.L. Bean’s famous guarantee over the last decade or so, Tommy Boy put it best:

    Tommy: Let’s think about this for a sec, Ted. Why would somebody put a guarantee on a box? Hmmm, very interesting.

    Ted Nelson, Customer: Go on, I’m listening.

    Tommy: Here’s the way I see it, Ted. Guy puts a fancy guarantee on a box ’cause he wants you to feel all warm and toasty inside.

    Ted Nelson, Customer: Yeah, makes a man feel good.

    Tommy: ‘Course it does. Why shouldn’t it? Ya figure you put that little box under your pillow at night, the Guarantee Fairy might come by and leave a quarter, am I right, Ted?

    [chuckles until he sees that Ted is not laughing]

    Ted Nelson, Customer: [impatiently] What’s your point?

    Tommy: The point is, how do you know the fairy isn’t a crazy glue sniffer? “Building model airplanes” says the little fairy; well, we’re not buying it. He sneaks into your house once, that’s all it takes. The next thing you know, there’s money missing off the dresser, and your daughter’s knocked up. I seen it a hundred times.

    Ted Nelson, Customer: But why do they put a guarantee on the box?

    Tommy: Because they know all they sold ya was a guaranteed piece of shit. That’s all it is, isn’t it? Hey, if you want me to take a dump in a box and mark it guaranteed, I will. I got spare time. But for now, for your customer’s sake, for your daughter’s sake, ya might wanna think about buying a quality product from me.

  14. I’m somewhat surprised by the negative comments regarding Bean. To me the culprit is the individual who takes advantage of Bean’s policy, a policy which of course requires an honest customer. The culprit and the true offensive party is the dishonest person who destroys Bean’s ability to continue its return policy. Where is the opprobrium directed at this dishonesty? Its a sad day when we accept (and therefore condone) chicanery from the masses while attacking those who put trust and faith in people.

    This is more a disheartening comment on the general degrading of our society rather than cause to criticize LL Bean.

    Just my two cents.

    The Concord Diaspora

  15. Vern Trotter | February 9, 2018 at 4:12 pm |

    I remember the time in the 1950s – early 60s when Brooks Brothers would replace worn out gloves and belts. Likely other items as well. It was not an official policy but they would do so for the penny pinching customers who requested.

  16. Charlottesville | February 9, 2018 at 4:15 pm |

    My experience with LL Bean down through the years has generally been positive. Admittedly, the standard camp mocs now look stiff and uncomfortable, the no-iron finish that they put on their shirts makes them stiff and uncomfortable, and I would not recommend the current penny-loafer (looks like the same shiny, plastic-like leather used by Bass these days), which also look stiff and uncomfortable. However, in the past few years I have bought a Shetland sweater, an upgraded version of the basic camp moc (with better leather uppers, and leather lining) and a chamois-cloth bathrobe and all have been great. Hopefully they will still carry some good items, even if they may no longer be as reliable across the board. In the present me-first culture, where something like half of the student body at so-called “good” schools admit to cheating, I do not blame Bean for pulling back on the unconditional, lifetime guaranty. And Christian is right about the relative riches most of us have. I certainly have much to be thankful for. Hope everyone has a great weekend.

  17. L.L. Bean’s policy basically translated to returns for any reason (or no reason) at the customer’s sole discretion. Plain and simple. To my knowledge, they were under no duress when they came out with that policy. In fact, that policy was excellent PR and has, and I’m sure that it’s made them more money over the years than it ever cost them. Their current talk about “abuse” and “intent” is just a fig leaf for new management deciding to save some coin. “Sadly, it’s the moral failings of our customers that forced our hand,” they seem to be saying, “not you–of course–but other customers who we invite you to look down upon and blame for our penny pinching.” It’s like opening an all-you-can-eat restaurant and glaring at people when they come up for seconds. If Bean didn’t like what happened when people followed their return policy to its logical conclusion, blame the policy–not the people. If your chief selling point (arguably) as a brand is that you’re offering something that you hope people won’t take you up on, that’s problematic.

    No too long ago, I returned several pairs of their Double-L khakis because I’ve discovered that i) they fray at the drop of a hat and ii) that the non-iron treatment used renders them… weird. Several pairs had been sitting in a drawer for a couple of years since I last wore them. To me, the fact that I chose not to wear them for all that time was a clear demonstration of my dissatisfaction with their product, so I returned them without any compunction.

  18. Vern Trotter | February 9, 2018 at 5:16 pm |

    The retailers that catered to the upper class were more likely to do this but that is back decades ago. Brooks, the original Abercombie & Fitch, Saks, Bonwits, the old Lord & Taylor, Rogers Peet. Old customers had been through the depression, WW2, Korea. People used to save and re-use envelopes. A lot of well to do people were very parsimonious (cheap.) But I am surprised that Bean would still have such a policy.

  19. CanadianTrad | February 9, 2018 at 10:23 pm |

    I’m happy with everything I’ve bought from them in the past few years (backpacks, Katahdin boots, snowsuits for the boy). I’ve always found the goods to be of a higher than average quality at a reasonable price. If Bean’s decline continues, who is worthy of my custom and within an average budget?

  20. Historic note: In 1912 LL Bean first offered the rubber-leather Maine Hunting Shoe and advertised it for sale with a 100% satisfaction or your money back guarantee.

    The good news was that the first batch sold out quickly.

    The bad news was that all of the initial customers demanded their money back because the initial method of attaching the bottoms to the uppers quickly failed.

    Young Mr. Bean honored his 100% satisfaction guarantee – despite nearly being bankrupted – and the rest is history.

    Of course, the new LL Bean policy would apparently still provide the refund per their web site:

    We stand behind all our products and are confident that they will perform as designed. If you are not 100% 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.

    As a practical matter I’m more chagrined that effective this year LL Bean is collecting sales tax from me for the first time in WA. I know it’s not their fault, but it was nevertheless jarring and the 8% cost increase will make me reevaluate the value proposition of future purchases.

  21. At some point Nordstrom dropped its once legendary, no questions asked 100% satisfaction or money back guarantee.

    A few years back REI put a one-year limit on its satisfaction guarantee but still has no time limit on “defective materials or workmanship”.

    So are Eddie Bauer and Orvis “the last men standing”?

    Eddie Bauer, since 1920: “Every item we sell will give you complete satisfaction or you may return it for a full refund”. In my experience this guarantee is backed without question.

    Orvis, for 150 years: “We will refund your money on any purchase that is not 100% satisfactory. Anytime, for any reason.”

  22. Some years ago, my(wealthy) brother in law crowed about getting a beat up leather jacket while “volunteering” at a church sale, and sending it back to the company. (I can’t remember the company) They sent him a new jacket.

    He also boasted about getting first dibs at the charity sales.

    Makes me sick!

  23. Frankly, I am surprised it took this long for a revised return policy. A no questions asked policy can lead to a company’s demise.

    I work for a major department store with a very lenient return policy and you would be amazed at the reruns we see:

    1) Suits that were altered out of store
    2) Suits the customer claimed aren’t worn but the pants pockets have change/condoms/parking stubs/receipts in them (once had a suit returned with a job resume in the jacket’s breast pocket)
    3) White dress shirts with yellowed collars
    4) Garments that reek of cigarette odor

    Let’s face it John Q. Consumer is a disgusting beast.

  24. Mazama, L.L. Bean is just honoring an old policy of theirs by charging you extra. See ‘If west [of] Mississippi add ¢15’

    As for Eddie Bauer, they were the L.L. Bean of the West Coast. Good on them, and Orvis, for keeping their lenient policies. This is a great opportunity for these other companies to stick it to Bean’s for dropping their famous guarantee, knowing they can no longer guarantee their (mostly) shoddily-made goods.

  25. A Trad Confused | February 10, 2018 at 12:48 pm |

    If I purchased a product 5 years ago under the old policy, would that have to honor it next year? Please chime in legal eagles…

  26. In defense of LL Bean’s move, it makes sense. Under the old policy, store staff were forced to take back items that LL Bean didn’t even sell in the first place, like products made and sold by their competitors. Naturally, such a generous policy was exploited.

    The new policy is still pretty generous: 1 year unconditional returns with receipt, and after that period’s up, salespeople will work with customers to reach a satisfactory resolution (a-la-Nordstrom, I assume).

    Bean still has one of the best policies in the business! At any rate, I’ll continue to shop there occasionally. But if you’re that upset over it, take your money to Orvis instead. Their 25 year rod guarantee outstanding!

  27. I was in a bedding store recently purchasing a new mattress set. Very nice store, mattresses priced to the $10K level. A customer was angrily arguing that she should be able to return her mattress that was 3 months old because it stained too easily. The sales manager was telling the customer that stains actually void the warranty and rendered items unable to be returned due to sanitary concerns. The customer was coming unhinged. I really felt for the store staff. Bad customers have ruined it for the rest of us.

Comments are closed.