L.L.Bean: No More Lifetime Satisfaction Guarantee

A little over a month ago I shared why I was breaking up with L.L.Bean after nearly a lifetime of loyalty. Now there’s some breaking news (and a quote from me in this article): L.L. Bean scraps its century-old unlimited lifetime return policy:

“Company executives say too many customers abused the policy by returning worn-out items years after they were purchased.”

Dishonest people weren’t holding up their end of the “handshake” and “golden rule”, but what about L.L.Bean? (Updated February 12th with response from L.L.Bean, see below.)

The Evolution of L.L.Bean’s Return Policy via Screenshots from WayBack.com

Around 2015 was the first significant change followed by what was in place immediately preceding the new policy.

And now?


Notice that there are no more “handshakes” or talk of fairness to one another; just  a succinct and firm “one year.” Looking at the “special conditions” even that one year isn’t a guarantee: your purchase is subject to being refused a return due to “excessive wear and tear.” After one year they will “consider” a return of an item with “defects” as defined by them. Premature wear and tear or not holding up after following washing instructions in less than one year’s time despite normal usage is a hallmark of shoddy quality. It’s also the reason why I had to recently return numerous purchases to them! Now, L.L.Bean is empowered to no longer accept those returns.

What was wrong with the policy from 2015 through January 2018 that had the added caveats to address the circumstances where the small number of people were essentially stealing from L.L.Bean, but didn’t limit it to one year and rule out premature excessive wear and tear? What happened to promising that they are selling “good merchandise at a reasonable profit”? Are their products still field tested as advertised in 1996 and earlier? Why did L.L.Bean remove mentions of “The Golden Rule”?

Apparently what was “wrong” is that it didn’t protect them from honest returns of shoddy products!

I know people abused their goodwill. No question. However, it also appears from my own experiences that they have been abusing the goodwill of loyal lifetime customers by allowing the overall quality to decline after outsourcing manufacturing from the US to China. Pricing did not come down to match the lowered quality. They used to promise that their products were made to last, not barely outlast a short return window that won’t even honor premature wear and tear within a year’s time. This isn’t just the retirement of a policy; it was a part of their legacy and identity. It seemed to work when their products were of higher quality and held up over time. Can they fairly blame the increase in returns just on unreasonable/dishonest customers?

Update 2/12: I messaged L.L.Bean on Facebook with this question:

“Could you please comment on this caveat in your new one year return policy: “To protect all our customers and make sure that we handle every return or exchange with reasonable fairness, we cannot accept a return or exchange (even within one year of purchase) in certain situations, including: Products showing excessive wear and tear.” I have had to return items to you within the past year due to excessive fraying and/or clothing falling apart within months of purchase without any abuse and following washing instructions on the labels. Of course my returns were cheerfully exchanged. What would happen now? How will you determine that excessive wear and tear is due to abuse vs poor manufacturing?”

L.L.Bean’s very prompt response:


12 thoughts on “L.L.Bean: No More Lifetime Satisfaction Guarantee

  1. As you’ve documented here, their product quality and construction has suffered over the years. And now, quite conveniently, they scrap their return policy, but blame their customers instead of their lower quality, shorter lasting products.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. p.s. I can appreciate this problem: “We have huge numbers of customers who come in with no buying history at all, but are returning copious amounts of product,” Smith said. “And that’s things customers are buying … at yard sales and Goodwill and Salvation Army, and coming in for refunds.”

      …but that issue can be policed without sacrificing the entire policy. It’s some real cherry-picking of the problem to justify the change.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Exactly. They could have left the policy intact with the addition of something to the effect of: “At our discretion we may refuse a return if we believe it is outside of the parameters of our policy.” Also, their return policy updates shown in the 2015/2018 screenshot above addressed the yard sale/second-hand purchase issue.


  2. While I have never really been a great fan or customer of L.L. Bean the story is one that is being played out in retailing across the nation. Most people (no matter what they say) buy cheap and will toss the item when it has worn out and get something new to replace it. If a company wants to remain big then they must go along with this or go out of business or downsize for a much smaller market share. For those who think this is not true I ask why is it that Wal Mart and dollar stores doing so well. If the market was really there better goods would be sold in stores.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think that would make sense from a consumer standpoint if L.L.Bean matched their pricing to the lowered standards of quality found with many of their imported items. Personally speaking I don’t want to shop for a cheap bargain; I want something well-made that will last. I am OK with paying a higher price for that, especially if it’s made in a country with responsible, ethical environmental and labor practices.


      1. Exactly! Why am I still being asked to pay $80+ for a lower quality shirt? No, thank you. I’ll keep my eyes peeled for older, quality LL Bean clothes in the secondhand market. No need to ever return those!! That higher level of quality meant the company COULD offer a lifetime guarantee. No wonder they have scrapped it. In the last 3 years I have been sorely disappointed.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I agree with Averyl because L.L. Bean still tries to take advantage of their reputation as a seller whose merchandise is a “cut above” the Wal Mart and Dollar stores even though they are now buying from the same sources.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. How sad! And it seems they are punishing those customers by offering shoddy materials that falls apart within a year. I refuse to buy from Wal-Mart for the same reason. Clothing I purchased there fell apart after the first wash. It really sounds like they’ve had a turn of ownership.


    1. Hi Vienna, ownership has not changed but they brought in a CEO about two years ago whose background is with Walmart! I didn’t even know this until yesterday.

      From their website:

      At a glance: Steve began his career in 1992 at J. Walter Thompson. Following a decade of working in merchandising, marketing and customer relationships for companies including Resort Sports Network, Hannaford Supermarket and the Delhaize Group, Steve joined Walmart International in 2011. He held a variety of leadership roles for Walmart China, Asda (a Walmart-owned food, fashion and general merchandise business in the United Kingdom) and Yihaodian (part of Walmart Global eCommerce – a Shanghai e-commerce business).



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