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.
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: