How Dishonesty Ruined L.L. Bean’s Once-Amazing Return Policy

L.L. Bean in Colonie, N.Y.
L.L. Bean in Colonie, N.Y. Mike Groll/AP Photo

As usual, a small group of people who will remain unnamed have ruined the fun for everyone. The crime? Abusing L.L. Bean’s return policy.

The Maine-based outdoor brand had a legendary return policy for years. Its 100% satisfaction policy meant if an item went south on you at any time for any reason, you could bring it back. You didn’t even need a receipt. You just needed to explain why the item no longer satisfied you 100%.

On Friday, Feb. 9, the brand announced on its Facebook page that the generous guarantee is no more.

In the post, Executive Chairman Shawn Gorman wrote: “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 yard sales.”

What’s Changing About the L.L. Bean Guarantee?

The new policy gives customers one year to return items with proof of purchase. Items deemed defective beyond one year will be handled on a case-by-case basis. L.L. Bean floated a change to its return policy a year ago as the company sought ways to cut costs.

Longtime fashion blogger Alison Gary relayed an L.L. Bean return success story via Twitter.

Gary said she got about $100 back — exactly what she had paid more than a decade prior.

The new rules are in line with other major outdoor retailers. While Patagonia doesn’t put a time limit on returns, it asks customers to submit returns for fit in a timely manner with tags attached. If an item doesn’t work properly, you can return it for a repair, replacement or refund. There’s one caveat: Patagonia will repair damage from wear and tear at what it deems a reasonable charge.

At REI, customers have one year to return items, although customers may return anything with a manufacturing defect at any time. The policy “doesn’t cover ordinary wear and tear or damaged caused by improper use or accidents.” The outdoor company shored up its return policy in 2013, citing abuses to the generous policy.

We asked L.L. Bean about the initial customer response to the change and will update this post if we hear back.

L.L. Bean and its outdoorsy counterparts still offer unbeatable return policies. They’re attentive to product defaults and willing to make repairs to extend the life of a well-loved item.

A no-questions-asked return policy keeps customers happy when you claim your company’s products are built to last. But customers are also notorious for putting just about everything they own through the ringer.

That doesn’t mean people are buying L.L. Bean boots, running them over with the car six times, and then asking for a new pair. They’re simply using them season after season, relying on them in often severe conditions and getting bummed out when something goes awry.

Yes, we want items that are built to last. But many customers have yet to realize that “built to last” doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll last forever.

Lisa Rowan is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder.