L.L. Bean eliminates its legendary lifetime returns policy

L.L. BEAN HAS CUT BACK on its lifetime satisfaction guarantee, citing abuse of the policy. / BLOOMBERG FILE PHOTO/SHIHO FUKADA
L.L. BEAN HAS CUT BACK on its lifetime satisfaction guarantee, imposing a one-year limit on returns, citing abuse of the policy. / BLOOMBERG FILE PHOTO/SHIHO FUKADA

NEW YORK – For more than a century, L.L. Bean has offered lifetime returns on its products. Now, thanks to growing abuse of the program, the bootmaker is drastically cutting back its generous policy.

The Freeport, Maine-based company will impose a one-year limit on returns, executives announced Friday. The return policy was a part of a lifetime satisfaction guarantee, and never meant to be used as an unlimited replenishment method. Shoppers may still return products for any reason prior to the one-year limit.

“Increasingly, a small, but growing number of customers has been interpreting our guarantee well beyond its original intent,” L.L. Bean chairman Shawn Gorman said in a letter to customers Friday. “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.”

Gorman said the policy changes will affect only a small percentage of returns. If a customer finds a product to be defective after one year, the company will still work to reach a “fair solution,” he said.

- Advertisement -

“We stand behind all our products and are confident that they will perform as designed,” the new return policy reads on the L.L. Bean website. “After one year, we will consider any items for return that are defective due to materials or craftsmanship.”

Customers who demonstrated “past habitual abuse” of the policy won’t be allowed to return or exchange products, even within one year of purchase, according to the site.

L.L. Bean’s selection of rugged jackets and hardy boots has grown in popularity in recent years, as vintage brands caught on with urban shoppers. Its famed duck boots sell out each year, with the backorder line stretching through winter, despite efforts to increase production capacity at its Maine facilities.

The 106-year-old company has been modernizing as of late.  It’s testing two hot technologies—blockchain and the Internet of Things—in a new line of footwear and outerwear with sensors to glean more insight about how people use its products.

Kim Bhasin is a reporter for Bloomberg News.