For over 100 years, outdoor clothing and equipment retailer L.L. Bean has had a 100% satisfaction guaranteed policy. But the company is tightening its Maine leather belt. To reduce growing abuse and fraud, L.L. Bean is changing its return policy.
This year, Bean introduced a one-year limit on most returns. The reason? Consumers have gotten greedy. Not content with returning problem merchandise, some folks go to great lengths to cheat the system. People have returned basements full of decades-old Bean products. Others replace the same items every year just to get the latest gear. Some head to thrift stores, yard sales—even trash bins—hunting items to return.
Shawn Gorman, L.L.’s great-grandson and Bean’s chairman, knows first-hand: A shirt he donated to Goodwill, with his name printed inside, was once returned to a store.
On a recent day in the L.L. Bean returns department, a family lugged in items from their grandfather’s attic. They entered with 20- to 30-year-old clothes and exited with a $350 gift card. The pile went into a smelly bin of decrepit boots, ripped bedding, and used dog cushions.
Officials say returns of destroyed or useless items have doubled in the past five years—surpassing the yearly revenue from the famous Bean boot. They’re items the company classifies as “destroy quality”—items destined for the landfill.
“The numbers are staggering,” says CEO Steve Smith. “It’s not reasonable. And it’s not fair to our customers.”
Taking advantage of a gracious return policy might remind you of people who “presume on the riches of [God’s] kindness and forbearance and patience.” (Romans 2:4) It seems some think God’s graciousness means they can push His boundaries. Thankfully, God’s guarantee will never change: “Whoever believes in [Jesus] shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16 NASB)
But humanly speaking, the widespread return abuse means the company must set limits. Bean now accepts returns for any reason for one year only, with proof of purchase. The company will replace defective products beyond that.
It’s a big change for the 106-year-old company. Founder Leon Leonwood Bean launched the policy when customers returned 90 of his first 100 hunting shoes. He earned goodwill by returning customers’ money.
Company executives say Bean never intended his guarantee to become a lifetime replacement policy. Gorman believes the changes honor the founder’s original intent. “No one in this family . . . would’ve allowed this to happen if they thought that L.L. would be upset with us.”