The lifetime return guarantee shrinks to one year (with a receipt).
Nothing in life is guaranteed—not even products bought from longtime Maine-based outdoor retailer L.L. Bean. In a Facebook post today, the brand announced it is doing away with its legendary “lifetime” return policy today, which allowed customers to return any item they weren’t satisfied with—no questions asked. It was outrageously generous, and basically unparalleled among retailers—and now it’s gone.
The “100% satisfaction guaranteed” required no receipt or proof of purchase and L.L. Bean offered to exchange or get a replacement for even the oldest and most beat-up items a customer said they were unhappy with, whether they’d actually bought the items from L.L. Bean, or just picked ’em up at a garage sale. The return policy isn’t going away entirely—it’s just getting ratcheted down from “lifetime” to one year with a receipt, with returns made after that decided on a case-by-case basis.
L.L. Bean has been considering changing the policy since at least February of last year, and is now making the change because some of us don’t deserve the company’s longstanding good faith. Seriously. “Increasingly, a small, but growing number of customers has been interpreting our guarantee well beyond its original intent,” wrote L.L. Bean executive chairman Shawn O. Gorman in the letter explaining the change. “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.”
This isn’t necessarily unfair. There’s no reason a pair of boots made to be worn through snow, rain, and mud should last an entire lifetime. But L.L. Bean might be risking more than just the group of allegedly loyal customers vocally complaining about the announcement in the comments section.
That’s because L.L. Bean’s return policy was much more than just a return policy. The legendary vow was as much a marketing tactic as an actual corporate policy. The promise provided the company with plenty of marketing material both in-store and on the website, and it was also an implicit way of telling customers that L.L. Bean’s apparel and footwear is well-made and prodigiously long-lasting. It was a sign that “we stand behind everything we sell,” wrote Gorman. Gorman would surely like for that perception to continue, but now customers will have to take L.L. Bean’s word for it.