L.L. Bean has been known for its no-questions-asked return policy -- and for backing up the promise with action. But that's all over. Company executive chairman, and great-grandson of the founder, Shawn Gorman announced this morning that the famous guarantee is now history. And that's riling a lot of customers.
Keeping up with the times is important. L.L. Bean moved smoothly into e-commerce from its phone and catalog business model. It's even going to use blockchain and internet of things technology to gather important customer data (and possibly come across as a stalker in the process).
But those are minor in comparison to this change. It's like a statement of religious faith of consumers and retail has been written out of existence. And even as some customers are writing statements of support, it's going to hurt Bean's brand.
Gorman wrote, in part:
Increasingly, a small, but growing number of customers has been interpreting our guarantee well beyond its original intent. 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.
Based on these experiences, we have updated our policy. Customers will have one year after purchasing an item to return it, accompanied by proof of purchase. After one year, we will work with our customers to reach a fair solution if a product is defective in any way.
This update adds clarity to our policy and will only affect a small percentage of returns. It will also ensure we can continue to honor one of the best guarantees in retail, with no impact for the vast majority of our customers. To learn more, please view our full return policy at llbean.com.
The angry customers have been vocal, and also pointed in the reasons for their reactions:
When researching buying from LLBean you constantly read reviews about how the quality of the products is poorer than 10-20 years ago. The reputation of the older stuff and the guarantee made people ignore the decline and think it's safe to buy. Now they can't justify the $$$-- Mariam Watt (@MariamWatt) February 9, 2018
For the record I bought a set of Cutco knives at Goodwill and sent them in to be sharpened (lifetime guarantee) and they rehandled them for me. I bought a few knives ($200+) to complete the set and have lifetime knives now. That's how I like to shop.-- FightFascism (@SecondHandAddic) February 9, 2018
All of my adult life I've set the goal of one day buying a full luggage set from LL Bean knowing that should something happen EVER I could have it fixed/replaced. Why now should I pay more for service no better than anyone else? So long @LLBean... https://t.co/6xK33KDcm8-- Natasha (@Toooshie) February 9, 2018
@LLBean to go from lifetime to one year is ridiculous. Why not 3 years with receipt?-- nnrn88 (@nnrn88) February 9, 2018
I'm not going to stop buying @LLBean products entirely, but I'm less likely to now. Confidence in that lifetime guarantee made it easier for me to justify spending their prices.-- crazy mama, PhD (@crazygradmama) February 9, 2018
All your competitors offer 1 year so why should we pick LL Bean over North Face? l think this issue you talk about has come to a head because your products don't last as long as they used to. "Middle school to grad school" for bookpacks no longer applies. They last 2-3 years tops-- Maria Bannan (@MSBBannan) February 9, 2018