L.L. Bean reverses a 106-year-old policy

A small but growing number of customers are responsible for a big change in one of L.L. Bean’s signature policies.

The outdoor goods and apparel retailer has scrapped its legendary unlimited returns policy whereby customers were allowed to return merchandise years after the purchase if they were not satisfied with the goods — with no questions asked and no proof of purchase.

Under the new policy, merchandise may be returned within one year of purchase for a refund or exchange. After a year, the retailer said it will “consider any items for return that are defective due to materials or craftsmanship.” Proof purchase is required for refunds and exchanges.

L.L. Bean shared the news about the updated policy in a letter posted on its Facebook page. The retailer cited growing misuse of unlimited returns by some customers as the reason for the shift.

“Increasingly, a small but growing number of customers has been interpreting our guarantee well beyond its original intent,” executive chairman Shawn O. Gorman wrote in the letter. “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.”

In a meeting with the Portland Press Herald, L.L. Bean executives showed photos of items that had recently been brought in for return, One was a pair of old shoes that were falling apart from what appeared years of regular use. The customer’s reason for returning the shoes was “displeased with quality.” They also showed a photo of a ski jacket with no visible damage apart from a large stain. The jacket had youth-price ski lift tickets with purchase dates spanning three years attached to it. Although the customer stated that the jacket’s quality was “unsatisfactory,” the L.L. Bean executives figure the child likely outgrew the garment.

According to the report, L.L. Bean’s computer systems contain transaction records going back four years, so a receipt isn’t always necessary for a return.