Friday, February 9, 2018

Portland Press Herald: L.L. Bean scraps its century-old unlimited lifetime return policy

Photos by Salt Water New England
Averyl sent this article:
L.L. Bean scraps its century-old unlimited lifetime return policy 
Company executives say too many customers abused the policy by returning worn-out items years after they were purchased.
https://www.pressherald.com/2018/02/09/l-l-bean-scraps-lifetime-return-policy/

 In a story on February 5, The Bangor Daily News had reported:
L.L. Bean... has started an employee buyout plan and other belt-tightening measures after a couple years of flat sales.  The measures, announced last February, started Jan. 1, with the aim of reducing its workforce by 500 full-time people, or 10 percent of its 5,000 employees... At the same time, the company stopped contributing to its pension plan. 
- <https://bangordailynews.com/2018/02/05/business/ll-bean-starts-employee-buyouts-ends-pension-plan/>

L.L. Bean's Quality Problems - Will Shrinkage Count as a "Manufacturing Defect?"

Did the L.L. Bean guarantee provide cover for their quality problems?  A comparison of identical L.L. Bean garments, before and after washings:







49 comments:

  1. Disappointing, of course, but expected at this point.

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  2. We returned a pair of boots - manufacturing defect that L.L. Bean knew about, so no problem and customer service was excellent.

    BUT, the lady in front of us was returning worn out men's jeans and workboots. Literally, worn out from years of wear. I was appalled. They were trash, I wouldn't have touched them barehanded. The customer service woman treated her with exactly the same professionalism and courtesy she extended to us. When I said, "what the hell?", she told us it happens every day. Ugh.

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  3. They've off-shored production, quality of materials and products have gone downhill, and now this? I'm a long-time L.L. Bean buyer and I have to say that one of the only things that was keeping me around was that they were sticking to their guns on the return policy. And I've never had to return anything. I respected that policy.
    Now? I'm not so sure how I feel. It seems like they'll be like any other fast-fashion company. How long until they edit the policy again to make it 60 days? 30 days?

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  4. LL Bean still has the best customer service of any company I have ever done business with. I buy quite a bit from Bean still, but I can't help but wonder what the lack of a long term guarantee will mean for the quality of the products.

    A couple of years ago I returned a pair of khakis which were fraying at the bottom after only a year or so of normal wear. The sales associate here at the Mall of America questioned me as if I was returning worn out pants, to which I replied "do you think Khaki's should only last one year?? I have pairs in my closet that are over twenty years old in better shape than these."

    So, this move was probably a long time coming apparently given they were losing $250mln a year in returns.

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  5. Thanks for posting, Muffy!

    In December I blogged about why I was breaking up with L.L.Bean after a near lifetime of loyalty, including having worked for them twice seasonally. I know people abuse their return policy. No question. I’ve witnessed it firsthand while standing in line at customer service. However, it seems that they have been abusing the goodwill of loyal lifetime customers by allowing the overall quality to decline without lowering prices. L.L.Bean will now “consider” returns beyond a year due to defects. I believe products should be made to last, not barely outlast a shortened return window. That is, at least when you are paying full price at Bean! But really, this isn’t just the retirement of a policy; it was a part of their legacy and branding. It seemed to work when their products were of higher quality; can they really blame the internet for an increase in abusive returns?

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  6. Also, I hadn't considered quality vs defect. Your photos are shocking examples. Thanks for posting them!

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  7. A lot of the readers of SWNE and the old TDP have lamented the loss of such great institutions as LL Bean. I don't think this trend is likely to stop. As the values of society change, so to must the companies that provide the goods and services society desires. Many SWNE readers likely value purchasing high end products and caring for the products so they will provide a lifetime of uses. Most readers likely value craftsmanship and realize that comes at a cost, not just in purchasing the item, but caring for the item through its use. This is not the standard in America. America is a throw away society now. My guess is there are simply not enough of us to keep these old companies afloat, at least not in the tradition of the past. So LL Bean is to evolve or die. I realize I might just be a pessimistic old fogey, but we better enjoy LL Bean because it's not as good at it once was, but is better than it will ever be.

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    1. I wouldn't be so quick to assume that. I'm a millennial, and most of my friends and peers actually *do* prefer to have things that last. Unfortunately it's near impossible to find now. There are entire communities online centered around goodyear welted shoes and raw denim without elastane. Many members of my generation are deb-ridden from student loans so buying items of quality is almost of more importance. We can't afford to always replace clothing and shoes.

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    2. Don't even get me started on elastane in clothing! I had not realized how pervasive it had become until I needed to replace some jeans and could find nothing in stores that didn't stretch. I finally ordered Levi 501s online. And having found them, stocked up, as I'm sure they'll either be discontinued, or have the vile, stretchy stuff added to them. I wasn't as fortunate with the wonderful chinos I found a couple of years ago at Garnet Hill. When I went back to stock up, I found they'd been 'improved' with elastane!

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    3. Anonymous 12:03 My grandparents always said that poor people can’t afford cheap things and though I’m not a farmer who survived the depression as they were I still try to live by this. It really does save in the end.

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  8. Let's see, Bean's scrapping their wonderful old warranty - partially because people are abusing it, but also because their stuff isn't what it used to be and wears out too quickly. Yet, at the same time they want to implant microchips in clothing in order to monitor our every move to help them figure out when their merchandise (stuff) has worn out so they can sell us more (and who knows what else they're really watching)! I don't think so!!! Who the %&$#@ is running that company?!?!?! Is this what's being taught in business/marketing schools?!?!?!

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  9. I love LL Bean and, frankly, I'm surprised they have stuck with this lifelong return policy as long as they have, what with all the customer abuse they've gotten. Most companies don't seem to have lifetime return policies and they do just fine, and I expect LL Bean will do the same. However, I was delighted to see the shrinkage problem addressed in those photos because I have stopped buying their shirts for that very reason. The shirts start out shorter than most brands these days and then get even shorter when washed and dried. I want LL Bean to stay traditional, of course, but they need to either use better quality up-to-date fabrics or pre-shrink their clothes. Long live LL Bean!

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  10. That pink shirt looks like one of their polos. I have a number of those and have not seen such marked shrinkage, ever. Clearly it happened and shouldn't have, but I wonder if it represents a permanent change or some sort of off batch. (Now the flannel sheets, those shrink a lot!)

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  11. I have several items from L.L. Bean and they are still going strong. But at the end of the day what can you really expect for the price? Most of their garments are made in Asia or other places with okay materials. People need to look at the value they are getting for the price. The Nordic sweaters are an insane value for money along with the Bean boot, a hand crafted american made boot for under $200 is great value. People are looking for UNLIMITED value on garments that are not Unlimited in price.

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    1. Those of us who have been customers of L.L.Bean for decades have experienced first-hand the declining quality of particular items produced in China, items that were once manufactured here in the USA. Yet, prices for those articles remained the same or increased.

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    2. I understand declining quality is the real issue but, to maintain the prices they are charging, the only way to make them is in China with lesser made materials. To have equivalently USA made products as the ones made 20-30 years ago the prices would have to be double or triple the price. They have built an affordable clothing business and the maintain price as inflation goes up is to decrease quality. An OCBD for $45 is a great price. A truly high quality one, made in the USA, is going to be $150+.

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    3. And, perhaps that’s part of the issue. LL Bean’s was primarily an outfitter of high quality products geared mostly for outdoor use. Their values were those of a small, focused business: make and provide high quality items and if you find an item not to your satisfaction, you can return at any time. Our stuff is so good, we will gladly take it back.

      At some point, that all changed. LL Bean’s devolved into a corporation. Their values naturally changed: brand expansion, increasing market share, cost reductions in labor, product material and design, and other corporate interests became ascendant. The result for Bean’s is annual revenue of about $1.6 billion. The result for the end-user (that’s me and you) has been a severe reduction in the quality, fit, range, and usability of their products. Bean’s corporate motto may be “The outside is in everything we make,” but frankly, it’s hard to find in many/most of their products today.

      So, is it any surprise that Bean’s blames the customer (that’s me and you, again) for a store policy that stood for over 100 years? I’m surprised it didn’t happen sooner. Bean’s is no longer a store; it’s a corporation.

      This year, Bean’s opened two new mall stores in Wisconsin and Long Island (each over 15,000 square feet). This is their primary focus. The individual customer, not so much.

      Aiken

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    4. Does any of this surprise you, really? Bean's original customers were genuine outdoorsmen, hunters/hikers/fishermen/farmers and other outdoor workers and sportsmen. Eventually, their rugged practical clothes were adapted for like-minded women as well. College kids in the 80's picked up on the look, value and practicality and suddenly a fad, a fashion and an expansion to meet the demand were born. We were no longer dealing with a local, limited market but a worldwide one. When Bean's look became a fashion trend, the shark was jumped.

      Today, how many people are genuine outdoorsmen? One thing I notice about the people I call "yuppies" and David Brooks called "Bobos" is that everything they project is "as if" rather than genuine. They dress "as if" they ski, or fish, or hike, or travel in exotic lands, but most of them live their whole life inside a smartphone and their outdoor adventures take place between the lobby of their high-rise and the Uber that pulls up in front of them. The market will go where the demand takes it, like a law of Nature.

      Meanwhile, an article on Bloomberg today shows clearly that ALL of apparel is in free-fall due to clothing no longer being of interest for social signalling--that role now falls to technology. RIP, world we knew . . . ugh.

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  12. I started buying from LLB in the early 1970s. Their quality has continually and dramatically gone down hill for a number of years. My recollection is that they raised their prices significantly several years ago when they introduced free shipping.
    I have given up on LLB. I would rather pay more for higher quality products and/or products made in US.

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  13. I feel that they are blaming problem customers as a scapegoat. The real truth to it all is that they're cutting costs. Quality has obviously declined, but they also have moved all of their manufacturing overseas, aside from the Bean Boots. They're just thinking about their bottom dollar. Absolutely not worth the price now that they've gotten rid of their guarantee.

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  14. I work in upscale women's apparel retail, and excessive/abusive returns, during which we ALWAYS have to be pleasant and polite (takes a toll, believe me), are totally out of control. I heartily applaud L.L. Bean for tightening their return policy ... hope other retailers swiftly follow its lead.

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  15. Always thought it was a great policy, but overly generous. They are a for profit company. Not a charity. I like Bean and will always shop there. If you don’t like them go elsewhere. Quite simple really.

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  16. Speaking of the excessive/abusive return issue... After Hurricane Irma here in Florida, I was behind a family who returned $600.00 of food, batteries, water, charcoal, fans and even the empty ice bags among other items to our local Walmart. Of the empty ice bags they stated "They melted before we had a chance to use them." Almost all the food items they returned had to be discarded out, much of it was perishable, and they rest of the items looked like they had been through a war. My friend and I were in shock when almost all of the stuff was refunded!

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    1. Appalling behavior. The something-for-nothing crowd is so pervasive today, and this is why Bean had to do what they did. I know this comment is about Walmart, but this is what happened to Bean as well.

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  17. I’m somewhat surprised by the negative comments regarding Bean. To me the culprit is the individual who takes advantage of Bean’s policy, a policy which of course requires an honest customer. The culprit and the true offensive party is the dishonest person who destroys Bean’s ability to continue its return policy. Where is the opprobrium directed at this dishonesty? Its a sad day when we accept (and therefore condone) chicanery from the masses while attacking those who put trust and faith in people.

    This is more a disheartening comment on the general degrading of our society rather than cause to criticize LL Bean.

    Just my two cents.

    The Concord Diaspora

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    1. No one is condoning dishonesty. Dishonest returns have nothing to do with selling shoddy things.

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    2. This issue is warranty, not quality, and Bean's warranty was a victim of customer abuse. I agree with you; many policies made within the honor system are now under attack by those who have no integrity.

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    3. James B it was was a "100% Satisfaction Guarantee" so that absolutely includes a customer's perception of quality.

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    4. Unfortunately for many customers, there really was a perception of "you owe me something for nothing". I think for those of us who shop and make returns ethically - surely all of today's post's commentors - these are very reasonable parameters that we're already going by.

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    5. I share the dim view of many towards Bean's decline in product quality over recent years. My point is that in terms of the change in return policy, Bean didn't likely change it in response to proper returns over customer dissatisfaction but rather as a response to a lack of honor among those customers that have abused a policy which relies upon the honor of all.

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  18. It is mathematically and economically impossible to support their cheap Chinese trash with an unlimited return policy. I am surprised it took them this long to figure that out. It may already be too late. Their only hope would be to pare back product lines to the fundamentals they were known for that supported them for decades,and repatriate manufacturing to the U.S. to get quality back up to where it used to be on the products they continue to offer. They probably won't do either. It's very hard to take the difficult actions necessary to break out of a death spiral when you are circling the drain. I like LL Bean. Some things I will still buy there until the end, but it is not what it used to be.

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    1. I kept hoping they would do those two things, but now we know that's not the plan. So sad.

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  19. It is a combination of things causing the policy to be changed.
    1. Bean's goods are not what they were. In the past, I wore their shirts to teach in for years. The last couple of shirts lasted 6 months and 8 months before they started to fray.
    2. People's personal ethics are so much different. Buying Bean's goods at a thrift shoppe and mailing it back for exchange. Raiding grandpa's closet and exchanging his 30 year old Bean goods. And I can see this one still being abused within the year's time. Sending all the kid's school clothes, backpacks back and buying new backpacks and a larger size for the coming school year.

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  20. Another change they have made is no more free shipping, unless you spend over $50. Yesterday I received their new catalog in the mail and saw I shirt I liked. When I went to place my order I noticed I was being charged for shipping. I checked the catalog, it said "free shipping". I checked the website, on the "shipping" page it stated "free shipping". When you get to check out, all of a sudden it says "free shipping with purchase over $50". I tried to online chat with customer service, they never replied to me. On twitter I was told, the policy just changed. Needless to say, I did not order the shirt. I like Bean, but I can buy similar at the mall from the Lands' End department in Sears. For less money.

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    1. I had a "chat" with them over the new charges for free shipping also and was told that they will honor free ship until the tiny expiration date printed on the inside of the catalog cover if the order is placed by phone.

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  21. Good-bye, L.L.

    It was nice knowing you.

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  22. I can usually tell if there is a product defect within a year's use and so that is not a problem for me. I don't like inferior products so I do a bit more shopping and don't rely so much on names or particular stores. Because I live in a small rural town I have relied on online shopping for many small purchases where the product is not locally available or there is not a good selection locally so the "no free shipping" hurts me most. How about a new shirt? Many are under the $50.00 threshold for free shipping. Right now I need some ragg socks and I'm not buying that many, so I'm not buying Bean.

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  23. The 106-year old Bean's return policy did cover shrinkage. I returned a flannel shirt that shrank considerably, to the point were I was unable to tuck it into my trousers, nearly one year after it was gifted to me no questions asked, no receipt and, obviously, no tags. Such a shame that they would revamp their famous policy because of a few bad apples.

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  24. I'm just surprised the "no question return" policy lasted so long. I've known people all my life (67 years) who would, and did, abuse such a policy, but once the "yard sale buy/retail return" scam hit the internet, it was just a matter of time.

    I recall years ago when all the sellers of big screen TVs (then new) stopped automatic refunds on TVs bought a few days before the Super Bowl.

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    1. L.L.Bean addressed the yard sale/second-hand store issue previously in a revised return policy, so for them to use that as a current reason seems disingenuous. This was in place immediately prior to the end of the satisfaction guarantee:

      Easy Returns & Exchanges

      We make pieces that last, and if they don't, we want to know about it. L.L. himself always said that he "didn't consider a sale complete until goods are worn out and the customer still satisfied." Our guarantee is a handshake – a promise that we'll be fair to each other. So if something's not working or fitting or standing up to its task or lasting as long as you think it should, we'll take it back.

      Details and Special Conditions

      To help protect our customers and make sure every return or exchange is dealt with fairly, we may either require a receipt or decline a return or exchange in certain situations, including:

      Items that were not purchased directly from L.L.Bean (such as items purchased at thrift stores, online sellers or garage sales)
      Items with a missing label or an item that has been defaced
      On rare occasions, based on the nature of prior transactions
      Without a receipt and a valid ID in our stores
      Items that have been soiled or contaminated, until they have been cleaned
      Items lost or damaged due to fire, flood, natural disaster, or accidents (including pet damage)
      Items returned for personal reasons unrelated to product satisfaction
      Returns on ammunition either in our stores or through the mail

      Misuse of the Return Policy

      Unfortunately, it's a reality. Most of the time, it involves attempted returns of pieces purchased elsewhere – at flea markets, yard sales or online. That's not part of the deal. If you're donating to charity, you can help us by marking each item's label with an X. That way, we can tell when the item has not been purchased directly from us.

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  25. Makes sense to me. It's one thing to expect Bean to make good on a defective item, it's another to demand lifetime replacement. I had a coworker who successfully returned a pair of khakis that were several years old because he'd just gotten a stain on it; to me that's nothing more than abuse. This new policy seems more than fair!

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    1. Totally agree. It is unreasonable to expect a company to do that. could out a big dent in profits.

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  26. People will abuse anything now, given the opportunity. What a sad statement of affairs in this country we have now.....People had a sense of morality in the past but I guess there is no going back now. :-(

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  27. L L Bean and Brooks Bros., two iconic brands that have gone seriously downhill over the last 15 years. L L Bean did it to itself with the reduction in quality and the abuse of loyal customers as mentioned by others here.

    In the case of Brooks Bros., the fall off in loyalty to the customer base due to the sheer and unmitigated arrogance and conceit of CLAUDIO DEL VECCHIO and the Italian management mafia he brought with him to Connecticut has also been widely discussed in product reviews.

    Brooks Bros. has also continued with absurd and obscene price increases for an ever declining base of products, its lack of inventory in stores that need certain items and a failing supply chain and point of sale system.

    I am a lifelong customer of Brooks Bros. and L L Bean and I have, of necessity and because of sheer disgust with what I've seen seriously cut back on my purchases from both companies. In my opinion, they stretched customer loyalty to the breaking point and now, neither deserves it.

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  28. I totally agree, L L Bean and Brooks Bros., two iconic brands that have gone seriously downhill over the last 15 years. I enjoy LLBean boots, but thats it. As for BB, overpriced, poor quality merchandise. I prefer Mercer Shirts which are well made and last forever. But even David Mercer has his shortcomings ...several years back, I ordered a shirt which arrived in a brown manila type envelope , it was stuffed in so tightly that when I cut the envelope open, inadvertently cut the brand new shirt. I contacted David hoping he would address the problem and instead was told to buy a new one! not even a discount was offered.

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  29. The tenets of the LL Bean (and other retailers’) unconditional no time limit return policy was the belief that sellers gave value for money and stood by the quality of their merchandise; the buyer would, given reasonable use of the merchandise, expect dependable service & wear. There was an honor system at play in the relationship to make the policy viable. E-commerce has changed everything - seller/buyers have no relationship except a transaction that is executed by a click. LLBean reaps what it sows, and so do consumers.

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    1. Well said. The Honor System. The absolute bedrock upon which any worthwhile society is built. There have been many excellent posts here over the years that allude to this overall decline in our morals and culture. The death of the roadside produce stands because of theft and pilfering a while back illustrated this very well. Neighbors stealing from neighbors. This may get me banned, but after a lifetime of traveling the world and it's various peoples and observing the rifts fracturing these United States, I don't understand the reluctance to support the return of a renewed WASP culture, based upon the old principles of the "Permanent Things". There is nobody else on Earth to turn to. It is up to decent people to do the work of excising the rot. Chesterton's "I am [the problem] comes to mind.

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  30. As sad as I am to see the Lifetime Return Policy go, it makes total sense on Bean's part. A few seasons ago I worked at one of the outlets and the abuses I saw customers do was just jaw dropping. We had one gentleman who had dumpster dived some LLB clothing and was going from store to store trying to return them for cash. One customer brought in a bag of slipper mocs, five pairs, that were so old, worn and dirty they looked like dead creatures. The customer wanted to exchange them for five brand new pairs which we had to honor. Some customers would buy something once, wear it, and then return the item(s) within the month, sometimes the next week, to exchange for something new repeatedly. We did more returns than sales. So much dishonesty on the part of the customers, not all but many, it was ridiculous. The abuse of the Bean lifetime return policy was rampant and I'm amazed that it took Bean this long to put a foot down. If people need someone to blame , don't blame Bean. Blame the customers that took advantage, and often , of a good thing and abused it.

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