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L.L. Bean tackles customers’ abusive returns

By KYLE ANDREW BROWN

Legendary outdoor retailer says no more returns on Grandpa’s old sleeping bag.

L.L. Bean executives up in Freeport, Maine are worn out by lotsa customers returning stuff to the outdoor catalog retailer. Seems that folks are returning worn-out items way past their use-by-date. So L.L. Bean has officially ended its famous unlimited return policy. Now customers have one year to return stuff – and they’re gonna need proof of purchase.

The 106-year old retailer blames social media – and L.L. Bean’s own famous marketing promotion over generations – for a huge increase in what the company calls returns abuse. Executive Chairman Shawn O. Gorman sent a letter out to customers about the new returns policy:

“Increasingly, a small, but growing number of customers has been interpreting our guarantee well beyond its original intent.” The forever and ever guarantee has become a “lifetime product replacement program.” 

The sign behind the register is now gonna say Bean’s only accepts returned items, with proof of purchase, for one year. Not to worry, though: the customer friendly retailer will “work with our customers to reach a fair solution if a product is defective in any way,” says Gorman.

Ad Age describes the retailer’s customer who wears L.L.Bean boots for decades and then returns them for a brand-new pair – no questions asked. And those guys that run around yard sales and the Salvation Army and Goodwill stores. Find stuff for a coupla dollars and then send it all back to Freeport, Maine for a full returns gift card.

Says L.L. Bean President and CEO Stephen Smith: “The satisfaction guarantee and the intent of the guarantee is very much still intact. We make great stuff and we stand behind great stuff,” Smith said. “But we have had a huge growth in abuse, and fraud, and a misinterpretation of that guarantee.”

Consider what customer David Kuhns told reporter J. Craig Anderson at the Portland Press Herald what he’s witnessed at the L.L. Bean returns counter:

“A couple from ‘away,’ shall we say, was there to return a canoe, paddles, life jackets, tent, sleeping bags, etc., as they said with a straight face that ‘none of the items had met their expectations of quality,’ ” Kuhns said. “They went on to say that they had just purchased them two weeks earlier for their vacation in Maine and they had their receipt to prove it. The Bean’s representative, with the smile never leaving her face, took the receipt and gave them a full refund to their credit card.”

The Via Agency came on board as L.L. Bean’s agency of record in March 2017. The retailer spent $14.6 million on measured media in the U.S. in 2016, according to Kantar Media.

Photo: Aimee Seavey

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