L.L. Bean Knows You’re Abusing the Return Policy

They may overhaul it, and are debating free shipping.
A replica of L.L. Bean's famous boot stands in front of the store.

Photo via iStock.com/McKinneMike.

L.L. Bean is on to you. They know that some of their customers are taking advantage of their generous return policy, and may overhaul it.

An update to the policy is among decisions currently being debated as the more than 100-year-old Maine company moves to cut costs and spur growth, the Associated Press reports. The iconic brand is also reconsidering its longstanding policy of offering customers free shipping.

The  return policy is now part of the L.L. Bean mythology. Technically, you can buy a pair of Bean Boots, wear them for years, and if they ever get in rough enough shape that you can’t wear them anymore, you can just send them back for a new pair, no questions asked. It applies to just about everything one might buy at an L.L. Bean store. There are exceptions, including one for ammunition, and there are tightened restrictions on returning items that were not purchased directly from the company—for example, goods gleaned from thrift stores. L.L. Bean also reserves the right to not replace items “lost or damaged due to fire, flood or natural disaster.” But otherwise, the 100-year-old promise to swap broken or worn-out goods for brand new ones stands.

“We make pieces that last, and if they don’t, we want to know about it,” the company writes on its website. “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. We want to make sure we keep our guarantee the way it’s always been for over a century.”

Not everyone takes the company up on its offer in good faith.

“Fraudulent returns have been a problem and we are definitely reviewing our policies, but we have made no decisions,” L.L. Bean spokeswoman Carolyn Beem tells the Globe. “We will always stand behind our products.”

Meanwhile, L.L. Bean wants to incentivize 500 of its 5,000 employees to retire early, and following a trend at many Fortune 500 companies, has instituted a pension freeze.

“As long as your expenses are growing faster than your sales, then you’re not able to invest in growth,” CEO Steve Smith tells the AP. “What we’re focused on is getting to where we’re back in growth mode.”

The changes, apparently in the works for more than a year, do not appear to be related to the controversy that emerged after some opponents of President Trump said they planned to boycott the brand. A board member and relative of the company’s founder had been a Trump donor, but L.L. Bean urged customers not to conflate her politics with the company’s at large.


Spencer Buell Staff Writer at Boston Magazine sbuell@bostonmagazine.com