L.L. Bean’s Legendary Return Policy Has Ended

The Maine outerwear company says abuse of its generosity was getting out of hand.

Photo via iStock.com/McKinneMike.

They were on to you. All those returns of boots you wore out for years, or jackets that your kids had simply outgrown, or clothes you picked up at yard sales and thrift shops—which you knew you could swap, no questions asked, for brand-new replacements—were starting to add up. So now, L.L. Bean has announced, their notoriously generous return policy is dead.

In a letter to customers Friday, the Freeport-based outerwear giant said it would no longer honor a lifetime replacement guarantee that had become an integral part of its reputation. Instead, it will only replace items that are returned within 12 months, and for which customers can provide proof of purchase. After a year, it will replace items that have defects, on a case-by-case basis, L.L. Bean executive chairman Shawn O. Gorman wrote in the letter.

“Since 1912, our mission has been to sell high-quality products that inspire and enable people to enjoy the outdoors. Our commitment to customer service has earned us your trust and respect, as has our guarantee, which ensures that we stand behind everything we sell,” Gorman wrote. “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.”

They are not messing around. The guidelines for returns on the L.L. Bean website have already been updated. The list includes the many cases in which the company will no longer honor returns, even in less than a year, including “past habitual abuse of our Returns Agreement.”

• Products damaged by misuse, abuse, improper care or negligence, or accidents (including pet damage)

• Products showing excessive wear and tear

• Products lost or damaged due to fire, flood, or natural disaster

• Products with a missing label or label that has been defaced

• Products returned for personal reasons unrelated to product performance or satisfaction

• Products that have been soiled or contaminated, until they have been properly cleaned

• Returns on ammunition, either in our stores or through the mail

• On rare occasions, past habitual abuse of our Returns Agreement

Gorman told the Portland Press Herald this week that fraudulent returns were costing L.L. Bean about as much as it makes each year from sales of its iconic Bean Boots, and CEO Stephen Smith told the paper an estimated 15 percent of returns were what the company would consider abuses of the system.

A policy that promised delivery of all L.L. Bean products with free shipping has also been scrapped, and will no longer apply to orders of more than $50.

The updates come amid an overhaul of the more than 100-year-old brand, one of the most prominent in New England, under new leadership and facing myriad pressures of the digital economy.

Sorry folks, the Bean Boot gravy train is over.