Due to fraud, LL Bean ends lifetime returns, blames social media

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Way to stomp on our hearts.

Image: John Greim/LightRocket via Getty Images

Congratulations, internet! We’ve ruined another glorious thing.

On Friday, beloved cozy and outdoors-y things retailer L.L. Bean announced that it would end its famed lifetime return policy. And social media is at least in part to blame.

“What we have seen, and it has come to the point where we had to act upon it, is a small but growing group of customers who are interpreting the guarantee as a lifetime product replacement program, and that was never its intent,” L.L. Bean President and CEO Stephen Smith told the Portland Press Herald Wednesday in an interview.

L.L. Bean’s legendary policy allowed its customers to return a product at any time, in any state of disrepair, for a new or comparable product, or a store gift card. Now, customers will only be able to return products purchased in the prior 12 months, or those that have a manufacturing defect. L.L. Bean informed the public of its new policy on Facebook, which was met with many cry face emojis.

Under the previous policy, L.L. Bean customer service representatives were required to ask for a reason for a product’s return. But as This American Life reported in a 2016 segment, employees were specifically instructed to not contest these explanations, or press customers at all; they’re told to just accept even clearly worn and loved products customers claim “didn’t live up to expectations of quality,” always with a smile.

Inevitably, this led to abuses, as has been widely reported. One particularly egregious example: L.L. Bean executives showcased a returned child’s ski jacket still bearing lift tickets from three years of skiing as evidence of how customers were misusing refunds; it was more likely that the child had just grown out of the jacket, they said.

But even in the face of getting ripped off by its own customers, there was something sort of… wonderful… about the policy. It represented a vestige of quality, goodness, and integrity that American manufacturing is supposed to be known for — and it lived on at this one company, in a world dominated by industrial chintziness. Plus, it was a policy that said “we trust our customers to act honestly, and forgive those who don’t,” which assumed the best and not the worst of us humans. Refreshing. 

But then Facebook and Twitter had to come along and ruin it.

L.L. Bean blames social media and its own marketing tactics for increased abuse of the program. Apparently, the offending returns recently cost the company more than the total annual revenue it receives from its flagship product, Bean boots. We’ve reached out to the company to ask specifically about how they saw social media at work, and will update this when they let us know. 

Customers who bought products at Goodwill or Salvation Army specifically in order to return them and get better products and gift cards also contributed to the increased losses, L.L. Bean said. Those dirty dogs.

“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.”

An increase in fraud, abuse, and misrepresentation? Yep, sounds like the work of social media. Sayonara to another good thing. 

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