L.L. Bean pulls the plug on lifetime return policy


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Brian in SLC

Social climber
Salt Lake City, UT
Feb 13, 2018 - 02:21pm PT
That Maine news site is hilarious!

Pre-owned Priuses come with 2016 Bernie sticker...that is funny...

Trad climber
Brooklyn, NY
Feb 13, 2018 - 10:59pm PT
Interesting subject Dingus. I'm not an LL Bean customer but I do think that a lifetime warranty and the willingness to honor it can be valuable.

I'd never had the funds to be a spendthrift on outdoor gear or garments. If I buy a piece of new gear from a top tier company and pay a premium - in part for a lifetime warranty - I expect the product to be well made, durable, and designed to function well and hold up. I expect the company to stand behind their product. I use my gear a lot longer than folks who systematically and prematurely replace their gear with the latest model and I often live in the gear for long periods and need to rely on it.

I own a lot of The North Face, Patagonia, and Black Diamond gear among others. These companies have stood behind their products. I've sent gear in that has prematurely failed, or failed due to a poorly implemented design feature, or just something that got used a lot and needed some attention. I've had gear replaced and repaired, sometimes repeatedly.

About a dozen years ago I was hitchhiking in Joshua Tree at night and was picked up by a German gentleman. I'd mentioned that I was hitchhiking back to the park as I'd come in to town to pick up a replacement down jacket that The North Face had sent me (I'd sent mine to them when I was in Camp 4 in Yosemite). It was late in an especially cold season - it actually snowed heavily in Joshua Tree that winter - and I very much needed the jacket to keep warm.
The guy told me that he'd recently arrived in the USA contracted by Honda to revamp their lawnmower division's custom service department. I told him that I owned a lot of TNF gear and from time to time would send a piece in for a repair or replacement based on their lifetime warranty. He explained to me that what TNF was doing in replacing my jacket was excellent customer service. By repairing or replacing an item they are making the customer happy. It costs them very little in the scheme of things to replace an item that only costs them a few dollars to manufacture overseas and that I paid top dollar for. He then expounded on how much corporations have to spend on advertising in order to obtain a new customer, $xx/per new customer they acquire ... and they must compete with all the other companies to acquire that customer's business. Loyal repeat customers are the most valuable asset a company has. Keeping that customer happy is what good customer service is about. He said that a single misdirected 'no' or snippy tone from a CSR in response to a customer's request can end up costing the company a lot of money as the customer's loyalty is now jeopardized. A single bad CSR can cost a company a ton of money because they undo the investment made in obtaining the customer. He advised me to never worry about contacting a company regarding a warranty issue, he said they should be pleased to accommodate me ... or I should look for another company to spend my money with. Finally, he told me that my satisfaction on a warranty issue is the absolute best advertising that a company can have, as I will freely share with others my positive experiences with the brand ... for example, how TNF replaced that down jacket that was not keeping me warm during a cold winter.

He was right, because here I am over a dozen years later on an LL Bean thread singing the virtues of TNF's warranty policy. Patagonia has done the same. Ditto for Black Diamond. They've stood behind their products, have treated me right, and have replaced or repaired items to my satisfaction years after they were purchased. I know they will stand behind their products and for this they've earned my loyalty.

El Presidio San Augustin del Tucson
Feb 13, 2018 - 11:49pm PT
I better still get free f ucking monograms.

Trad climber
greater Boss Angeles area
Feb 14, 2018 - 07:19am PT
A guy I worked for who ran a restaurant told me, when given the choice between the two, "We would rather look stupid than cheap."

To which I responded "You can count on me, Jimmy. I'm your man."

Social climber
Desolation Basin, Calif.
Feb 14, 2018 - 11:29am PT
I got into a big argument at the Patagonia store in Pasadena over their warranty. I needed my fleece pullover repaired, a seam had let go at the shoulder. The gal at the register took my fleece and said just go pick out a new one. I didn't want a new one! I wanted my old fleece repaired, that thing is a great pullover. She said, no, just take a new one. I said, "No!". So finally she gave in. I got it back in a couple of weeks, good as new.

Trad climber
Nothing creative to say
Feb 14, 2018 - 11:39am PT
Good man Gary!

Have had that conversation with another retailer before. No joy on my attempt. So I kept it, but just couldn't use it.

Trad climber
Nothing creative to say
Feb 15, 2018 - 06:29am PT
Class action lawsuit filed for breach.
Dingus Milktoast

Trad climber
Minister of Moderation, Fatcrackistan
Topic Author's Reply - Feb 15, 2018 - 06:57am PT
Hmmmm. That suit seems a little over the top, to me.

I guess this fella is going to need to gather up all his LL Bean stuff and take it back to a store and try to return it, before he can show any real harm?

I would just move on, personally. Just forget about those old duds and the company that made them. But I reckon his suit is not about the clothing, but more about his butt hurt?


Ice climber
hartford, ct
Feb 15, 2018 - 07:05am PT
Nope... class action lawsuits are about lawyers getting paid... nothing else.
Bad Climber

Trad climber
The Lawless Border Regions
Feb 15, 2018 - 07:44am PT
Interesting thread. I've been an REI customer for a while and don't have a problem with the new policy--one year open returns plus case-by-case for longer periods. I'm about to test that policy. I'm guessing about five years ago, I bought the pack pictured below. Only in the last 2 years or so have I been using it somewhat regularly, mostly to haul rope and gear to the crags. I know it's a light pack, so I expected to have to patch the fabric at the wear points, mostly the bottom, but I didn't ever expect this:

Credit: Bad Climber

Let's see if they make good. I think this should totally be covered. Belts should not totally separate from the pack.


Social climber
Wise Acres
Feb 15, 2018 - 08:00am PT
Could you return second hand stuff?

photo not found
Missing photo ID#524074


Social climber
Choss Creek, ID
Feb 15, 2018 - 01:50pm PT
Re REI changing their lifetime warranty policy a few years back. Although I never sold directly to REI, I worked for several outdoor gear companies that did. In each company's case, REI was THE most important & by far their largest account.

When REI ate one of those company's products & gave the customer a refund, or a credit, or a replacement item, the company that originally supplied the product then had to pay for REI's generous warranty policies, by issuing a credit, or with replacement merchandise. It cost REI suppliers a lot of money, but it was considered part of the price of doing big business with REI.
Dingus Milktoast

Trad climber
Minister of Moderation, Fatcrackistan
Topic Author's Reply - Feb 15, 2018 - 01:57pm PT
Amazon does the same thing.


Trad climber
Nothing creative to say
Feb 15, 2018 - 03:16pm PT
It cost REI suppliers a lot of money, but it was considered part of the price of doing big business with REI.

It's also the primary way to make sure that a retailer that sells QUALITY gear can hold the manufacturer accountable to the quality standard before they ever hit the sales floor. It sets a bright line.

Not saying REI wasn't getting trashed by goodwill returner's. Just seems like they didn't have to limit it in the way they did, and the way LL bean did.

Dingus Milktoast

Trad climber
Minister of Moderation, Fatcrackistan
Topic Author's Reply - Feb 15, 2018 - 04:08pm PT
In both cases of REI and LL Bean they had lax internal controls over the return process that resulted in significant fraud being perpetrated by customers and employees alike. Their solution to the problem was to amend the return process (significantly).

Most of us never abused the return policy and certainly we never perpetrated fraud against REI.

Story time! A person I know (not me, to be very clear) got a Patagonia jacket from a very prominent outdoor retail clearance house. For those unfamiliar with the nuance of the apparel trade, clothing brands sell their unsold inventory to discount companies who in turn sell those closeouts to the public at deeply (or not so deeply) discounted prices. Like Ross, only for outdoor goods.

My buddy got this very lightweight goretex garment as a give-away due to some customer satisfaction thing he complained about. Basically they gave him a store credit and he used it to get this jacket. He didn't pay a dime for it. It was a horrendous color, EuroPuke. He didn't like it claimed it didn't fit but I know, it was the color he didn't like. No wonder it went unsold, right?

So he wouldn't be seen wearing it.

We're on a climbing roadtrip headed to the Winds. We have to pass through SLC on the way so he's all, 'Hey Ding, let's stop in the Patagonia outlet store and see what they have!' Ok.... sure.

Imagine my surprise to see the EuroPuke jacket in his hand when we walked in. Suddenly I realized why we had endured SLC rush hour Friday traffic when we were just glancing through the city on the way to somewhere else.

He tried to return the jacket. To Patagonia. I was appalled.

But he was my Obi Wan, know what I mean? He was my master. I could not call him out on it, much to my shame. Here he was trying to return a jacket he didn't even buy. No receipt, obviously.....

The lady there in the store, very polite but firm, would have nothing of it. She sniffed at the EuroPuke color and said, 'We don't even sell that jacket anymore. Where did you get it." He was all, well, ho, hum, you know I think I got it in San Francisco."

He was lying through his teeth and she knew it. He kept after it though and finally she brought the manager over. The manager was very professional but he was more blunt,

"It's not that we don't sell that jacket? It's that we NEVER sold that jacket through the stores. It was always a catalog item. So there is no way you could have bought it in San Francisco."

Whoa man, he got called out. He feigned foggy memory and laughed it off, red faced. But man did I hear about it for the rest of the trip. He was actually miffed he was caught trying to defraud Patagonia, and of course he blamed them.

"I'm never going to shop there again!" He huffed. I was all, well you didn't shop there to begin with.

But we both bought some stuff while we were there. I got my little kid this cool purple pile jacket that is still in the family inventory over 20 years later, handed down 3 times now :)

The intent of telling that story is to illustrate how a retailer with a generous and well known strong return policy, through training and professional behavior, can ward off amateurish fraud attempts quite easily. It sounds like LL Bean did not have such controls in place. Disgruntled store employees would know this and some % of them would take advantage, through shills like friends and relatives, to create fraudulent returns. But to respond to Munge's comment, of course there are ways to have a great return policy AND to keep controls around it. But it takes intelligence, effort and desire.

Or they could just rescind the policy and say to hell with their lifetime guarantee. That's easy peasy.

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