L.L. Bean’s new, limited return policy stands.
The retailer has faced numerous lawsuits over the last year since its decision to update its legendary lifetime-return policy in February 2018.
The original 1912 return policy, which was created the same year the privately held company was founded, offered unlimited lifetime product replacements. For years shoppers could return well-worn boots that had been purchased years, or even decades before — no questions asked.
That was until February 2018, when the retailer, perhaps aware that some consumers were taking advantage of the lifetime guarantee, updated its return policy.
“Increasingly, a small but growing number of customers has been interpreting our guarantee well beyond its original intent,” Shawn Gorman, executive chairman and great-grandson of the founder of the Maine-based company, wrote in an email to WWD at the time. “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. Based on these experiences, we have updated our policy.”
The new returns policy is now limited to one year.
“After one year we will consider any items for return that are defective due to materials or craftsmanship,” the web site reads.
Not all shoppers were pleased with the decision.
One of them was Berkeley, Calif., resident William Shirley, who said he’s seen catalog and store advertisements promoting the lifetime return policy since he was a kid. He added that he had been buying L.L. Bean products for years, as recently as November 2017, under the pretense that he would have a lifetime to return them if he wanted.
Then, in May 2018, Shirley filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of consumers who had purchased L.L. Bean boots prior to Feb. 9, 2018, the date L.L. Bean changed its policy.
“This highly publicized and widely known guarantee has, for decades, been part of the benefit of the bargain for purchasers of L.L. Bean products,” the original complaint read and said consumers were hurt because of “L.L. Bean’s deceptive and unfair repudiation of its guarantee.”
The suit demanded that “L.L. Bean must continue to honor the warranty with no end date and no questions asked as to goods purchased prior to Feb. 9, 2018.”
Last week, a California federal judge dismissed the case, saying Shirley failed to prove a “current, concrete injury” from the new return policy.
The court also pointed out that the new policy does not apply to purchases made before Feb. 9, 2018, as long as they’re accompanied by a receipt and are not overly worn.
“Implicit in [L.L. Bean’s] satisfaction guarantee — a promise to refund customers who are not satisfied with their products — is a reciprocal requirement that customers seek refunds under the guarantee in good faith,” the court’s decision read. “By their very terms, misuse, abuse, improper care, negligence and excessive wear and tear all signify that a customer’s return is for reasons other than a good faith lack of satisfaction with the product. Logically then, the addition of these reasons to the return policy did not change the satisfaction guarantee at all, and therefore did not lessen the value of the product he purchased. L.L. Bean was always entitled to ask for proof of purchase and always entitled to reject a refund request that was not made in good faith. Thus, Shirley does not allege facts to show that he was denied the benefit of his bargain or that he overpaid for an illusory or voidable promise.”
Even so, this is not the first time shoppers have tried to sue the retailer over its new policy.
Last summer, Victor Bondi filed a similar class action lawsuit in an Illinois federal court, claiming breach of express warranty and unfair practices, among other things. The case was dismissed in September 2018.
L.L. Bean did not respond to a request for comment.