L.L. Bean on Friday sent a letter to its customers saying that its lifetime product guarantee is going the way of the Model T.
An e-mailed letter from Shawn Gorman, executive chairman and great-grandson of the founder of the Maine-based company, read: “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.
“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.
“Based on these experiences, we have updated our policy. Customers will have one year after purchasing an item to return it, accompanied by proof of purchase. After one year, we will work with our customers to reach a fair solution if a product is defective in any way.”
According to the company’s web site, items that have “been damaged by misuse, abuse, improper care or negligence, or accidents,” will not be accepted for returns even within the one-year period. Other exceptions include products lost or damaged due to fire, flood or natural disasters, products returned for personal reasons unrelated to performance and products that have been soiled or contaminated until they have been properly cleaned.
Other companies in the outdoor arena have quietly gone to similar return policies. REI shifted its policy in 2013.
According to a spokesperson, “We stand behind the performance of the products we sell — a product with a manufacturing defect in its materials or workmanship can still be returned at any time. For other items, members and customers have a year to return or exchange items they are not satisfied with.
”Our returns policy is still among the best in the industry, and we want all our members and customers to be able to shop with confidence. And with a growing member base of 17 million people, the co-op is strong and healthy.”
But Patagonia still offers what it calls an “ironclad guarantee.” Its site boasts: “If your item isn’t working for you, send it in for a return or repair, hassle free, anytime.” Damage due to wear and tear “will be repaired at a reasonable charge,” the company said.
And since this is Patagonia, which has built a reputation on sustainability and fair trade, the brand offers a “trade it in” option. If a customer is “no longer wearing that piece of Patagonia clothing,” they can trade it in and receive credit toward another new or used garment. “We want our clothes to live long, useful lives and never end up in the landfill,” the site said.
A Patagonia spokesperson said Friday that the company has no plans to change its policy in light of L.L. Bean’s decision.
Lands’ End too still has a generous return policy. Its web site reads: “Guaranteed. Period. If you’re not satisfied with any item, simply return it to us at any time for an exchange or refund of its purchase price.” This includes monogrammed items or those that have been tailored. “When we say everything, we mean it. Guaranteed. Period.”