LL Bean — When People Ruin Things

Big Red Car here after a trip to Savannah to worship the new My Perfect Granddaughter. Today, we speak of LL Bean, but first a picture:

Big Red Car, sheesh, leave me alone. I’m sleeping.

So, today, dear reader, we speak of how people can ruin things, specifically, the former unconditional satisfaction guarantee from LL Bean.

LL Bean and The Boss

LL Bean is a company near and dear to The Boss. Once upon a time, when he was a young, combat engineer lieutenant traipsing about the hills in South Korea, nigh to the border with North Korea along the Demiltarized Zone (an area which is totally militarized), he wrote to LL Bean inquiring as to their recommendation for a good pair of socks and boots to forestall the cold and  moisture. [Typed the letter on a manual typewriter in a freezing cold tent dug into the side of a hill overlooking the Imjin River whereat there was a great sufficiency of cold and moisture as they were only a hundred miles from Manchuria.]

LL Bean replied by return post — takes a long time to get a package from Maine in  the US to Korea in Asia — with a pair of hunting boots and a full box of socks. FREE. Did I mention they were FREE?

The Boss mentioned he had about 50 men in his unit and the Beansters sent 144 pairs of socks. Each man got two pairs of socks. You used to carry the second pair of socks in your armpit to keep them from freezing. Hello, America! The Boss has always loved LL Bean.

The LL Bean Unconditional Satisfaction Guarantee

Part of the LL Bean magic has been an unconditional satisfaction guarantee — has been for more than a century.

Now, the company will limit the guarantee to a single year.

Why, Big Red Car?

The reason is simple, dear reader, abuse.

LL Bean, founded by Leon Leonwood Bean in Maine 106 years ago, reports the following abuses:

 1. People were returning  merchandise which has consumed its useful life. This violates the spirit of the deal. It was intended to guarantee satisfaction with the product, not a free replacement policy.

 2. People were buying merchandise at yard sales and returning it to LL Bean for new replacement merchandise — also, not the deal.

Big point — the LL Bean guarantee allowed a buyer to receive either CASH or a replacement product. The yard sale people were turning this into a cottage industry.

In the last five years, this has cost the company $250,000,000 — WOW!

New, tighter policy

Now, the LL Bean policy is as follows:

 1. You may return merchandise for any reason within one year of purchase with a “proof of purchase.” LL Bean has exquisite records, so getting a proof of purchase is no high hurdle.

No yard sale baloney.

 2. You may return defective merchandise forever. They will give you good merchandise.

Read about it here: The New LL Bean Guarantee.


LL Bean has always provided free shipping. Now, the free shipping requires an order of a minimum of $50. Not quite the worst policy ever. Fair, it seems.

So, dear reader, there you have it. Crooked persons ruin another great retail policy with their avarice and greed.

But, hey, what the Hell do I really know anyway? I’m just a Big Red Car, but I’m heading to Colorado to ski, so I may need a good pair of flannel lined LL Bean jeans, huh? Have a great weekend. Next week is Valentine’s Day.






8 thoughts on “LL Bean — When People Ruin Things

  1. Thanks for the post—much of what we wear comes from Bean’s—we’ve been to the store dozens of times. Glad they took such good care of you in Korea.

  2. (Request permission to pinch cheeks…now on to business).

    I have always wondered about that policy when I have seen it on the wall at LL Bean (there is one near where I live/work same shopping center as a (sniff) apple store).

    Anyway it’s obvious that they built that into their pricing but now they are finding it’s a problem. But the problem is not the scammers it’s an organization that doesn’t have enough people with common sense to refuse returns that are prima facie abusive and obvious. And no balls. Or doesn’t want to take any heat or bad pr for doing the right thing. So it’s just easier to change the policy. Legally I question if they can make a ‘contract’ and do differently with past purchases. Class action for anyone harmed? Not a stretch. On the other hand if they did this ‘quietly’ less of a chance for that. And how much LL Bean shows up at yard sales anyway? I don’t believe the numbers but I do believe people are taking advantage. But something doesn’t make sense in the way they are playing this.

    Also the purpose of ‘lifetime’ guarantees is simple. It’s to get you to buy more than you would buy if there was no guarantee. Remember when there were small shops and ‘you break it you buy it?’. Like if you bought a stereo from ‘mr small shop owner’ and tried to return it you were toast. Because it came out of his pocket. Then big box came with idiots working there and all the sudden you could return for any reason. Then as people took advantage they started to tighten that down. Remember the first credit card purchase guarantees? They covered everything until people took advantage which was obvious would happen.

    Personally I think they handled this the wrong way. One of the reasons I bought things from LL Bean is because of that policy even though I haven’t really used it. So I pay more for the ‘insurance’ of being able to return.

    The truth is they are under price pressure from all of the people who sell similar items where the quality is not as good. Wasn’t a problem years ago but is now (blame Amazon).

    You know cars have policies but they are enforced by the dealer and the dealer has to be paid back from the manufacturer. So the resistance is built there and they won’t fix things that they won’t get paid for from the mfg. So there is a way to do this right.

    By the way I am a big complainer at restaurants if the food isn’t right or really anywhere. My wife always cringes but in the end I get what I want and I feel that for every person like me there are 30 people who say nothing and the restaurant gets away with shoddy food or service.

  3. I always thought that the LL Bean guarantee was going too far!

    I’m an LL Bean fan.

    I’ve long thought that had a good and nearly unique connection with their customers: To nearly everyone else interested in the “rag trade”, LL Bean and its products are booooooring!!! Okay!!! Then that situation filters out the customers who, from some excitement of the moment, want some throw away fashion frock they just saw on some TV show and lets in customers who don’t like the time, effort, and money of rag trade shopping and, instead, want really good products that will last a long time and, then, move on to doing something else with their time, money, and effort.

    A few weeks ago, I counted: I have six LL Bean white polo shirts, extra tall, with a left, breast pocket good enough to wear in public and a dozen or more with holes, tears, etc., good for yard work. Okay.

    • By the way the wholesale fraud is a thing that Fred’s company Sift (who I do work for btw) could fix with their machine learning. It’s an opportunity for them actually. This is all simple if you figure out (and share) who the people abusing are.

    • Speaking of fraud, I’m looking forward to your next TSLA post! Oops, have to kick the can down the road for a spell with the M3. At least the last rocket launch did not blow up.

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