PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – When Leon L. Bean first started selling boots 106 years ago, he launched the policy of replacing the boots he sold for any reason at any time when returned.
“Very unusual,” Point Park University business professor Elaine Luther told KDKA money editor Jon Delano on Friday. “What they said was that they would take it back for any reason whether you wore it for 40 years and it just wore out. They would do a replacement for it.”
But in recent years that generous return policy has been abused with some who never bought the boots retrieving them from the trash, yard sales, or thrift stores to get new boots from L.L. Bean.
In a letter to customers on Friday, the company’s chairman and grandson of the founder, Shawn Gorman, wrote, “Increasingly, a small but growing number of customers has been interpreting our guarantee well beyond its original intent.”
“People were gaming the system, and it caught up with them,” says Luther.
So now L.L. Bean is changing its return 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,” wrote Gorman. “This update adds clarity to our policy and will only affect a small percentage of returns.”
Luther says a one-year, return policy with receipt is still pretty good.
“That’s what most other places have,” she said.
But some chains like Nordstrom, Lands’ End, Kohl’s, and Bed Bath & Beyond will still take returns after a year, while others impose 90-day or 6-month return rules.
And electronics are almost always an exception, requiring quicker returns.
The bigger problem for L.L. Bean may be the $50 purchase rule to get free shipping.
“Almost everybody is doing free shipping now,” says Luther.