Service of Going Too Far: L.L. Bean Puts its Boot Down

February 15th, 2018

Categories: Cheating, Retail, Rules

Some customers take advantage of businesses—we’ve all seen the type and I’ve written about this before. I have 32 posts under “cheating,” though admittedly in most cases, the swindler was a company.

An e-letter to consumers signed by L.L. Bean’s executive chairman, Shawn O. Gorman, has put the brakes on some of the nonsense. He wrote: “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.”

I don’t know if Brooks Brothers still has its policy but I knew a successful PR man in the day who wore a necktie for a few years and returned it, no questions asked, leaving the store with a new one. There was nothing wrong with the tie. He simply wanted a new one.

According to the new L.L. Bean policy, you’ll have one year to return an item which must be accompanied by proof of purchase. If a product is defective, they’ll work with you “to reach a fair solution.” The letter included a link to the full return policy, at

The letter ended: “Thank you for being a loyal customer and we look forward to continuing to inspire and enable you to Be an Outsider.”

Do you know what Gorman’s reference to “Be an Outsider” means? Do you agree with the step Mr. Gorman took? Can you blame him? Do you wonder why it has taken so long? Don’t most stores have a similar policy?

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12 Responses to “Service of Going Too Far: L.L. Bean Puts its Boot Down”

  1. david reich Said:

    The reference to “be an outsider” likely is to support outdoors activities, since that’s how L L Bean began, with outdoors-wear.

    It’s a shame the company has to change its returns policy. I’m not sure how much they really lost in bogus returns, but I bet it was offset in goodwill and PR value.

    When Roz worked part-time at Lord & Taylor 15 years ago, they also had a very generous return policy. She said she saw so many people take advantage, returning stuff they had obviously worn and saying they just didn’t like it. Women would do that with expensive dresses and bags.

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Of course! That’s what “be an outsider” must mean. My brain was in a different wave.

    I feel my blood pressure rising when I read about cheating customers such as those Roz encountered at L&T. I try to cauterize such excesses by protecting clients when clearly stylists over-order products for photo shoots. It’s not my money in any of these cases but it still broils. People try to slip by the entrance fee to clients’ events by claiming that they are press. I’d be more amenable to giving them a pass if they told the truth if their reason for not paying is valid. But get my back up by claiming to be press when there’s not an iota of evidence of a byline or video on Google and I refuse.

  3. ASK Said:

    Having worked summers during my college years for a high-end woman’s clothing chain (it exists no longer)in sportswear and dresses, I can recall some abuses of the store’s generous return policy, but relatively few and none so egregious as those described…I think it may have something to do with a greater sense of entitlement that is one hallmark of our disintegrating civil society today. Sorry, I do sound like a fuddy-duddy…

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:


    For reasons of health people were not permitted to return bathing suits. I haven’t been in one in years but imagine this is still the case. Evening gowns even at stores like Saks could not be returned and that has been true as long as I can remember because too many women would wear the gown to an event and return it.

    The cheating isn’t that new I’m afraid–there have always been these people. One glaring example of such a stylist was a woman who, for one brownstone living room, ordered 30 decorative pillows and over a dozen lamps among other things. I learned that the room was in her son’s apartment. I told the editor that my client’s policy for large orders was for the list to come from the editor. Amazing how fast that list that the stylist sent the editor and then the editor to me shrank to appropriate proportions.

    As for L.L. Bean, the company has expanded its retail presence and we know what a hard time retail is having. The company must find ways of clogging the $ leaks I imagine. I don’t hold this policy against them one bit.

  5. ASK Said:

    Stylists have a tendency to over-order, but your example is over the top. We always returned pieces to the company we borrowed from, unless the homeowner was interested in purchasing a piece or pieces at cost, which occasionally happened.

    I suspect that other retailers may try to follow Bean’s example; can’t say that I blame them, either.

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I’d over order too were I styling a room…to make sure my vision wasn’t faulty and that my second choice of lamp or tablecloth wouldn’t be the better choice. If stuff was custom ordered, it couldn’t be returned and for some companies, between the shipping and administrative costs of retrieving an item and putting it back in the system, it was less expensive for the homeowner to keep whatever. But 30 pillows? Hmmm. We all have more stories.

  7. Lucan Said:

    Shame on the management of L.L. Bean for being so slow to do something obvious to beef up its earnings by reducing a service it previously gave the public!

    Don’t they know that we are now living in Trumpean times, a new America firster era in which we are all supposed to be out there doing our best to fleece consumers to further enrich the already rich?

    Of course, it was the attitude of the L.L. Beans of this country — give your customers’ good, trusting service, and they will pay you back with their loyalty–, which got us into trouble in the first place. That is not how the rest of the world works. Maybe, but it sure wasn’t how Donald Trump works. Just check out all the litigation, bankruptcies, bribes, defaulted loans, unpaid suppliers, and the rest…

    At least, now they are finally catching on. Good for L.L. Bean!

  8. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I hope your tongue didn’t get stuck in your cheek–you’re not an unscrupulous businessman nor do you admire those who are.

    I can imagine it took this long for L.L. Bean to change its policy because it went against the corporate grain and business philosophy. In this world if you don’t protect yourself nobody else will.

    As for the word loyalty, it hasn’t existed in decades.

  9. Martha Takayama Said:

    I don’t think any other store has had the same policy as L.L. Bean.

    Most stores used to have quite limited time periods for returns, and long ago
    “sale” or discounted items were “final sale”, meaning no returns. Since “sales” and promotions have become constant rather than seasonal events, return policies have become more relaxed.

    Having worked long ago in retail I do know that there are people who buy, keep tags on and wear garments and sometimes successfully return them. For that reason certain stores label certain items, including luxury evening wear, as final purchases. The thought of returning worn items makes me very uncomfortable.

    There are also people who make all kinds of excuses to get credit or exchanges for things that seem to have been used and or misused. I don’t understand how L.L. Bean was able to maintain its policy for so long. I would imagine that the terms would function differently if applied to tools, boating and camping merchandise rather than clothing which is not work gear, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.

    Probably when L.L. Bean was more of a resource for practical shoppers and less of a sought-after casual wear label there were fewer outrageous demands made on it. In any case, I think the new policy is still very generous to the consumer.

    Perhaps “Be an Outsider” means to enjoy the outdoors since L,L. Bean has so much merchandise meant for outdoor activities. I am at a loss to understand it.

  10. Jeanne Byington Said:


    L.L. Bean has a very generous policy of not charging for shipping. I’m shocked at what sending a feather light package costs as I no longer send enough to get any discounts.

    On another retailer’s website, I saw something on sale at an advantagous price but the shipping cost was double the price of the item. I was constantly reminded by email that the item was still available but it made no sense to add so much to the cost–which no longer made the item a bargain!

    You and David came to the same conclusion about “Be an Outsider,” so I bet you are right! SO SMART!

  11. Lucan Said:

    I’m with you all the way on corporate loyalty, and to prove it, offer as evidence J. Press, which I have patronized since 1947 and the Oyster Bar at Grand Central, since 1942.

    If you give me fair and honest service, I’m grateful and don’t forget.

  12. Lucrezia Said:

    Good for Mr. Bean! “Legal” shoplifting has been going on for years, with “innocent” shoppers paying the bill. Since we’re the ones who keep him in business, this protection is long overdue!

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