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Have you ever returned L.L. Bean merchandise years after you bought it? Now’s the time to clear your conscience.

AP

Have you ever returned one of these to L.L. Bean years after you bought it? You’re not alone.

By John Hilliard Globe Correspondent 

L.L. Bean may be known best for its merchandise - outdoor jackets, pullovers, and two-tone winter boots.

But its loyal customers also know about the company’s very generous, century-old return policy: the retailer will accept returns on used, years-old merchandise.

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“Our guarantee is a handshake – a promise that we’ll be fair to each other. So if something’s not working or fitting or standing up to its task or lasting as long as you think it should, we’ll take it back,” the company says on its website.

With a receipt in hand, customers can return used items “at any time” for a refund, merchandise credit, or exchange, the company said on its website.

No receipt? An item can be replaced or returned for a credit at the current selling price, the company said.

Now the company is looking for ways to save money, and one of those changes could mean rethinking that return policy.

On the public radio program “This American Life” last summer, a man named Derek told the story of returning his worn-out cross-country ski boots to the company in 2007.

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When he returned them, he was asked by a company representative when he got them (about 15 years earlier), the reason for returning them (“they just fell apart”), and his satisfaction with their performance (“they were great, they just wore out”).

She thanked him for his answers, and his “shame just expanded until it was super-sized” during the experience, he said.

He got a check to buy a new pair of boots, he said.

A former company store clerk told reporter Sara Corbett that the policy is referred to in-house as “The Guarantee.”

“You just bring it back and we’ll give you, honestly, give you as much money for it as humanly possible,” the former worker told Corbett.

That approach may be on the way out.

“Fraudulent returns have been a problem,” a company spokesperson told the Globe this week, acknowledging that the generous policy is abused by some customers.

What’s your L.L. Bean return story? How long did you have the merchandise before you sent your stuff back in? Consider this your chance to finally come clean.


John Hilliard can be reached at john.hilliard@globe.com.