Tuesday, February 13, 2018

L.L. Bean’s Turnaround on Returns

I order plenty of stuff online, and occasionally I’ll return some of that stuff. This mostly happens when the shoe don’t fit, or the color isn’t quite what I thought it would be. Even then, I may hang on to an item. No, I won’t keep shoes that don’t fit – having a hard-to-fit foot taught me a long time ago that an ill-fitting shoe will mean nothing but blisters. But I did keep the L.L. Bean rain jacket that, online looked like a midnight bluish purple, but in reality is about as Crayola royal purple as you’re ever going to find. Most people were smarter than me. They either ordered another color to begin with, or, having purchased it, made a return. I say this because I noticed that the only color that’s on sale is poke-in-eye-purple.

I didn’t return my jacket and, even though I could still return it, I won’t. I’ve worn it a few times. I’ll wear it a few more. And then I’ll donate it to charity and get myself the same jacket in a better color.

But we’re talking L.L. Bean, so I theoretically could return it, because I haven’t had that jacket for a year yet.

The old L.L. Bean policy was that it didn’t matter how long you had something, you could always return it.

But that is no more:

The storied outfitter announced Friday that it has ended its generous century-old returns policy that effectively allowed customers to return virtually anything, no matter how old or beaten up, saying it had become too costly.

L.L. Bean officials said the company has lost $250 million on returned items in the last five years, with the number of returns doubling in that period. The annual losses on these items alone were “equal to the amount of revenue generated from Bean boot sales,” they said. (Source: Boston Globe)

They still have a one-year return policy, but effective immediately there’s no more sending back 25 year old duck boots and asking for new ones. Which apparently way too many people were doing.

Over the years, I’ve returned a few things to L.L. Bean because of quality issues.

A few years back, I had a couple of tee-shirts that lost their hem after a few washings. Back they went.

Then there was the bag with the lousy zipper. That was a couple of years old, but I still felt justified. The zipper was a two-way job that kept springing open from one direction or the other – and not when the bag was overloaded in the least.Carrying a bag, the contents of which (i.e., wallet and phone) could fall out at any time seemed like a pretty bad idea. And it seemed to me that it was reasonable for a bag that didn’t come for free wouldn’t last longer.

I do think that L.L.Bean has occasional quality issues, but I have clothing from there that I’ve had forever. I have three pairs of long exercise pants, and three pairs of cropped exercise pants. They’re all 10 years old. And I pretty much wear each pair once a week – longs in cold weather, cropped when it’s warmer. So I’ll estimate that each pair of workout pants has been washed 250 times. And they’re still all fine. Oh, the back pockets have frayed, but I didn’t use them anyway. Sure, I line dry rather than dryer dry these pants, but still, the quality has been pretty remarkable.

But whether something lasts forever, or just for a reasonable length of time, I can’t imagine sending back something that was just plain worn out and expecting a replacement.

Not all others think the same way, apparently:

In explaining the change, the company shared images of dubious exchanges, including a worn pair of loafers, slippers with the sole detaching and a child’s ski jacket with three years’ worth of ski tags on it that had a stain but was otherwise fine.

Not to mention folks going out of their way to buy L.L.Bean stuff in thrift shops and yard sales and sending it back. Bad enough you ask for returns on merchandise you actually bought. To me, picking something up for a dollar and having the nerve to ask L.L. Bean to give you something worth $50 for it, while it may have been legal under the old policy, sounds not like Yankee frugality or shrewd bargaing, but like stealing.

Of course, some of these folks have gone online to brag about their crappy behavior. Seriously, someone would be proud that they’d gotten their kids “a new backpack every school year…[or] exchanging the same pair of corduroy pants for the past 30 years.

Even a descendant of the company’s founder has a firsthand account of this. Shawn Gorman, great-grandson of Leon Leonwood Bean, told the Associated Press that he’d once seen his own shirt with his name printed in it returned to a store after he’d donated it to Goodwill.

How about that?

L.L. Bean shoppers – or L.L. Bean non-shoppers in the case of the yard-salers - aren’t the only bad actors, of course.

I remember a sales guy at Tweeter’s – and that dates the conversation – telling me and my husband that they sold a lot of wide screen TVs that got returned the day after the Super Bowl. And other retailers who’ve had similarly generous return policies have revised them because there are so many repeat offenders out there.

Anyway, it wasn’t a policy I particularly used, let alone abused, so I’m just as happy to see it go. Even if it means that, if I do decide to hang on to it, I can’t wait five years to have buyer’s remorse and send back that purple rain jacket…

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