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L.L. Bean sued for ditching beloved return policy

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS

    Dawn Segars accepts a customer’s returned items at the LL Bean retail store in Freeport, Maine, on Feb. 2. L.L. Bean’s generous return policy is going to be a little less forgiving: The company, which has touted its 100 percent satisfaction guarantee for more than a century, is imposing a one-year limit on most returns to reduce growing abuse and fraud.

L.L. Bean Inc. is facing a breach of warranty lawsuit after changing its decades-old lifetime warranty, in what may be the first of many claims over the now-dead policy.

The complaint, filed this week in Chicago federal court, seeks class-action status. The plaintiff, Victor Bondi, is described in the filing as “a loyal customer” of L.L. Bean, having purchased the iconic Bean Boots, among other products.

“The warranty, promising that there are ‘no conditions’ and there is ‘no end date’ has been a core component of L.L. Bean’s marketing and has been emblazoned prominently on many L.L. Bean catalog covers,” the complaint stated. “The warranty was a basis of the bargain with the sale of L.L. Bean products. Because of L.L. Bean’s unilateral refusal to honor its warranty, plaintiff and the other class members were harmed, and have been deprived of the benefit of the bargain.”

Bondi’s frustration isn’t unique. The bootmaker’s announcement drew mixed reactions from customers, who either blamed those who abused the policy for ruining it for everyone or blamed the company for reneging on its promises.

The Freeport, Maine-based company said its lifetime returns policy was never meant to be an infinite replenishment method. L.L. Bean determined that about 15 percent of all recent returns were abusive, a rate that had doubled over the past five years. Such returns cost it around $250 million during that period, the company said.

“Increasingly, a small but growing number of customers has been interpreting our guarantee well beyond its original intent,” L.L. Bean Chairman Shawn Gorman said in a letter to customers on Friday. “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.”

L.L. Bean’s popularity spiked in recent years as urban shoppers developed a liking for the outdoor label’s roomy duffel bags and sturdy duck boots.

Representatives for L.L. Bean didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit. A representative for the plaintiff’s attorney, Ben Barnow of Barnow and Associates P.C., offered no additional comment on the matter.

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