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Friday, February 9, 2018

Don't Panic: L.L. Bean is Ending Their Lenient Return Policy

l.l. bean changing return policy
Schoodic Peninsula 

Earlier today L.L. Bean, Maine's most famous company and one of our largest employers, announced that they were putting a stop to their oldest policy-- unlimited returns. Over 100 years ago, founder Leon Leonwood Bean guaranteed satisfaction and put a never-ending return period into place. When L.L. Bean's chairman Shawn Gorman announced the change...people kinda lost it, complaining that the return policy was the only reason they shop at L.L. Bean, they'll shop elsewhere from now on, etc. Ya know, throwing a fit basically.

I don't typically report on the changing policies of clothing brands, but when this story broke I immediately felt the need to share some of my stories from when I worked at an L.L. Bean outlet.

l.l. bean changing return policy

In 2012 I was working at an outlet store in Virginia that has since closed, and at the time it was the most southern L.L. Bean location. To this day, it was still my favorite retail job that I've ever had. Besides re-folding the shelves of sweaters at the end of the day, my least favorite part of my job there was processing returns. Not because it was difficult, but because it was absolutely disgusting.

There was one man who came in a couple times a month right before lunchtime. He would buy a new dress shirt then return it a couple hours later. Sometimes the shirt would have food dripped down the front, but the shirt the man returned would always have huge sweat patches in the underarm area. Each time I and my co-workers would ask what the problem with the shirt was, he would reply, "I just didn't like it" with a smile. It was obvious that he was wearing these new shirts to lunch meetings with clients. We would have to "code 3" the sweaty shirt every time-- code 3 means throw away. Eventually a manager suggested "if you don't like the shirts, stop shopping here." He got the hint that we were onto him, and we didn't see him anymore.

Then there were some teenage girls who were really into the trend of wearing soft-soled shearling slippers to school. They would wear holes through them, then come back to our store, exchange them for brand new ones, and we'd code 3 the old slippers. They did this a few times before a co-worker finally caught them. She asked "is there anything wrong with the slippers?" and the girls responded "oh no, we loved them, we just--" and my co-worker said "whoops, sorry! I can't return them. Satisfaction was guaranteed and you were satisfied." The girls walked out of the store scowling, calling my co-worker awful names, and complaining that they were no longer allowed to essentially steal slippers.

Oh, and then there was the man who returned some L.L. Bean dress shoes that he had for God knows how many years. I can't express how horrible the smell was. And they were still warm and moist when he handed them to me. I had to throw away the shoes and give him a full refund.

I can't forget to mention this gang of old ladies who turned the return policy into a hobby. They would scour thrift stores for L.L. Bean merchandise, buy it for probably a few bucks a piece, and return it to our store. We knew what they were doing but we had no way to prove it, we just had to give them refunds and watch as they cackled their way out of the store. And then we had to throw the thrifted L.L. Bean clothing away.

When word got out that our store was closing, chaos erupted. People were very upset. I had one woman who was a very loyal (and honest) customer, who held my hands as she told me how much she loved our store and that I and all my co-workers could use her as a reference for future employment. The store closing brought out kindness in many people...but not so much with others.

Two days before our store closed for good, I was frantically walking around the sales floor trying to keep up with the mess, and I came across an Adirondack chair sitting smack-dab in front of the front doors. Upon taking a closer look I noticed that it was growing all sorts of fungi, had tunnels all over it from woodworms, spider webs hanging off it...basically, it was a gnarly chair. As I was carefully moving it out of the entrance way, a co-worker came over and told me that a man had come in to return the decaying chair. It was a chair that he bought 37 years ago and it was intended for indoor use only, though he clearly didn't follow those instructions. see where this story is going, I'm sure. We had to give him a full refund and we threw the chair away.

l.l. bean changing return policy

These are just some my stories from the short time that I worked at L.L. Bean. Think about the big picture and how many other people were doing things like this. Don't get me wrong, my stance isn't "boo hoo, people are taking money away from the L.L. Bean executives."

Ultimately, this was unfair to the retail workers. They had to deal with people returning foul, soiled merchandise and give them full or partial refunds for it with a smile on their face. L.L. Bean is one of the biggest employers in Maine and if they kept on with that lenient return policy, they probably wouldn't be for much longer.

One year is plenty of time to decide if you want to return something. I'll admit, getting used to the change may be difficult for me too, but I'll manage. It's not the end of the world, L.L. Bean still produces quality products that I love, and I'm going to continue being a loyal L.L. Bean customer. It isn't 1912 anymore so why hold on to policies from 1912 that aren't working? If you ask me, it's about darn time they implement this change.

But if you're upset about this change and you know someone who was taking advantage of the return policy and thinking they were so slick for it, you can thank them for ruining it for everyone.
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