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L.L. Bean Scraps Legendary Lifetime Return Policy

A Bean Boot is seen in the return bin at an L.L. Bean retail store in Freeport, Maine.

L.L. Bean's outdoor gear — including its signature Bean Boots prized by campers and hipsters alike — is no longer guaranteed for life.

In a letter to customers Friday morning, the company said it has updated its return policy to give customers one year to return purchases, with a receipt. The previous lifetime guarantee, which enabled customers to return products years — or even decades — after purchase, has long been a selling point for the company.

"Increasingly, 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."'

L.L. Bean says the policy update will affect only a "small percentage" of returns and pledged to keep its mission of selling "high quality products that inspire and enable people to enjoy the outdoors." The company says if a product is defective, it will "work with our customers to reach a fair solution" even after a year.

The return policy on the site now reads:

"If you are not 100% satisfied with one of our products, you may return it within one year of purchase for a refund. After one year, we will consider any items for return that are defective due to materials or craftsmanship."

A Business Insider reporter put the policy to the test last year by returning four-year-old shoes with broken stitching. He recounts that the cashier immediately accepted the return and asked for no proof about when he purchased the shoes. "Two days later, the brand-new shoes were waiting on my doorstep," Business Insider writes.

At the time, an L.L. Bean spokesperson told the site that the return policy was taken advantage of less than might be expected.

"Our guarantee is not a liability, but rather a customer service asset — an unacknowledged agreement between us and the customer, that always puts the customer first and relies on the goodwill of our customers to honor the original intent of the guarantee," spokesperson Mac McKeever told Business Insider.

The company traces its origins to 1911, when a Maine outdoorsman developed a hunting shoe with leather uppers and rubber bottoms. Its rugged products were designed with hunting and fishing in mind.

In recent years the company has taken steps to appeal to a hipper, less outdoorsy clientele. As Maine Public Radio reported, L.L. Bean has been "looking to really create a new updated fit and style."

This American Life dug into L.L. Bean's legendary return policy — listen to it here.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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