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L.L. Bean just announced that it's seriously tightening it's previously generous return policy. While I felt a twinge of guilt entering the reason code "01 Quality Unsatisfactory" (after all they had lasted longer than any other shoes I've bought) their return policy clearly allowed it, and I meant to partake for the first time ever. "It's not sustainable from a business perspective". The guarantee has always been a selling point for Bean products.

Gorman said the change in return policy "will only affect a small percentage of returns".

Liberal return policies - some of which accept even death, divorce and weight loss as among the valid reasons to return items - might sound risky, but some retailers have found such policies to be rewarding by encouraging shoppers to buy more as well as fostering long-term bonds.

The return policy now states that if customers aren't satisfied, they can return products within a year of purchase for a refund. "We stand by our packs for a lifetime".

"What we have seen, and it has come to the point where we had to act upon it, is a small but growing group of customers who are interpreting the guarantee as a lifetime product replacement program, and that was never its intent", L.L. Bean President and CEO Stephen Smith told the Portland Press Herald.

From now on, products only can be returned if they were bought within 12 months or have a manufacturing defect.

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Others were not so understanding of the change. Much like L.L. Bean, REI made the change after abuses to the system grew too rampant and too expensive to sustain, as reported in this Planet Money podcast.

Indeed, Matt Powell of NDP Group, a third-party marketing firm that specializes in tracking retail sales, corroborates that "returns are one of the most expensive transactions that a retailer goes through today".

It's not uncommon to hear stories of people clearing out basements of used or unwanted L.L. Bean products, sometimes decades after their purchase. I kept those boots for years, and when the soles on them finally wore down, I dutifully boxed them up, filled out the return form and waited for the replacement pair to arrive a few weeks later.

But when the move to end unlimited returns was first floated a year ago, it coincided with other cost-cutting measures at the privately-held firm, including freezing pensions and offering employees early retirement, as the Boston Globe reported. "But the benefits outweigh that", says Simpson.

She said her family, which includes three children, was willing to spend more at L.L. Bean than at Walmart or Target because of the expectation that the products would last longer. "It's a bummer. It's such a rare and important thing to have that kind of guarantee".