Got a number of emails responding to the change made by iconic retailer LL Bean to what was seen as a lifetime return policy. Arguing that it actually has been a “lifetime satisfaction guaranteed” policy, and that a growing percentage of people have been abusing it to the point that it no longer is sustainable, the retailer now has said that returns have to take place within a year, and be accompanied by proof of transaction. (Product defects - even after a year of ownership - will still qualify for an exchange.)

I commented, in part:

It certainly won’t affect where I bring my business - I’m a regular, loyal LL Bean shopper, and I’m just fine with the change.

One MNB reader responded:

I understand your loyalties and why you have them.  That you got feedback from Steve Smith - and shared it with the MNB  community - is appreciated.

Still, the "guarantee" is one of the differentiators that set LL Bean apart.  (I say this as I am (was) a loyal LL Bean shopper myself.)  What troubles me about this change is the inferences that a "few are spoiling it for most".  In today's technology era, particularly in online, there is enough data available to immediately signal a problem shopper.

Retailers know who the shoppers abusing their system. Red flags are set up to signal customers who are "out of norm" with return heuristics. From Amazon to Wal-Mart and every retailer alphabetically in between, this competency is now "table steaks".  Whomever is processing any order (purchase or return) from a red flag customer knows instantly; credit cards enable this to happen.

LL Bean, not unlike any other retailer, gets an allowance from their vendors for defective goods. Most retailers donate to charity the product they receive back (for which they now make us pay shipping) and get an additional tax credit for this donation.

I take exception to LL Bean's decision.  Sometimes you have to fire a customer. LL Bean doesn't have to accept the abuser’s order, nor process their return (particularly without receipt of purchase).  It's too easy to simply make a new policy - when sometimes you just have to say "we would appreciate you taking your business elsewhere.”

Could it be, Kevin, that we'll see LL Bean drop catalogue prices on their shirts (for example), as a result of this decision? I won't bet on it.

I respect that you will continue to support them. I suspect your decision has as much to do with their long-standing product quality and the way they've handled this situation (talking to you directly, etc.) which is respectable.  I feel they've tried to solve a problem they didn't have to by punishing everyone.  Neither of us will know who's right for another 6-9 months when loyal shoppers will vote with their wallet.


From MNB reader Clay Whitney:

I have owned LL Bean duck boots since I was old enough to pay for them myself.  I had an old pair without insulation I could use in the summer and winter (with thick socks) and an insulated pair.  The first pair was getting worn thin and I intended to send them in, but then heard that there was this yard-sale-type problem and other abuse, which brought what I was planning to do into focus, so I decided against it.  My wife wasn’t aware of my change of heart and sent them in.  She received a polite note that there would be a charge of $45 under the circumstances.  When I heard about it, I felt bad but also was happy to have kept the uppers (great memories) but gotten essentially new boots.  I hoped the $45 included some margin for LL Bean...probably didn’t.  I love the company and regret being part of the problem, but they still have me as a customer for life, albeit a better customer.

MBNB reader Scott Arnold wrote:

We disagree about many things but the merits of LL Bean is not one of them. It is a sad commentary on modern society that people abuse anything they can. 

No real Bean customer will be impacted by this, like you not a day goes by that i am not wearing or using something purchased from Bean and this change made to protect the company from fraud will not change that.

I am surprised I have not yet received the email from them telling me about the change. Its been a whole 6 days since  my last email from them, saying my latest order has been delivered.


From MNB reader Robert Johnson:

I wondered when my brother-in-law’s behavior would spread sufficiently that LLB would have to adjust this policy.  He bought a pair of boots in the ’70 and hasn’t paid for a new pair since… 




Finally…yesterday, in “Executive Suite,” we reported that Walmart announced on Friday that it has hired Rachel Brand, the Associate Attorney General in the US Department of Justice, the third-ranked official there, to be its new Executive Vice President, Global Governance and Corporate Secretary, responsible for the Walmart’s Legal, Global Ethics and Compliance and Global Investigation, Security, Aviation and Travel departments, along with her role as corporate secretary.

We noted that “the hiring of Brand got a lot more publicity than it might have in less tumultuous times. As the third-ranked official at Justice, Brand would’ve been next in line to oversee the special counsel’s investigation into Russian influence in the 2016 election if President Donald Trump decided to fire Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, who currently oversees the probe because Attorney General Jeff Sessions had to recuse himself.

Having reported the facts of the hiring, I then offered a bit of commentary in “KC’s View”:

Brand joined the Department of Justice during the George W. Bush administration, and was appointed to her current role by President Trump. So she’s a Republican appointee with a solid GOP pedigree. Can’t imagine why she wants to get the hell out of DC.

Which prompted MNB reader Tom Hahn to write:

Kevin, of what use is it to include your snarky political views on the President in your comments? How does that elevate a blog on the retail grocery industry? It’s getting harder and harder to read your daily posts as you move farther and farther to the left. If I want political op-eds, there are plenty of places I can go for that. Why not just keep your political views on the shelf and play it down the middle on the grocery industry?

Really? You thought that was snarky? I think I’m perfectly capable of snark, but that was certainly one of my lesser efforts.

(For premium snark, check out what I said about Tesco yesterday.)

Also, for the record, I think I took a shot at Washington, DC, not any politician in particular. That place is such a mess that I cannot imagine why anyone would want to work there. (I’m not even sure that qualifies as commentary anymore.)

I do want to be clear, though. While I mostly write about the business of retail, with a focus on the food industry, I also have written over the years about technology, a wide variety of other retail segments, sports (especially the travesty of the designated hitter rule), movies, television, food, travel, wine and books, with occasional forays into child-rearing, animal welfare, religion and yes, even politics. I try to be fair, but mostly try to be transparent about my biases and willing to listen to other people’s ideas and opinions. I always learn from the folks who disagree with me, and sometimes they even change my mind. I’ve been doing this for 16 years, and I think I’m a much more open-minded person today than I was when I started.

But I have never, ever claimed that I play it down the middle. About anything.