Bonobos just quietly changed one of the biggest things that set them apart

BonobosFacebook/BonobosA Bonobos guide shop in San Jose, California.

When Bonobos hit the e-commerce scene in 2007, it made quite a splash by doing two things a bit differently: pants and returns.

The brand’s pants are just as popular as ever. The startup’s return policy, though: not so much.

The policy has gone through several different iterations in its nearly 9 years of existence. It started with a policy of “lifetime” returns, which meant that customers could return any item to the e-tailer at any time.

That was changed to a still-extremely-generous 365-day return policy in 2012. A year later, in 2013, it was changed yet again, and the 365-day policy applied only if you were exchanging an item or returning it for store credit. Cash returns were subject to a 90-day policy.

Now, Bonobos has confirmed to Business Insider that the initial 365-day return policy is gone altogether. Exchanges or returns for store credit must be done within 90 days, and cash returns within 45. The new policy is reflected on the startup’s website.

A spokesperson for Bonobos told Business Insider:

“We’re constantly evolving as a brand and evaluating our policies to ensure they are customer friendly. Based on research and findings, we determined this would be amenable not just to our business but to our customers as well. We’re proud to still offer a generous return policy to our customers, one that still is well above the industry standard.”

This change brings it more in line with typical e-commerce retailers like Net-A-Porter, which offers only 28 days to return an item, and Combatant Gent, which offers 30 days to return and 60 to exchange. Everlane carries a more generous 90-day return policy, however.

One theory for why the company was forced to change its policy is how much “strategic customers” — customers who take full advantage of generous policies — can cost a company like Bonobos.

In a 2014 Medium post, startup founder Soren Larson wrote that, since Bonobos clothing ships without tags, it was easy to test-drive a piece of clothing, even wearing it out a number of times, before ultimately sending it back to the company and ordering something else at no additional cost.

A sale to a strategic customer is therefore not really a sale, but more of a loan, Larson said. Bonobos made money on the bet that only a small number of its customers will be so strategic.

Bonobos confirmed to Business Insider that no other similar changes are on the horizon. It has raised a total of $128 million in venture capital.

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