I tested LL Bean's legendary return policy by returning 4-year-old shoes

LL Bean SHoesDennis Green/Business InsiderMy four-year-old LL Bean Blucher Mocs with broken stitching, next to the replacement.

LL Bean shoppers know.

But those who haven’t heard the store’s name since their elementary school backpack may not. The brand has one of the best return policies in America.

As part of their “100% satisfaction guarantee,” LL Bean fully empowers its customers to decide what “satisfaction” means to them.

Any LL Bean-made item can be returned with no time limit or proof of purchase, as long as you make it clear you are somehow dissatisfied with how the product has held up.

“We’re the only company I know of that completely empowers the customer to determine what satisfaction means to them,” LL Bean spokesperson Mac McKeever told Business Insider.

It’s not hidden. It’s plastered on plaques in the retail stores, and shows up on every page of their website. On an order email, I counted a mention of it no less than four times.

With that in mind, it was absolutely time to put this lofty guarantee to the test. Hearing stories of people bringing back years-old camping gear and footwear, receiving brand new replacements sounded too good to be true. It can’t really be that good can it?

I had a pair of old LL Bean Blucher Mocs that I seldom wore anymore since the stitching on one of them came undone. I was pretty disappointed when it happened, as the shoes still had a bit of life left in them otherwise.

I chalked up the breakage to the fact that the shoes were 4 years old, and had served their useful life. However, with the guarantee in mind, this served as the perfect excuse (however flimsy).

As a New Yorker without a car, there aren’t many opportunities to visit an LL Bean store. The nearest one is in Paramus, New Jersey. So I took advantage of a family back home in New Jersey to visit one.

I saddled up to the counter with my dirty, old shoes and asked, since they broke, what they could could do about it in relation to the 100% satisfaction guarantee. The cashier flashed a knowing smile said “OK” and immediately added some identifying information into the computer. No other questions about the shoes were asked.

After clearing up a bit of confusion as to why my order information wouldn’t populate in the computer system (“They were ordered in the last two years, right?” the cashier asked. “No,” I replied sheepishly.), the shoes were ordered to my home address in New York. No record was given to LL Bean showing when or even if I purchased the shoes at any point.

I walked away with a written receipt giving me an estimated delivery date, since the shoes in my size were not in stock. I was not given a choice of another colour, model, or size. Two days later, the brand new shoes were waiting on my doorstep.

It my sound too good to be true. Surely customers would take advantage of such a generous policy. And while that does happen, possibly less than you may think.

“We know that the vast majority of our customers are adhering to the original intent of the guarantee, that being to ensure we sell high quality merchandise and stand behind it with our satisfaction guarantee,” McKeever said. “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 honour the original intent of the guarantee.”

The guarantee empowers customers to decide for themselves when they’re satisfied with a product, and rely on their own moral compass for guidance. In fact, I did feel a bit like a jerk at the counter with my clearly very old shoes. Buying an $84 pair of shoes once four year ago does not exactly entitle me to shoes for the rest of my life, and that is not the intent of the policy.

But the fact remains that the company was ready and willing to honour my flimsy complaint, true to their guarantee.

“We simply look at our guarantee as an extension of our customer service philosophy and our commitment to offer high-quality merchandise that stand up to the guarantee,” McKeever said “As a company, we have made a conscious decision to invest in our customers by standing behind our products through our guarantee.”

At no point did I identify myself to LL Bean customer service as a reporter.

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