LL Bean imposes limits on its return policy, citing fraud

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LL Bean's generous return policy is going to be a little less forgiving: The company, which has touted its 100% satisfaction guarantee for more than a century, is imposing a one-year limit on most returns to reduce growing abuse and fraud.

The outdoor specialty retailer said returns of items that have been destroyed or rendered useless, including some purchased at thrift stores or retrieved from trash bins, have doubled in the past five years, surpassing the annual revenue from the company's famous boot.

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"The numbers are staggering," CEO Steve Smith told The Associated Press. "It's not sustainable from a business perspective. It's not reasonable. And it's not fair to our customers."

L.L. Bean announced Friday that it will now accept returns for any reason only for one year with proof of purchase. It will continue to replace products for manufacturing defects beyond that.

The company is also imposing a $50 minimum for free shipping as part of a belt-tightening that includes a workforce reduction through early retirement incentives and changes in workers' pension plans.

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The Freeport, Maine-based company joins a list of other retailers that have been tightened return policies.

Outdoors retailer REI, which was once jokingly dubbed Rental Equipment Inc. and Return Everything Inc. because of its unlimited returns policy, imposed a one-year restriction five years ago. Other retailers have been narrowing the window for returns or imposing new conditions.

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