LL Bean recently announced the end of their famous and generous unlimited free-return policy, which guaranteed a lifetime free replacement. It was inevitable, and I told them so.

Many years ago (in the 1980s, to be exact) a friend’s dog who was staying with us while the owners traveled, chewed off the soft upper cuff on my beloved hiking boots. Understand that a skiing injury in college has left me with two slightly different size and shape feed and a bony lump on my lower left anterior chin, which makes fitting firm shoes a challenge. It is particularly hard to find a pari of ankle-high boots that both fit. In fact, I have learned to settle for uncomfortable if it doesn’t cause bleeding or pain. These boots were well broken in and fit perfectly. I loved them.  They worked without the cuff, but it meant wearing a short gaiter to keep scree out of the boot, so I decided to visit LL Bean to see if they still sold a model close enough to this to match their fit and comfort.

I arrived with my well worn boots and went to the information and service desk and asked if they carried this model, fully intending to buy a new pair. They did not have the same model, but (90 minutes and probably 10 pairs later) I found a near match that was not perfect but pretty damn good. I pulled out my credit card and the sales person checked his computer and announced that he would be crediting me with the $85 purchase price of my original pair. 

I objected. I pointed out that the boots had seen years and miles of service, that they were not defective, that I was not dissatisfied with the boots, and that I saw this as buying a new pair. His response: “You came in with a pair of old boots because they are damaged. Our return policy is lifetime free replacement. I hope you get many good miles in them.”

Clearly, resistance was futile.  I thanked him, assured him that I would make good use of the new boots, but also told him that the times were a changin’ and that this policy would not be sustainable. He smiled and shrugged. I left with my boots - and got many fine miles out of them.



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