I’m calling it quits with L.L.Bean. For many Mainers, when it comes to L.L.Bean, it’s personal, which is why this breakup won’t be easy.
In our closets combined, at least 60% of our clothing is from L.L.Bean. Wayne loves their plaid shirts. I have many of their cardigans, coats, (“mom”) jeans (I’m OK with that), accessories, winter pajamas, hiking boots, tote bags, it’s a long list. Over the years I have purchased most of my holiday gifts to my family from them.
I’m a “Top 250 reviewer” on their website.
During the ice storm of 1998 they donated blankets and cots to the Congregational Church in Freeport which was an emergency shelter for the locals. I know because I was there.
My love and loyalty to L.L.Bean goes back decades, to when I was at a very low point in my life. It was the dreamy catalogs from Bean that became a healthy form of escapism for me starting in the 1980s. Beautiful people with perfect-looking families and happy marriages, always smiling, were enjoying leisurely walks at their family camps. The allure and illusion for those of us with a grittier reality was that the associated feelings and appearance of it could be mail-ordered. That’s the art of brilliant advertising that doesn’t cross the line into deceptive marketing. Even more importantly and factually, they sold quality clothing that was wildly popular during my time in undergrad and grad school. I don’t think I’ve made it a single winter without L.L.Bean. Of course if at any time the clothing disappointed or was defective (which rarely happened for me back then and through the 1990s), there was a cordial and pleasant return process. The flagship store in Freeport was filled with knowledgeable employees.
Christmas 1993 and again in 1997 I worked at L.L.Bean as a seasonal employee in their Portland, Maine call centers. My first season I underwent a week-long forty-hour hour training that was by far one of the greatest lessons I’ve received in providing courteous customer relations. We learned about pursuing excellence and not perfection; to be apologetic when a customer was unhappy. My supervisor was an important part of that experience (we’re still in touch, and he is now the Town Manager of Boothbay Harbor). Because I was treated so well by management and appreciated their investment in me, and was already a loyal customer, it absolutely translated into my going above and beyond with each customer on the telephone. We were all happy customers of L.L.Bean and treated one another as such.
Over the years, like all American businesses, L.L.Bean began to outsource a lot of their manufacturing to vendors overseas to “stay competitive.” What has been inexplicable to me beyond that is the overall deterioration in product quality and customer service that appear to be part of their company culture.
My beautiful warm duffle coat I bought in 1997 that I still wear when I shovel my driveway is made in the USA with wood toggles and real leather accents. The lining is 75% wool. My recently purchased duffle coat from the flagship store (and not the outlet) is made in Vietnam with plastic buttons and vinyl in place of the leather. The lining is 100% polyester.
Here is where L.L.Bean is literally cutting corners: I have five recently purchased cardigans from Bean with the same pocket stitching that is merely yarn holding them to the sweater in the two corners.
I never really noticed it until I actually put something in my pocket and one of the strings of yarn broke. They are very nice sweaters otherwise but I have a hard time understanding why their quality control thinks this kind of shoddiness is acceptable.
A few weeks ago I saw a waterproof winter jacket on their website I liked and it was in stock in Freeport. I noticed that it didn’t state in the web description if it was breathable. I made the half hour trip to the store to buy it but to be sure I asked the lady in that department if she could tell me if the jacket was breathable since it didn’t state online or on any of the tags. She said she’d look into it, went to her computer, and pulled up the webpage. She said I could read it if I liked. I explained that it didn’t address my question, so could she please find someone who would have the answer? She said she would find her “fabric expert”, and she returned with a very friendly gentleman up in his years. He was very sweet in his delivery, but sadly he did not have the answer, either.
What made things even worse is that I tried on a different jacket and the zipper got stuck due to misalignment so that it took a few minutes to unzip it. I figured that maybe it was defective, and attempted to try on a different one of the same jacket but that zipper was also misaligned and stuck while still on the hanger.
I thanked the two employees, walked away and called Wayne to share what had happened. Would you believe that the lady had followed me and was standing right next to me listening to my conversation? And that when I told Wayne I had to go she said: “I never said I didn’t have the answer.” That whole scene was just too wacky and I left the store empty handed.
Still, I was willing to keep this relationship going. Until now.
Wayne and I had ordered a pair of adorable winter coveralls for his new grandson and selected the 0-3 months size. We had it shipped directly to them so I did not see it in person. We learned yesterday when we visited for the holidays that it is so oversized that he won’t be able to wear it for many months. I logged into my L.L.Bean account once we were home to check that I ordered the correct size, which I had. I also then realized that it will likely be summer before he’ll grow into it and this is not a summer item. By winter it may be too large.
I contacted customer service and spoke to three different representatives, two of whom identified themselves as supervisors. I was flabbergasted at the way I was treated. One was quite nasty. I had asked for her to repeat her name since I didn’t write it down when she first picked up. I asked her twice and both times she ignored my question and kept talking while stating I wasn’t listening to her. When I pointed out that she was refusing to repeat her name she replied: “I told you three times already!” (She hadn’t.) “No secrets here!” Additionally, I was told to scroll down on the product page to where it states: “Oversized fit; order one size down for standard fit.” How does one order a size down for an infant when it’s not an option? You can’t. L.L.Bean is advertising a size that doesn’t exist. Instead of only offering it in the next size range up, they are falsely advertising an infant size and then making the customer feel responsible for not seeing that not prominently placed disclaimer.
It makes me very sad to think of no longer shopping at L.L.Bean, but we won’t continue to support and enable what they have become. Besides, no one has a monopoly on Maine living. We’re excited to get out of our shopping rut and explore new clothing options. We welcome your suggestions for practical, well made New England lifestyle clothing from businesses that provide excellent customer service! (I’m happy with my new down coat and breathable rain jacket from Eddie Bauer.)