Q. I recently purchased a coat for $89 at an L.L. Bean outlet store. As I was looking at the coat at home, I noticed it was pretty dirty along the cuffs and neck and at the end of the zipper. Then I felt something in the pocket. It was someone's bank statement along with a handwritten shopping list. I know L.L. Bean has a generous return policy and the coat was marked as "returned." But shouldn't returned items be for things like the wrong color, wrong size, etc.? I could have bought a used coat at the Salvation Army or Goodwill for under $20. If L.L. Bean is going to resell used clothing and items, shouldn't they be required to put "used" on the items?
Sheila Roberge, Exeter, NH
A. L.L. Bean has as liberal a return policy as any retailer. But the company is not in the business of selling used goods. A company spokeswoman apologized for what happened and said "Clearly, we misprocessed the coat."
"Our outlet stores sell a range of products that include discontinued styles, overstocks, and some second quality returns which may include gently used products -- everything from apparel and footwear to outdoor gear and furniture," spokeswoman Carolyn Beem said. "As we process returns we determine whether they are first quality -- never been worn, returned to stock -- or second quality suitable for the outlet stores, or lesser quality to be liquidated other ways."
But dirty clothes or those with another customer's belongings, she said, should never be found on L.L. Bean's racks.
Ironically, I've heard a number of tales lately of this thing working in reverse -- consumers exploiting L. L. Bean's "100% Satisfaction Guarantee" by asking for (and getting) replacements when, say, a zipper breaks on a hand-me-down coat.
"The vast majority of our customers understand and respect the guarantee and return policy," Beem said. "Do we have a few who try to take advantage? No doubt. But they are in the minority."
The takeaways: Double-check what you're buying when you're at an outlet store and when a retailer has an exceptional policy on the quality of its products (not many do these days), consider what's reasonable before you mess it up for everyone else.
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Mitch Lipka is one of America's leading consumer journalists and advocates. He is an expert in product safety, recalls, scams, and helping consumers get out of jams. He is a nationally known consumer columnist and runs TheConsumerChronicle.com. He lives in Worcester. You can find him on Facebook or reach him at ConsumerNews@Aol.com