How LL Bean has grown by catering to the customer
When companies pay attention to their customers, and offer an experience on the customers’ terms, the customers pay them back. Over and over and over.
When Leon Leonwood Bean began making and selling boots in Freeport, Maine back in 1912, some customers would bring the boots back to Leon, if something wasn’t quite right. Leon always gladly accepted the returned boots, fixed them, improved them, replaced them, or gave the customers their money back.
Whatever the customer felt was fair. No questions asked.
While the business grew to become a 1.5 billion dollar outfitter with customers around the world, LL Bean has never wavered from its focus on the customer, and more specifically, the practice of doing things the way the customer wants; providing the experience that the customers asks for.
Three historic decisions in LL Bean's history show why doing what's right by the customer, is also good for business:
1. The no-questions-asked return policy.
It's the hallmark that made LL Bean, well, LL Bean. If the customer's not happy with what they bought, refund, replace it, or fix it. Don’t hassle the customer. Make their lives easier.
2. More retail stores.
From 1915 until around 2000, LL Bean had only one retail store. Around that time, many companies began to close their brick and mortar storefronts to save on costs, and do more on-line business. LL Bean began to do just the opposite – they opened more retail stores in the US, and also in Japan and China.
Loyal LL Bean customers loved to visit the famous retail store in Freeport, Maine. So Bean decided to make their customers’ lives easier by bringing the retail store to the customer. Store locations were based on geographic concentrations of loyal customers. So again, LL Bean improved the customer experience, by bringing the experience right into the backyards of its loyal customers.
3. Free Shipping.
This week, LL Bean has announced year-round, no-strings-attached free shipping. According to the Portland Press Herald, and David Fuller of LL Bean, In research after research after research, the customers said, 'This is how we want to shop.” If customers don’t want to pay shipping costs, don’t ask them to.
"Three-quarters of consumers say that they will abandon their purchase when they can't get free shipping," according to industry analyst comScore, Inc.
Throughout its history, LL Bean has focused less on internal policy, on more on responding to customers. As a result, they’ve done some unconventional things over the years. And bucking convention, and listening to the customer has been the key to its success, most recently with a 5.7 increase in sales in 2011.
Why don’t more companies listen to their customers, and act on what they hear?