Updated on 10.20.09

Ethical Frugality Week: Lifetime Guarantees

Trent Hamm

Over the upcoming week, I’ll be posting a series of articles on the ethics of frugality. How far can you take things without crossing an ethical line or diving into seriously socially unacceptable waters? I’ll be recounting some of my own stories – and some stories from readers – along the way.

“Megan” writes in:

A friend of mine had a sweater from Land’s End that she’d had for about fifteen years. It was getting pretty old and beat up simply because of normal wear and tear. A few weeks ago when she unpacked her winter clothes, she found that one sleeve had finally worn off the sweater. she called up Land’s End and complained, invoking their lifetime guarantee. They sent her a replacement one – not exactly the same, but pretty similar. She was quite proud of this “free” sweater. I was less than impressed. What do you think about this?

As always with these types of things, there are two sides to every story (at least two sides). Here are two ways of looking at it.

Lifetime guarantee means lifetime guarantee. As long as I’m the original owner of that particular item, then I should be entitled to get it replaced if it wears out. It says right there that if, for any reason, you’re unhappy with the sweater (and you’re the original owner of it), you have the right to return it and request a replacement item. This is your right, no matter the circumstances.

Fifteen years of wear on a sweater is a little over the top. If you manage to get fifteen years of wear on a sweater, then the product has been exceptionally good. Instead of trying to get another “free” item of similar quality, just buy another sweater. It’s pretty obvious that the reason for the “lifetime guarantee” is not to give you freebies if you wear a sweater to death, but to protect against a weak seam discovered after several wearings over a few years or something like that. By trying to squeeze a free sweater through this loophole, you’re basically taking advantage of a good company that puts effort into producing quality products – the kind of company we need more of, not the kind we should push out of business.

My take on this is somewhere in the middle. If I had an item that had worn out from regular use, I would not use a lifetime guarantee to try to get a free replacement. However, if I had a sweater that suddenly failed after a few years due to a weak seam or something along those lines, I’d unquestionably call in that lifetime guarantee.

To me, a very well-made item that simply lives out a long, natural lifetime is a very good product, while lifetime guarantees are there to protect you against faulty products. I have quite a lot of respect for companies that produce material with a high enough level of quality that they can provide a lifetime guarantee on it – that means that, under normal wear and tear, it’ll have a long lifetime.

If something goes wrong in the middle, I expect that lifetime guarantee to hold up. But if my long-loved sweater winds up being worn down enough that it becomes the padding on my dog’s bed, I don’t feel that I should be awarded a free replacement. The product did exactly what was advertised and did it very well – I’m deeply satisfied with it.

I guess that my impression of the situation in the question comes down to the sweater itself. If it had only been worn five or ten times in that fifteen year period and the sweater degraded enough that the sleeve fell off due to such little wear and tear, the lifetime guarantee should be invoked. However, if that sweater had been worn several times a year and was obviously nearing the end of a natural lifetime, it’s not frugal to demand a replacement – it’s cheap.

What do you think? Would you demand a replacement item if your item had a lifetime guarantee and you used it frequently to the end of a long natural life?

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  1. Daniel @ Sweating The Big Stuff says:

    If the lifetime guarantee says that it can be replaced at any time for any reason, then it’s fine. Congratulations, most people who do have malfunctioning products don’t invoke the guarantee, but Megan’s friend is smarter than they are.

  2. Molly says:

    It depends on the item. I’ve had a LE polo for 10+ years; it still wears fine, and I won’t invoke the lifetime guarantee when it finally does give out. Rather, I’ll buy some more because I know they’ll stand up to hard use for years.

    On the other hand, if my Craftsman screwdriver breaks while using it, no matter how many times I’ve used it, I will indeed get it replaced.

    I expect the Craftsman screwdriver to last until I die. I don’t expect the same of a shirt.

  3. Vicky says:

    I don’t see a problem with it – they put a guarantee on it for a reason.

    However, I agree with you – if you have something that is exceptional and lives out a long life – I’d buy another one. For example – my dog’s collar. When I got the dog it was a gift from my vet – it was a Lupine collar with a matching leash that had a guarantee of replacement if it needed – even if the dog chewed it up. 10 years later, that dog is still wearing the same collar. At this rate the collar will outlive the dog! If it deteriorated to the point where it was unusable, I would buy another to support a company that makes such a great product. However, if the dog had chewed it up (it IS marked as being ‘indestructible’), then I would have gotten a replacement for it. The same would apply if the buckle had given out, or the clasp on the leash broke.

  4. Andy says:

    Ted: But why do they put a guarantee on the box then?
    Tommy: Because they know all they solda ya was a guaranteed piece of shit. That’s all it is. Hey, if you want me to take a dump in a box and mark it guaranteed, I will. I got spare time.

    Haha… sorry, this post reminded me of the movie Tommy Boy

  5. Adam says:

    I don’t see a problem with it, but I think most people would recognize that a company which makes a sweater that lasts 15 years and served you well should be supported. If it was me, I’d willingly buy another sweater from them and keep patronizing such a company, rather than boast about how I got something for nothing from them.

    While not unethical, I’d call it cheap and tacky.

  6. Josh says:

    While I do not think this is wrong, I would never do it myself. I believe in supporting businesses/services that provide good value.

    Therefore, if I had a sweater that gave me 15 years of good use, I would happily purchase another as my small way of trying to support a good company.

    Unfortunately, as more and more products are outsourced to China and made as cheaply possible, it is getting harder and harder to find actual quality products.

  7. Eric says:

    Haha. I was thinking the same thing, Andy. That’s my favorite movie.

  8. George says:

    The company put the guarantee on the item. You did not force them to do that. You paid extra to get that guarantee. This is a good-faith trade, so I see nothing wrong.

    If there was no guarantee and you were trying to wheedle something that was not in the original bargain, then there’s a problem.

    If the company reneged on its lifetime guarantee, then there’s a problem.

    Doesn’t matter what the merchandise is.

  9. Michael says:

    Presumably, the cost to the company of the lifetime guarantee is built into the initial sales price of the product.

    I wouldn’t say that Megan’s friend has to make a choice between failing to support a valued product provider Land’s End or forgoing the guarantee that was part of her purchase of the sweater. There are plenty of other ways she could support Land’s End. She could: Buy another sweater from Land’s End so she has two different styles to wear. Buy something else from Land’s End for herself. Buy a present for someone from Land’s End. etc. Even just letting friends know what an *awesome* company Land’s End is to honor the lifetime guarantee is a way of supporting the company.

    A lifetime guarantee should be exactly what it says it is. I’m rather surprised that there’s much dissent on this point at all!

  10. PJ says:

    Lands End uses these types of returns as selling points in their advertising. I’m sure it happens rarely that it allows them to showcase their customer service and the quality of their products. I would not hesitate to return an item, even an old one, to Lands End. I would feel differently about it if the company did not advertise this service.

  11. Ramona says:

    Exactly – Lands End is using a marketing strategy, which probably gains them sales, but costs them very little, because how many people would invoke the “lifetime” part. Megan’s friend is simply being very savvy – she paid for the guarantee and asked to have it honoured. The time is of no issue. Lifetime is lifetime.

  12. Johanna says:

    I have a vest that I’ve owned for 16 years (or maybe 17 by now – I forget). I wear it a lot – in fact, I’m wearing it right now – and it’s still in excellent shape. It’s nowhere close to worn out, and I would not be surprised at all if it lasted another 16 years. (Whether it will still fit me when I’m 47 is another question.)

    So I wonder if the people who are saying “The sweater lasted long enough, be grateful, and give the company some more of your money” really realize just how long it’s possible for clothing to last. And I see nothing wrong whatsoever with Megan’s friend returning the sweater. Not unethical, not tacky, not “cheap.” (Cheap? Really? Is “cheap” just a code word for “money-saving measures I wouldn’t have thought of myself”?)

    Bragging about getting a “free” sweater may or may not have been out of line, depending on what Megan’s friend actually said. Maybe what Megan perceived as pride, her friend actually meant as surprise and amusement. I know that if I returned a 15-year-old worn-out sweater and got a brand-new replacement, I’d be surprised and amused.

  13. Matt says:

    It is the same with Craftsman tools. I know many people who find broken or rusted ones at yard sales and things, buys them, then returns them to Sears for a brand new tool. I think if the company is willing to offer this kind protection, there is no problem in getting what you paid for.

  14. Sara says:

    This reminds me of a question on here some time ago regarding whether or not it is ethical to apply for scholarships aimed at minorities, even if you just barely qualify and do not have any connection to that part of your heritage. In that instance, Trent’s answer was to go ahead and apply for the money – those awarding the scholarships already took into consideration that anyone might apply, and chose to offer the money under the terms that you (barely) qualify under.

    This seems the same to me. Lands End must have taken the possibility that someone would wear their sweater until it wore out and ask for a new one, and offered the lifetime warranty anyway. It would be silly not to take them up on what was freely offered.

  15. Kayla says:

    If I were Land’s End, I would probably not offer a lifetime guarantee (if an item of clothing lasts five years, that’s as much as anyone should expect!)

    But since the company HAS offered the guarantee, there’s no evil in a customer holding them to their word. If the lifetime guarantee applied only to a faulty seam, the company policy would say so.

  16. Sarah says:

    I wouldn’t call it “tacky,” but I do think that if I’d gotten fifteen years of good wear out of a sweater, I’d be more inclined to support the company by buying a new one than invoking the guarantee.

    Would it be ethical to invoke the guarantee, though? Absolutely. The company makes the promise freely and presumably prices it into their charge. You’ve paid for that guarantee and you can use it if you see fit.

  17. Des says:

    Land’s End guarantees their items for life to generate trust and endear their customers to them, not merely to replace faulty items. Have you read their guarantee?

    An excerpt from their site: “As you’d expect, over the years our guarantee has been put to the test. We’ve been given countless opportunities to demonstrate our commitment to customer satisfaction and our willingness to stand behind the products we sell – though none more demonstrative than the return and refund of an original London taxi.
    Featured on the cover of our 1984 holiday catalog, the taxi was purchased for $19,000 by a Kansas native as a gift for her husband (an avid car collector). In 2005, her husband contacted Lands’ End and expressed interest in returning the car for a full refund. Of course, we obliged – because whether your purchase includes a tote or a taxi, your satisfaction is Guaranteed. Period.® “

  18. Kelly says:

    Growing up, my mom always got us Eastpak backpacks because they had a lifetime guarantee. She sent them back periodically, either when they’d wear out or got a broken zipper. We’d get a new one in the mail or they’d fix something like a zipper and send it back. Our family definitely bought this particular product because of the policy. Backpacks definitely take a lot of wear and tear, especially from kids, and I think this was a generous and effective marketing strategy. I don’t know about the sweater example, though. While I don’t think it’s unethical, it does seem like it’s stretching the idea of ‘lifetime’ beyond what the company intended. Doesn’t bother me, though.

  19. d_2 says:

    it probably costs them less to just send you a new shirt than it does to verify whether you fit the rules of exchange or not. nike is very similar with their shoe warranty.

    most people simply won’t do this (lazy, don’t know about it, etc) — the company has data on how many exchanges are made, and they are factored into the price already.

  20. Leah says:

    I have to admit, after reading this post, I am definitely more likely to buy something from Land’s End now than I ever was before. This is entirely due to the fact that the company is true to its word and honors lifetime guarantees on 15-year-old items.

    Trent: If you care to hop in here, I understand why lifetime guarantees should be limited to the original owner — otherwise, this product could be gifted perpetually, and Land’s End would be honoring that lifetime warranty until the end of time. But, do you feel the same about long-term but finite warranties on other items, like cars? Kia has a great 10-year warranty, but only for the original owner when bought new. I always thought Kia should stand behind its cars for 10 years no matter what.

  21. TheAntiChick says:

    Ditto the others who point out that this is a selling point for Lands End and other companies who offer it… and usually their prices are higher than other companies with similar products. They factor it in.

    I personally despise dealing with returns, so wouldn’t do it for something that wasn’t defective, but would buy more from them. I’ve bought several backpacks from L.L. Bean because the first one I got for my daughter lasted for years, and only got replaced because she outgrew it. In fact, we quit getting them monogrammed because we know we’ll end up passing them along to other people in the end! One of them gives up the ghost 10 years later, I won’t ask for a replacement, I’ve never seen a school backpack last TWO before theirs the way we load them up and kick them around! I’ll just buy another one in another pretty pattern.

  22. It depends on the wording of the guarantee. If the guarantee explicitly says that it doesn’t cover normal wear & tear (as is often the case with lifetime guarantees), then it’s unreasonable to hold the company to a higher standard than the stated guarantee. If on the other hand the guarantee says that normal wear & tear is covered, or that they’ll repair/exchange/refund for *any* reason (as seems to be the case with Land’s End), then all’s fair.

  23. torrilin says:

    Despite the lifetime guarantee, we don’t buy Land’s End backpacks. LL Bean ones are better made, because they have better waterproofing, better fittings, and better stitching. I did finally get rid of my Bean bag about 10 years after my father RAN OVER IT WITH A MINIVAN. Yep, it survived the damage and kept going for another 10 years or so.

    For clothing items, I’d expect a handspun sweater to last 30-50 years. 15 years is no big deal, and kind of on the scant side for handspun. It’s ok for millspun to be that scant on durability. I don’t insist that companies replace millspun clothing that wears out… instead I’m working on learning to make yarn that’s good enough to last as long as it really ought.

  24. Julia says:

    In this situation, I think the company assumes that MOST people who would invoke the guarantee after 15 years have supported them by buying other merchandise-or will after recieving a replacement on such an old item.

    Would I return said sweater? Likely not, but it depends on what the company would do with it. If they would make better use of it than I would, then probably. If they were just going to trash it, I’d come up with other uses (like Trent said dog bedding) rather than create waste.

  25. Gretchen says:

    LLbean also has such a return policy. I have never used it, but it’s there and I would if need be.
    It’s built into the price.

    I did think that the Craftsman guarantee wasn’t around anymore, or is it? I had used that one several times on tape measures.

  26. Marsha says:

    Land’s Ends’ lifetime guarantee is atypical because it’s unconditional. Most guarantees are limited, e.g., guaranteed not to break or malfunction.

    LE is pretty clear on their website that they honor any claim under their guarantee. I would feel ashamed to ask for a replacement sweater after having worn it for 15 years.

  27. Kristin says:

    REI also has a very open return policy, and I don’t feel bad using it; I buy hundreds of dollars worth of merchandise there BECAUSE of that policy. A friend of mine recently went in to buy a new pack for backpacking, because her REI brand one that was years old was wearing out. The clerk told her to bring it in, and they would replace it for free, something she did not expect at all or even ask for. And replace it they did.

  28. Des says:

    Admittedly, I will probably start shopping at Land’s End because of this article & discussion. :)

  29. Henry says:

    Oh, I’ve found many items have lifetime guarantees, even when it’s not stated on the packaging. I’ve replaced several items over the years for free, even when everyone knows they won’t last past a couple of years. My alarm clock and digital tire gauge are just two of the items I’ve gone through several times, while only paying for the original. When either refuse to work any longer, I go to Wal-Mart, and buy the exact item. I put the old broke item in the packaging, and take that and my receipt, and go get a refund. New replacement, one time purchase. Works like a charm. I’ve also replaced oven timers and thermometers by doing this, and I don’t know what else. Pretty much anything that costs 5,10, or 15 bucks is a good candidate for this sort of replacement, price is small enough to not get questioned over the return, and when they ask why you don’t want an exchange, you just tell them you want a refund because you discovered the quality of the product was suspect after closer inspection. The savings really add up.
    I remember when I was a Freshman in high school: My expensive calculator went missing, and I was pretty mad over it. This other kid I didn’t like had one just like it. I took it out of his locker. I couldn’t just take it to class, so luckily I had my packaging and receipt. I put it in, took it back to Wal-Mart and exchanged it for a model that costs $10 more. When I showed up to class with that one, it didn’t arouse any suspicions since it was a totally different model. The next year I was in Geometry and the class had a set of calculators like mine that went missing. One of my friends came up to me one day and presented a calculator that had my name engraved on the back! My missing Calc! I took it home, too.

  30. Steve in W MA says:

    The company doesn’t specify the purpose and intent of the lifetime guarantee. However, in most cases a lifetime guarantee is an incentive to buy and we can assume they know that most people will never call them on it, even if the product is defective. One can also be sure that the company would stop issuing the lifetime guarantee if it began to be disadvantageous to them.

    That being said, I think it is an individual decision as to whether to take “full” advantage of a lifetime warranty. However, I am pretty sure that there is a small minority that ever uses the warranty at all, so requesting a replacement sweater that is within the bounds of the original guarantee’s language is certainly acceptable–*if* you can get past your “scruples” and do it.

  31. JB says:

    If there’s a lifetime guarantee, it’s not unethical to invoke that guarantee and get a new sweater. But if it lasted that long I wouldn’t do it. Only because I would have gotten my moneys worth and then some.

  32. Livia says:

    I agree with those who pointed out that Lands End chose to offer their lifetime guarantee under those terms and took the advantages and disadvantages into account. If they advertise that the guarantee covers normal use, then customers have every right to hold them to it.

  33. chacha1 says:

    Trent, OMG please delete comment #29 from Henry the thief.

  34. Ruth says:

    I wouldn’t hesitate to use the lifetime guarantee. To my mind, I paid a premium for the sweater to have that guarantee, so why not make use of something that I paid for?

  35. Lifetime guarantees, if the place is still in business.

  36. Ryan says:

    Henry, so someone stole from you, correct?

    And you were under the mistaken delusion that you then had the right to steal from a store?

    Who the hell do you think you are?

  37. Henry says:

    No Ryan, someone stole my Calc or I misplaced it. Then it wound up being deposited with the school calcs. I couldn’t go without a calc for the rest of the year, and wasn’t about to pay twice for it. The calc story was just a little anecdote to demonstrate how you can flex store return policies to suit your particular needs. The experience really has no bearing on my other returns to Wal-Mart, just like Kramer said, “They write it off.”

  38. My father always said that the cost to the company of the guarantee is built into the price. I am always amazed by how many almost new items from LE and LLB I see at thrift stores–with tears at the seams, soles coming off shoes, etc. I can’t believe the purchasers did not return them!

  39. kim says:

    OK, I’m reading Henry’s comment as sarcastic, tongue in cheek. At least I hope that’s how he meant it. My faith in humanity depends on him really knowing how completely morally bankrupt his comment is. I’m quite sure he is getting a big chuckle over the responses to his post.

  40. sewingirl says:

    I ordered throw rugs from the big Sears catalog years ago, and they had a three year guarantee on the backing. They replaced those rugs about 5 times over, because the backing didn’t last three years. They never tried to get out of it, although they did stop selling the rugs with the guarantee after a while.

  41. Faculties says:

    Oh come on, a lifetime guarantee doesn’t mean “if you buy one sweater from us, we will replace it with a free sweater for the rest of your life.” So you only have to buy one sweater and they will keep giving you free replacements for fifty years. That’s not reasonable. A guarantee means that if something is defective about the product, they will replace it, whether it’s old or new. Taking advantage of the company’s good nature by demanding new sweaters for ones that wore out in the normal way is just trying to scam the company.

  42. Kate says:

    I don’t think a 15 year old sweater should be returned but that said,I will bet that Megan’s friend will be returning the “new” sweater Lands End gave her within a short amount of time. I’ve been a customer of LE for over 25 years and I have witnessed the decline in the quality of their clothing. Seams come undone, pants shrink,etc. Ever since Sears purchased them they have gone down hill.I’ve decided to stop shopping there and purchase my clothes at LLBean where they seem to have kept up their quality control.

  43. Ashley says:

    Ditto #27. My first experience with a lifetime guarantee was when a returned a 3 year old backpack that looked like it had been to hell and back to REI. I only took it in to see if they could repair a tear in it and a broken zipper, both of which were entirely the fault of the airline handling. I fully intended to pay to have the bag repaired. Instead, I was offered a full refund of my money. I felt awkward taking it but honestly, that experience has made me very loyal to REI and I have probably spent $1000s on gear there since then.

    The lifetime guarantee at its heart is just a marketing ploy to engender goodwill with customers and boost a company’s reputation. All in all, I think it is a pretty cheap marketing campaign. Look how many of the commenters here say they are going to start shopping Lands End!

  44. friend says:

    I agree about the quality of LE deteriorating since Sears bought them. Not all items, but many, are cheaper/flimsier than their earlier counterparts. It is noticeable.

  45. Paul says:

    I’ve enjoyed these ethical posts, and would like to see more of them.

    That said, it seems like every time, the consensus answer, or at least the common-sense answer, is to take the choice that results in less value: buy a new sweater, don’t take free samples from a store you don’t frequent, don’t take hotel towels, etc. I don’t trust that type of ethics. Firstly because it never calls passing up value unethical. Surely there must be some case where denying yourself value and leaving it for others is the wrong thing to do, and taking value for yourself is the right thing. Just on the law of averages such a case must exist. And when it does one can feel both self-indulgent and self-righteous. If the essence of the ethics involved is that one can never be both, then I reject the ethics completely.

    Beyond that, I have to question why one should act ethically in these situations when I’m not treated fairly in my daily life. I wasn’t going to take the towel from the last hotel I stayed at, until they charged an “occupancy fee” below the regular rate (what do they think I’m going to do with the room other than occupy it?!). As far as I was concerned, that became a towel fee.

    Usually it’s not so overt, though. Sometimes it’s negligence, like when the fast food place gives you the wrong order (It’s not my responsibility to check my bag before leaving; it’s your responsibility to get it right). Sometimes it’s no one’s fault, like when a long line at the post office costs me 20 minutes of my valuable time. But as I said my question is why should I not take an opportunity to put one over on someone, or take a kickback, when on balance I still come out far ahead on the ethical ledger?

  46. reulte says:

    Henry (29) – Substituting an older item for a newer item seems unethical to me and stealing someone’s calculator certainly shouts it – no matter how much you disliked him.

    Steve in WMA (30) – I suspect it is a vast majority rather than a small minority that don’t take advantage of the warrenty, probably even if they purchase the additional warrenty offered. That’s why some companies offer such a warrenty.

    I see no ethical dilemna in requesting a company adhere to it’s state warrenty of “return for whatever reason”. If I see an old Craftsmans tool or Coach bag at a yard sale, I’ll buy it and send it back to the company for replacement or repair. However, I do tend to frequent those businesses that have quality work and the faith in their work sufficient to guarantee it. One item, for example a sweater, usually isn’t enough and I’ll usually purchase it in different colors or slightly different styles.

  47. Kate says:

    A lifetime guarantee is a lifetime guarantee so I see nothing wrong with the woman exercising her right and I applaud the company for honoring their commitment.
    I do see something wrong with people who purchase items with lifetime guarantees (tools, backpacks, etc.) and then return the item to be replaced. That, to me, is ethically wrong.

  48. Amy Dacyzyn posed this question years ago, and the majority of her readers said that this sort of return violates the spirit of the guarantee.

    I personally do not feel comfortable taking advantage of a return policy like that unless I feel that the item has not held up as long as I think it should have. For example, I bought a pair of slippers a year ago from L.L. Bean and the lining was poor, so I wore holes through already. I will probably return these and buy something else, because I expected something from L.L. Bean to last longer than a year.

  49. Hade says:

    I have several hand-knitted sweaters that are now nearly thirty years old. I wear them every winter, and before I got them, my parents pretty much wore them every winter. I anticipate that if and when I ever have any kids of my own, the sweaters will likely get passed on to them. The question, by then, will have become if my children even *want* to wear these sweaters, rather than if they can.

    Keeping that in mind, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect a sweater to last a very long time under normal wear and tear. Therefore, the original correspondent’s friend had every right to invoke a policy that clearly states it will replace anything that doesn’t last a lifetime.

    I probably wouldn’t have done it, but not because I think it’s ‘cheap’ or ‘tacky’, let alone unethical. I wouldn’t have done it because I’m too timid to make a request like that, but that’s on me – not on the people who do have the guts to ask for something that’s rightfully theirs.

  50. David says:

    I’d have to say that if she was the original owner, that this does not cross the ethcial line. It is simply availing yourself to the benfits of the company’s policy on that particular item.

  51. Denise says:

    I would not have returned the sweater. While technically correct, to me, it violates the spirit of the contract. I did return a L. L. Bean tent after 5 years of use because the seams leaked when it rained. It did have a lifetime return and I felt that it should have held up longer. They replaced it with an apology and no fuss at all.

  52. ETF says:

    My vote is you can get a new sweater. The lifetime guarantee is so over the top, and really so unnecessary, that Land’s End executives *had* to realize this is a possibility. If they were really suffering from this they could always change it to a still very generous five-year policy.

    As long as no one is being helplessly exploited (or being exploited without their knowing about it) It should be ok.

  53. Mr. Blather says:

    1) It’s ultimately up to the company to decide if a repair falls under the guarantee or not. If the company offers a replacement or a free repair, who are we to question the ethics of the person who asked for it? Even if the friend in the article had insisted on, and received a replacement when a guarantee didn’t exist, it would be the company’s decision, not the friend’s.

    2) Similar to Kelly in #18, I’ve been a long time fan of Eastpak bags, partly based on their lifetime guarantee. I’ve had zippers replaced and, on a couple of occasions, straps. Some were the result of basic wear-and-tear while some were, in my opinion, the result of cheap materials. As a result, I’ve bought other Eastpak bags as designs changed, recommended them to other people and even bought them as gifts.

    I’ll keep asking for repairs until they say no.

  54. prufock says:

    I would definitely invoke the lifetime guarantee. First off, the COMPANY made a decision to offer the lifetime guarantee. They could as easily have made it a 10-year guarantee, or (as many companies do) a 1-year or even 6-month guarantee. To say “lifetime guarantee” means “our clothes will last a lifetime.” This wasn’t just regular wear or a stain due to the wearer’s clumsiness – the arm fell off. Lasting 15 years is great, more than we’d expect from most, and it wasn’t due to manufacturing faults. Even so, they guarantee it for a lifetime. Fifteen years is not a lifetime.

    The silver lining to this, particularly for the company, is threefold. One, a very small percentage of buyers will actually take advantage of it. Two, the recoup cost on that is likely to be small. Three, LOYALTY. If I buy a sweater that I like so much I have it for 15 years, and it LASTS 15 years, and even after I wear it out the company replaces it, you can be darn sure I’ll be shopping there again!

  55. Kevin says:

    Frankly, I’m really surprised that so many commenters are being so generous towards the company. What exactly do you think “Lifetime Guarantee” means, if not that they “guarantee” that it will last for your entire “lifetime?”

    If anything, Megan’s friend should be MAD that the sweater wore out and she had to expend energy getting it replaced. Land’s End should have not only replaced the item, but compensated her for her time.

    When I go into a store to buy an item, I have a choice. I can buy the cheapo $20 “Made in China” low quality crappy product, or the $40 high-quality product that does the same thing, but has a “Lifetime Guarantee.” Personally, I will buy the $40 every time, because I don’t want to have to deal with the hassle of buying this same product again 5, 10, 20 years from now. If I’ve decided that I need this product for whatever reason, then I want to go through the process of purchasing it exactly ONCE. Then I expect it to last me forever (assuming it has the “Lifetime Guarantee”).

    If that more expensive, “guaranteed” fails on me later on down the road, I’ll be upset, because not only did I have to suffer the inconvenience of going without an item at the very moment I needed it, I now have to spend time and effort replacing it, when I was promised I’d never need to purchase one again. The company has let me down. In my opinion, simply replacing it is not enough. How about replacing the gas I had to burn, driving to the store to replace the item? How about compensating me for the 30 minutes it took me to go to the store, replace it, and return home before I could continue the task I needed the tool for?

    So in that context, no, I wouldn’t feel guilty at all about demanding a replacement. In my opinion, that’s STILL letting the company off easy, because all they’re doing is replacing the item, and not compensating me for the time the failure cost me. I’m genuinely surprised that others don’t feel this way.

    Of course, the above only applies in the case of a “Lifetime Guarantee.” Those aren’t just words, they have meaning. And if the company isn’t prepared to live up to that meaning, then they should change their promise to a “5 year guarantee” or something less lofty. In my case, their “Lifetime Guarantee” is the very reason I chose their (more expensive) product over their competitor’s, so I expect them to live up to that promise.

  56. Shelly says:

    I think it depends on the wording of the guarantee.

    When I first read this, I thought Lands’ End worded it as a lifetime guarantee, which implies that the product should last forever and they’ll replace it if it wears out. Doc Martens has such a warranty on some of their boots; they explicitly say that when they wear out, even just from normal use, they will repair or replace them free of charge. That’s the point behind “lifetime” — it suggests that the product should last forever.

    But when I went to Lands’ End’s website, it says that they’ll refund or exchange “If you’re not satisfied.” For me, if a sweater finally broke down after 15 years of use, I’d be pretty satisfied with how long it lasted. I guess if Megan’s friend somehow thought that the sweater should last 30 years, she would have reason to not be satisfied. But it sounds to me like she was perfectly satisfied; she just wanted to take advantage of the no-questions-asked return policy to get a new sweater for free.

    I definitely think there’s a difference between a lifetime guarantee and a guarantee with no expiration. If it was really a lifetime guarantee, then I think Megan’s friend would have been in the right, but because it’s a satisfaction guarantee, I think she was wrong.

  57. Carrie says:

    What if stores aren’t as generous in their return policy, how far should you push? For example, we went to Wal-mart to return something electronic that didn’t work, the cashier said we couldn’t return it because we’d had it too long (we didn’t try it until after a move), so my husband (who used to work for Wal-mart) politely asked to speak to a manager. As soon as she came over the manager put in a code and we got to exchange the defective item no questions asked. I do not like confrontation so if my husband hadn’t been there I probably would have just left.

  58. Beth says:

    What she did was stealing. Wrap it up any way you want, but she was stealing. *I* have to pay more for my honest purchases because of both the shoplifters and the creative white collar stealers like the woman described.

  59. leslie says:

    I see nothing wrong with this. I have used Jansport’s lifetime guarantee policy several times with a broken zipper.

    I’m not quite sure what is better for the company: The money they receive from me buying a new bag -or- the positive press they receive from me being able to tell my friends that my bag has lasted 11 years.

    In fact, the first time I sent my bag to Jansport to have the zipper replaced, they had this wonderful gimmick! When the company received my backpack, I got a postcard in the mail from “my backpack” saying it was having “lots of fun at summer camp” :) Then when they sent the bag out, I received another letter from my bag saying they “had a great time at camp and always came in first at the zipper pull races and was excited to come back home.”

    This happened years ago and I still remember it! Clearly, the company took their life-time guarantee policy seriously and knew that it was important to customers.

  60. Jane says:

    I had a roommate who abused either Land’s End or LL Bean’s return policy (can’t remember which one). I don’t know if they still do this, but at the time, you could buy a jacket, and if you didn’t like it, they would upgrade it for free. Basically, she bought the cheapest jacket they had, complained at least twice until they upgraded the jacket to the one she actually wanted anyway. I thought this was terribly unethical. This was the same girl who saw nothing wrong with paying to see one movie and going to see four. Apparently this was a regular family activity when she was little.

  61. Little House says:

    I don’t think Megan’s friend was in the wrong at all, she was just using the Lifetime Guarantee that the item came with. I personally don’t know if I would return the sweater, especially if I owned the item as long as 15 years. But like Trent mentioned, maybe she only wore it a few times over the 15 years.

    If the product boast a lifetime guarantee, then the company must feel confident that the item will last that long.

  62. gilora says:

    I think this is ok. Companies that offer lifetime guarantees front-load the cost of that guarantee into the price of the product. Clothing from Lands End, LL Bean, etc. are more expensive than similar items from other retailers. If they were not making money they would not offer the guarantee.

  63. Celeste says:

    There’s a difference between a human lifetime and the expected useful life of a product. I interpret “lifetime” to mean the latter.

  64. Beth says:

    @ Beth: I don’t understand how this is “white collar stealing”. Did she lie to the company, or misrepresent herself in some way? Did she swipe a sweater without the company knowing it? Did she purposely damage or destroy the sweater? No. She took advantage of a legitimate offer.

    I agree that these guarantees are probably built into the cost, but they’re probably a heck of a lot cheaper way to build brand awareness and customer loyalty than a rewards program.

    In my mind, it’s no more or less ethic to take advantage of a life time guarantee than it is to use rewards point. Let’s be honest without ourselves here: we’re paying for these privledges through raised prices anyway.

  65. Mel says:

    I think that a guarantee is an agreement between the customer and the company, so what is ‘ethical’ is to make that agreement in good faith (ie not intending to take advantage), and then to follow it, regardless of what it is.
    That said, the words ‘lifetime guarantee’ could be ambiguous. I don’t know if there’s a legal meaning or what it is, but is it the lifetime of the customer or of the product?

    If it’s the lifetime of the product, I would *not* expect normal wear and tear over a reasonable lifetime of the product to be included.

    If it’s lifetime of the customer, that’s a whole different question – what if the customer is killed by a car the next day, and the product fails a week later? Can the customer’s next of kin claim the replacement?

  66. Rob says:

    Lifetime means liftime. There is no gray area.

  67. Mike says:

    What’s the difference between a sweater and an alternator?

    If you had a lifetime warranty on the alternator in your car and it went out, would you hesitate to replace it for free regardless of age?

  68. dsz says:

    I know we’re probably all adults here, but do we need to be subjected to comments such as #4 Andy?

  69. Jodi says:

    I used to love to shop at Lands’ End, but no longer do because their quality has deteriorated so much. I would never send back a 15-year-old sweater for replacement; that’s beyond reasonable.

    However, I have sent back, and had them cheerfully *repair*, luggage and coats that I bought from them a few years ago when the zippers have given out. It costs them little to keep the item in working order–and in the case of the luggage, replacing the zipper requires an industrial sewing machine that I don’t have. And that’s related to the lifetime of the product; if something wears out long before the rest of the product, it should be repaired.

  70. Karen says:

    I LOVE Land’s End. Many years ago I ordered a skirt but never received it. They sent a new one. About 2 weeks later the original order showed up. I called to return but they told me to keep it. So gave to my sister. Great product great price great guarantees!

  71. Lenore says:

    Baa, baa, baa…what a bunch of sheep some of these responders are. Even when a retailer doesn’t lead them to a cliff, they gladly jump off of it. Why not turn around and ask for a refund/replacement if you’re entitled to it and need it to get by? The lower the standards we accept from companies, the junkier the merchandise and customer service becomes.

    Although I wouldn’t steal a calculator from a person, I have also done the switcheroo to return defective products. We bought a microwave at Target that died after less than a year. Unlike Walmart, they don’t accept returns for any reason after a certain date. So we bought the exact same model, put the old one in the box and took it back with the new receipt. When they asked if there was anything wrong with the microwave, we admitted it didn’t work. So Target probably got a refund or replacement from the manufacturer, and we got the item we paid for originally. Sly perhaps, but hardly stealing since no one suffered and undeserved loss. Now we know to buy big things that can break only from stores that guarantee their products.

    I didn’t know Land’s End, Jansport, Coach, L.L. Bean, Craftsman and other companies have lifetime guarantees so flexible you don’t even need a receipt to get a replacement. It certainly makes me more inclined to spend the extra dollars for their products. I don’t plan to scour thrift stores for those brands, but I might pick up a damaged item from a yard sale if it’s something I really need. Just look at all the goodwill and free advertising they’re getting here because of their generosity and commitment to quality.

    As a consumer, I strive to never reward bad behavior, even my own. Fairness isn’t always easy to define, but I try to harm none while looking out for my own welfare.

  72. Rosa says:

    I had a friend who worked in returns at LL Bean, and they had people who outright abused their policies – such as buying a wardrobe for their child, and after a year sending it back and saying they were all one size too small, please send everything one size larger.

    When I worked at JC Penney we saw people who would order furniture for a party, and then bring it back – this one was really obvious to us because we had to manhandle couches, dining room tables, and chairs that came from the warehouse, and were not usually in stock at our store.

    Both of those are unethical, but buying something with a lifetime guarantee and asking that it be repaired or replaced when it wears out is definitely not. We actually just took a backpacking tent back to REI after four years – we only used it for one trip, it sucked, we had a baby and didn’t go backpacking for a few years and then when we got it out again we remembered how much it sucked. So we took it back. I’m sure REI appreciates all the money we’ve spent there over the years, and the good word we put out to our friends and relatives, more than they do the $170 in store credit we got for that tent.

  73. Henry says:

    The microwave reminds me of the biggest thing we did this with, a KitchenAid Mixer. We had our original for several years, and it just quit one day. So we did the same thing, the old switcheroo as Lenore calls it. We didn’t think it would be easy, but the $200 a replacement would cost made our efforts well worth it. I brought some packing tape with me to the store, and the old mixer. I bought a new one, and went to an adjacent parking lot to do the switch, in case their were cameras watching me in the Wal-Mart lot. I switched them out, and with the tape and a box cutter, did such a great job the return clerk didn’t even open the box. We kept a complimentary spatula from the new one, but after the experience of her not opening the box, realized we could have kept the mixing bowl too. We really kicked ourselves for not keeping the spare bowl. We didn’t tell them it didn’t work, we said it was going to be a wedding gift and found someone else had already bought them the mixer. (They had ‘registered’ at a different store, but we bought it there because it was ‘cheaper’ was also the reason for the duplication). That meant it went back on the shelf. Our old one had the inevitable yellowing in spots, so whoever bought that one and took it back probably raised some serious eyebrows since it was so obviously well-worn. But hey, that’s another possible angle to the return game: I bought this, and someone had obviously pulled the switcheroo on it. Can I have another? Of course it would add an extra step to the game, where you couldn’t get a refund and would wind up with two, but you could just go to another Wal-Mart with the spare and get a gift card or the like.

  74. reulte says:

    Celeste (63) Yes there is a difference between a human lifetime and a product lifetime. Sweaters, as implied by Hade in #49, can last longer than a human lifetime. Just recently I went to a museum to see thousand-year old silk material (although granted, they weren’t clothes anymore). I expect my better made clothes to last, quite literally, for the rest of my life.

    Besides, if you define lifetime as the lifetime of the product, you’ve just defined the time as limited by whenever the product ceases to perform satisfactorily. It lasted it’s lifetime; when it broke – it’s lifetime was over.

  75. Sharon L says:

    RE: Craftsman tools. Don’t bother returning the good ones from the yard sales. It will be replaced with poor-quality crap. If you need good hand tools, go to estate sales and look!

    Henry, you are a thief.

  76. Johanna says:

    Some people have mentioned REI – I don’t think their return policy is entirely unconditional. A friend of mine (and I was there when this happened – it’s not just hearsay) once tried to return/exchange a pair of old hiking boots, and they wouldn’t take them. The boots were falling apart, obviously from overall wear and tear rather than from any specific defect in the manufacturing. My friend argued that he’d had the boots for only a year, and that they’d worn out much more quickly than he thought a quality product should. But the REI worker was having none of it.

  77. Kevin says:


    “That said, the words ‘lifetime guarantee’ could be ambiguous. I don’t know if there’s a legal meaning or what it is, but is it the lifetime of the customer or of the product?”

    I don’t think it’s ambiguous at all. How could it possibly mean the lifetime of the product? That doesn’t make sense to me. That’s like saying, “We guaranteed this product will work, until it stops working.”

    It seems obvious to me that the “lifetime” is in reference to the customer. They’re guaranteeing that the product will work reliably for the remainder of the customer’s natural life. How could it possibly mean anything else?

  78. Johanna says:

    @Lenore: If the microwave was such poor quality, why would you even want another one of the exact same model? That reminds me a little bit of that online dating site’s “guarantee” – find someone within six months, or they’ll give you six months free. If the first six months didn’t work, why would the second six months be any better?

  79. Catherine says:

    I’ve always understood “lifetime guarantee” to mean the lifetime of the product, not the purchaser. That is, the product should wear out before it breaks. Really, it’s just a way to say, “Our company is reputable,” because any reputable company will normally repair or replace defective merchandise that malfunctions during its expected life.

    I’ve also always assumed that manufacturers deliberately use the term “lifetime” because subconsciously it makes customers think, “I’ll have this for life.” I’m surprised to learn that many people actually interpret it that way.

    I suppose it does depend on the fine print for each product. It’s probably good PR to humor a few people who believe they’ve purchased a sweater subscription.

  80. Lee says:

    Lifetime Guarantee means exactly what it says. Furthermore, since it sounds as if this is a company doing fairly well since they haven’t changed their policy recently, even with the recession. I think the lady was within her rights to invoke the agreement. And, like many others, I am much more likely to shop there now after reading this article and learning about their excellent PR policy.

    Also… IMO, Henry, you have some seriously flexible morality, and you have almost absolutely generated a lot of frustration for those people from which you have stolen (the kid you “didn’t like”) and fooled (the Wal-Mart employees). In fact, I would bet a lot of those employees have gotten in serious trouble, if not fired, because of your actions. As a former retail salesperson, I would personally like to thank you with the utmost sarcasm for the ethical vacuum you obviously harbor.

  81. Matt says:

    I’m getting ready to have to do the same thing with an REI ski Jacket I bought 2 years ago. Excellent Jacket, but in the normal wear and tear of snowboarding (falling in my case) the windproof lining has worn out (still repels water, but the wind now gets through). REI offers a lifetime gurantee. Is this being cheap, or getting the value out of it?

  82. Jim says:

    Lifetime means lifetime.

    Nothing wrong with this at all.

  83. Jim says:

    “in case their were cameras watching”

    If you feel a need to avoid security cameras when you are doing something then that is a clear indicator what you are doing is unethical.

  84. Patty says:

    I believe tupperware also has such lifetime gaurantees.
    I agree that Henry has stretched the mark. It makes it much more difficult for people to make honest returns because of faulty returns like his. Its fair to expect products to live up to their intended purpose but do an honest return not a ‘switcheroo’
    and as to #45 Paul…I’m sure everyone has had a bad experience sometime but if we do as Henry and say…someone stole from me I then have the right to steal from another…then world peace is all headed downhill. Its tough being the ‘better person’ all the time and its fair to fight for your rights (like occasionally having to call a manger over to honor your valid request) but its not right to put others at a disadvantage just because you were wronged once.
    #71 Lenore…did you try to call the manufacturer or the product?

  85. Johanna says:

    Don’t feed the trolls, people. Henry is obviously just trying to get a reaction.

  86. Kevin says:


    “I’ve always understood “lifetime guarantee” to mean the lifetime of the product, not the purchaser. That is, the product should wear out before it breaks.”

    Catherine, I don’t understand what you mean. As I said in my other comment, that doesn’t make sense to me. What’s the point of guaranteeing a product will work until it breaks? Isn’t that a worthless guarantee? Isn’t a guarantee supposed to mean a product WON’T break/wear out/stop working?

    Maybe you can explain a little?

  87. Catherine says:


    There isn’t a consumer product in the world that will not eventually wear out from normal use.

    To use the sweater example, I know when buying a sweater that under normal use eventually the fabric will wear thin and holes will appear in the elbows. That’s the lifetime of the sweater.

    But if the sweater is well-made, I shouldn’t have problems with the zipper breaking or improperly-finished seams fraying before the fabric reaches its natural limit.

    Or, another way to say it is that the guarantee covers the *workmanship* for the lifetime of the *materials.*

  88. Will says:

    Often when companies say “lifetime” guarantee, they mean the lifetime of the product, which they define. I’ve heard the phrase “forever” guarantee used to actually mean, y’know, forever.

  89. todo es bien says:

    I suppose it would be ok to buy 5 pairs of underwear, 5 pairs of socks, etc, and consider yourself CLOTHED FOR LIFE??? Technically of course you are entitled to a lifetime guarantee, but what kind of a piker would enforce that? Because you have the RIGHT to do something doesn’t mean it is the RIGHT thing to do. Similarly, because you CAN do something doesnt make it right. In my experience, most people are thieves, they mess with their taxes, they take small business deductions that are shady,, they steal music, etc etc etc… And then the same people rail about the bigwigs on Wall Street. Turns out they dont think stealing is wrong, they just are mad that others have learned to steal better than them…. rant concluded.

  90. Henry says:

    #85, Johanna, while it’s true I’m enjoying the reactions, I’m not exaggerating at all. All of the actions described are true. If you want to discuss the ethics of product ownership, you should consider the whole spectrum, not just the side that makes you feel good. See #45 for more about this, I liked what Paul had to say about things.
    We talk about trading paperbacks for free, utilizing leftovers, shopping Goodwill for clothes, and so on. I for one won’t shop Goodwill for clothes. It’s not worth it to me, there’s no comfort in them, and god knows what the previous owner did in them. When someone says that Goodwill is the only place they buy clothes, I have to be a little shocked by that, just as you’re shocked at how I get by.
    I have spent years and fortunes in better economic times buying crap at Wal-Mart. The past two years, I’ve not had as much money. But the things I own still break, still wear out, and it’s up to me to replace them. I do what I have to. I never complained about Wal-Mart taking me for a spin with the unethical advertising, product placement and suggestive selling when I had money, I went along with it without complaining. Now that I don’t have the money, I’m going to take them for a spin when I have to.

  91. stella says:

    Paul writes:

    Let’s see if I’m following you. Somebody makes an error so it’s up to you to benefit–as long as your ethical “scorecard” is still balanced. Somebody adds a fee you don’t like so it’s a license to steal?

    Why should you NOT take an opportunity to put one over on someone? Let me count the reasons why not.

    Do unto others…let’s start there.

    And… two wrongs do not make a right. Trite, but still true. Errors or things you are not happy with are not justifications for theft. PERIOD.

    Why not take some responsibility on YOUR end for your dissatisfaction and make a suggestion of how a company/someone might “compensate” you for a fee you don’t like (better yet, don’t stay somewhere with fees you don’t like) in a legit fashion? Speak up, politely. Don’t act out.

    I’m sorry, but all you folks who are unhappy and use that to justify questionable (I’m being tactful) behavior…seriously. Take some responsibility and try to get satisfaction in an adult and professional manner. And if you can’t, go online, share your trouble with a merchant on complaint sites and also send a letter to the president of the company. Be polite and professional. You might be surprised at the results.

    You must feel pretty powerless to resort to stealing as a solution to any problem. (And by the way, don’t any of you have a business where people / customers steal from you? How do you like it?)

    There are times in life when people do make mistakes that greatly inconvenience us, make us mad and mess up our lives. The answer is to try to alert someone to how their behavior has affected you and then have a teaching moment–and get some satisfaction. Yea, it won’t work with people who don’t care (airlines, banks). And sometimes you will go way over their head and they will be VERY unhappy but you gave them a chance to make things better. Some times, that’s life and you gotta just suck it up. (No, this does not apply to life-threatening circumstances. But let’s say a hospital made a serious error in your treatment. What are you going to steal from them and how will that improve your health or make it better for others in the future?)

    Taking advantage of the very companies that probably deliver the best quality products (they last ten years? Wow.)and great service. Is that the way to encourage businesses to do the right thing?

    And you wonder why companies don’t believe a lot of the complaints they get? (Oh, yes, there are people who never buy anything without returning it, claiming defects when none exist for a discount, etc. Work in retail anywhere for any period of time and you’ll see incredible stuff.)

    It’s disheartening to read some of the comments here. I don’t equate being frugal with being somebody looking to put something over on others for their benefit. Just because they can. Ugh.

  92. Craig says:

    I ad my voice to the “go right ahead” crowd. This isn’t some weird loophope, after all–Land’s End guarantees to replace the product for the lifetime of the original owner, at any time, for any reason, right? If they’d wanted to exclude “reasonable wear and tear” from the guarantee, they’re presumably smart enough to do so. As I understand it, they purposefully replace products even if the owner has been utterly negligent in caring for them.

    The iron-clad guarantee is a big part of their business model. They’re making a statement about their products–“Buy a sweater from us and you will have a good sweater for the rest of your life.” There’s nothing in the least immoral about taking them up on that promise.

  93. Nancy says:

    I think it’s a crappy thing to do. But Lands End (and a few other companies) must do this because they found the good will it promotes more than makes up for the cost of the sweater. I wouldn’t have the nerve.

  94. Kirk Bond says:

    I guess it comes down to what we have a right to do and what we should do. Are they different things sometimes? Does she have a right to return it? Absolutely. Land’s End has made that clear.

    I think its the heart of the matter. When I would look at the article of clothing and feel that Land’s End gave me a great value for a great sweater, I would smile and happily buy another one, thankful for an excellent company that I support in a win-win situation.

  95. Dana Booth says:

    I’ve invoked lifetime guarantee on LE pants when a zipper failed after a few years (don’t recall how many; LE replaced the pants), and on my JanSport backpack when a zipper failed (JanSport replaced the zipper and the backpack was as good as new, now 26 years old and my kindergartner’s backpack!) I would not however invoke a lifetime guarantee for normal wear and tear of clothing fiber or threads. How can one expect those to last indefinitely?

  96. Reading the comments made me change my mind. I now think it was okay to return the sweater as long as she was the original owner.

    What’s weird is how many people equate stealing, lying, and cheating the system with “frugality.”

    Frugal is baking from scratch, weather-proofing your home, shopping around. It is not getting back at companies by stealing from them.

    @Paul: I understand your frustration with the never-ending irritations of modern life. However, if I drive like a jackass because someone else cut me off, how is that fair to the drivers around me? Similarly, if I steal from the Holiday Inn because the airport lost my luggage, how is that fair to the Holiday Inn, or to the other peole who stay there and will have higher rates?

    A good question to ask yourself is, “Am I being passive aggressive?” If so, man up and communicate directly.

    @Henry: I’m pretty sure you’re joking. Or a sociopath.

  97. Paul says:


    “Let’s see if I’m following you. Somebody makes
    an error so it’s up to you to benefit–as long as your ethical “scorecard” is still balanced. Somebody adds a fee you don’t like so it’s a license to steal?”

    It’s not a question of if I don’t like it. I don’t like any fees; my ideal would be getting everything for free. Some fees I think are unfair, unethical.

    “Do unto others…let’s start there.

    And… two wrongs do not make a right. Trite, but still true. Errors or things you are not happy with are not justifications for theft. PERIOD.”

    I am doing unto others, if the doing is considered in context. I am making retaliatory ethics violations, which are going to be made against me whether I would have them or not.

    And I think that two wrongs do make a right. Someone steals from me, I steal from him, it’s justice. Only figuring that out in detail is apparantly inefficient, so I just subrogate. The alternative is to be one of those people who call 911 when they don’t get enough ketchup.

    “Why not take some responsibility on YOUR end for your dissatisfaction. . . Take some responsibility and try to get satisfaction in an adult and professional manner.”

    Because it’s *not* my responsibility. Asking me to make it so is asking for a handout. And I’m still not clear as to why. My goal is to get the most value for me out of a transaction or a series of such. A major value for me is not shouldering any more responsibility than I absolutely must. I don’t care if my satisfaction is ‘adult’ (by whose standards?); I care about its existence and its measure.

  98. Beth says:

    @Paul — My pet peeve is people who misunderstand/misquote the Golden Rule. It’s not “do unto others as they do unto you” it’s “do unto others AS YOU WOULD HAVE THEM do unto you.”

    I realize the wording has changed throughout the centuries, but the principle is the same in many eras and cultures. Treat people as we want to be treated (not necessarily how they actually treat us).

    So if we don’t want to be cheated and mistreated, why do it to other people? I can understand the impulse, but sooner or later we have to draw the line or it never ends.

  99. Paul says:


    That’s even worse, because it means always thinking of the other guy, when at the base of one’s values ought to be one’s self.

    By that rule, if someone robs me, I should not have him arrested, since were I to rob someone, I would want to not be arrested. I should give all my money to other people, since I want them to give all their money to me.

    The problem is that that version of the rule doesn’t have a benefit clause. It doesn’t say, “Do unto others as you would have them do and then they will do the same.” It says, “Give till it hurts and then give more.”

  100. Beth says:

    @ Paul — I’m very sorry that’s how you see the world. To me, treating others with honesty and respect means that I realize I also deserve that same treatment. In other words, I have to consider both my self and others, not one or the other. The best case is the win-win scenario, but obviously that can’t always happen.

    The rule isn’t perfect, but it’s sure better than the alternative.

  101. Henry says:

    @Beth — Why don’t you treat me the way you would like me to treat you, and I’ll treat you the way that serves me best.
    I give to people that I know have nothing. I take it easy on them. I give them discounts. That counts for nothing. They just come back, wanting more discounts. Then the people that have money want discounts and freebies from me in my business. No one takes it easy on me because I took it easy on someone else. I don’t give up and stop helping my poor customers, I just make sure that I’m paid back for ‘paying it forward’ by taking it back myself, from who I say should pay, from those in town with the deepest pockets, from those in town that never give back. And that means Wal-Mart and other franchises. I’ve got to make it somehow.

  102. Beth says:

    @ Henry and Paul: I don’t see much point to continuing this off-topic conversation. As has become plainly evident, “ethics” is all a matter of perspective, I guess. There is “honor among thieves”, after all.

    You’re both right, though. Treating other people well is no guarantee that they’ll treat you well. But to me, that’s part of the point. If I try to get “justice” by screwing them over or screwing over other people, that just means I’ve stooped to their level. Actually, it means I’m worse because I know how it feels to be the victim so I should know better.

    That’s it for me, though. I’m taking Johanna’s advice now and leaving the conversation.

  103. Lenore says:

    To answer a couple of questions about the microwave switcheroo…

    We traded the defective one for the same make and model because that was the only option. The brand and barcode have to match up for a return at just about any store. Aside from the fact that the microwave quit working, we liked it and knew it might simply be a lemon. As it turned out, the newer microwave has worked for well over a year, so I think we made the right decision.

    Why didn’t we contact the manufacturer? We knew we’d have to pay to ship and return it, and that would have cost almost as much as we’d paid for it in the first place. Not to mention we would have been without a microwave (which is how we cook almost every meal) for several weeks.

    Since I’m in confession mode, I’ll tell you the worst thing we’ve ever done. The house we live in had carpet in the bathroom when we bought it. One day the toilet overflowed and made a disgusting, smelly mess. We couldn’t afford to rip out the carpet and lay vinyl flooring, and we couldn’t endure stepping on dirty wet towels for weeks to come. We went to Walmart to rent a Rug Doctor and were appalled by the price. So we bought a carpet shampooer and used it to clean up the wet mess. The shampooer kept switching off while we were using it, so it must have had some kind of defect. Either way we would have returned it because we couldn’t afford $100 for an appliance we would (hopefully) only use once. I hope Walmart sent it back to the manufacturer for reconditioning and a thorough cleaning. That reminds me I need to get moving on rehabbing our bathroom before it happens again. Why does every house repair end up costing hundreds or thousands of dollars?

  104. Steve says:

    There’s nothing wrong with using a warranty as it is written (or, was written at the time you bought the item). I don’t know enough about the Lands End or Craftsman warranties to say for sure, but I do know that the Cutco warranty is Forever. There is nothing unethical about buying a Cutco item in poor shape at a yard sale and sending it back to the manufacturer for a new one. That’s what the warranty on the product states, and it’s not Cutco nor your problem that the yard sale person didn’t bother to do it themselves.

    On the other time any time you have to misrepresent the situation (even by omission) you’re crossing a line. If a warranty only applies to the original purchaser, and you get it used and try to claim on the warranty – tough cookies. If you are unsatisfied with an item after a year, but the store only has a 90 day return policy, you should have bought at a store with a better return policy.

    I once returned an LL Bean backpack because there was stuff flaking off the inside. They told me that the warranty is satisfaction, not lasting forever, but the rest of the backpack was in great shape so I persisted, and they did indeed replace it. That’s how lifetime satisfaction warranties work.

  105. Henry says:

    Henry 8:39 pm October 27th, 2009

    Lenore, are you sure you were just shampooing the carpet and not trying to suck up solids from the toilet overflow? I’m pretty sure shampooers weren’t meant to pick up solids like that, did you use a shop vac first?
    Now, as for the rest of you–now that you’ve seen some of the ‘awful’ things poor people have to do to get by–let’s hear your confessions of past transgressions or maybe we’ve inspired you to save a buck here in the future by doing something a little ‘crooked.’ Gigabaud at live dot com

  106. capitalH says:

    Is it ethical to return something that has suffered normal wear and tear?

    I do not know.

    Is it ethical to offer a lifetime guarantee for something that suffers normal wear and tear?

    If I see a lifetime guarantee, I *expect* the product to last a lifetime. If it is a piece of clothing, the paintwork on my car (which translates to the lifetime of the car), knives, tools, it does not matter. If the company does not intend to honour it, or, if the product is not built to last that long, then it is unethical to offer a lifetime guarantee.

  107. goldsmith says:

    My understanding of “lifetime guarantee” is that it is meant to cover product faults that only emerge over a longer period of use. I once returned a bedspread to LL Bean, where the colours turned out not to be light resistant, so the spread was badly (and unevenly) faded after a few years. They exchanged it promptly for a different product.

    That said, I have also done exchanges with LL Bean where I ordered a product, and after living with it for a while, realised that the use I had envisaged did not materialise. In that instance, I returned new-in-all-but-name products, which were also courteously exchanged for more appropriate items. But since they were virtually unused (and my understanding is that LL Bean employees can then buy these at a steep discount), I did not feel bad about it.

  108. borealis says:

    My father purchased lawn hoses from Sears that had a lifetime guarantee. However, we live in Arizona where the sun destroys rubber in just a few years. So he proudly took the hoses back every 3-4 years for new ones. They always tried to get him to just patch the hose, but always pointed to the guarantee.

    I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. Sears has stores in Arizona so they knew what they were offering.

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