In the 1980s, customer service emerged as an important catalog issue once consumers started shopping multiple books and realizing the experience could vary greatly. This was good news for LL Bean, however, which had long made customer service one of its guiding principals by offering customers an unconditional guarantee on their purchases.
In 1980, LL Bean reported net sales totaling $121 million. By 2008, sales reached $1.5 billion.
The brand often trades on its heritage by showcasing vintage images from its catalogs over the years. Yet it has also worked to stay fresh, debuting a new catalog image periodically.
Building a robust call center was one way LL Bean led the pack in customer service. In 1985, the cataloger was one of the first companies of its kind to offer consumers the choice of placing orders via a toll-free 800 number. Today, LL Bean has over 2,000 employees who cover the phones as well as handle e-chat.
Building out the brand experience for loyal customers is another successful LL Bean strategy. In 1996, the LL Bean credit card was launched. Today, there are 14 LL Bean retail stores in 10 states. This is in addition to the LL Bean Outdoor Discovery Schools, which were first introduced 30 years ago, and offer fly fishing, kayaking and other outdoor activities. And, in 2006, e-commerce sales surpassed catalog and retail sales.
As it embraces the future, one of the keys to LL Bean's success is that it still looks back. “We continue to manufacture our own iconic products and are still a family-owned company — I think that is what sets us apart,” says company spokeswoman Carolyn Beem.