A serious inquiry into why LL Bean is out of boots

It has been years since I’ve owned boots that actually keep my feet dry.  With winter on its way, I LL Bean Bootsasked the manager of our dog walking service what she recommends because I figured she’d have to have good boots.

Without hesitation, she said “I love my Bean boots.”

And I thought, “Duh.  I live in New England.  Why don’t I just get Bean boots?”

Except.

LL Bean is out of boots right now.  Yup, OUT OF BOOTS.  How is this possible you ask?  Me too. Most styles and sizes are backordered.  And it’s December.  In New England.

It’s one of those things where you want to say, “someone’s getting fired over this one!”  Except I’m not sure that’s actually happening.

LL Bean Boots BackorderedEliyahu Goldratt would have a field day with this – clearly there is a bottleneck somewhere in Bean’s ability to deliver to demand.  The Boston Globe’s recent article suggested there was a stubbornness around keeping the boots manufactured in Maine, coupled with an insistence on very narrow quality acceptance criteria.  And that this was compounded by recent good publicity about the boot in fashion circles that LL Bean management didn’t quite trust was driving demand up permanently.  In November, they were 50,000 orders behind; and they only have capacity to make 2,000 each day.  Check your calendars, November is not yet prime boot-buying season, so this will only get worse.

Think LL Bean has successfully made the shift from catalog to online?  I do 🙂  People talk about the internet as changing commerce and globalizing where goods come from and can get to.  All of which it has.  But LL Bean was doing that long before there was a Google or an Amazon. They’ve been successfully selling to a geographically dispersed audience for decades. You could argue that the demand is exponentially greater than it had been before the Internet, but I’m not sold that impacts LL Bean as much as other companies that weren’t as able to reach a broad audience before Internet.

Bloomberg posited that it might be a PR stunt, or at least an unfortunate issue that isn’t hurting PR.  The Bloomberg article also points out that this happened last year, so the issue of if demand is permanently increased may be that indeed it is.

There is some amount of panache associated with scarcity. The Bean boot has become the Birken Bag of winter footwear, but I don’t think that fits with their brand.  I think of them as being accessible, practical, and of the boots themselves as transcending fashion.  The Globe article indicates that LL Bean management is apologetic, and distressed, not that this is purposeful.

Whatever the case, I can’t get my hands (or my feet) on a pair.  So like many other New Englanders, I’ll slog around with wet feet this winter, disappointed.  But holding out hope that my order makes it through their system, before the first storm of the year arrives.

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