Lifetime Guarantee – Yes or No?

If you are a maker of products, then this is a question that you need to answer. You will also have to be prepared to live with your answer, especially if you say: Yes!

Full disclosure: I have always insisted that the products made by my companies be “unconditionally guaranteed.”  I never regretted that philosophy and in 25 years+, the cost was less than 0.01% of our sales.

ZN Blog Warranties

Last month, I had the opportunity to test another company’s lifetime guarantee. Zippo ®, was made famous by soldiers during WW2, and most recently was a key accessory for the men in the Mad Men TV series.

I inherited a Zippo® lighter made in the early 1950’s and the lighting mechanism finally stopped working. I mailed it to the American repair center and 4 weeks later my lighter was returned in perfect working order. Zippo ® confirmed receipt and sent me the return shipping information – a professional and flawless transaction.

The recent uproar over L.L. Bean’s® decision to change their guarantee policy because of “claimed” abuse, prompted me to look a little deeper. To my amazement, while a large number of companies offer a “lifetime” guarantee, the fine print says otherwise. A Google search showed that there are only 20 -50 brands currently with a genuine “lifetime” guarantee: in other words, companies with a no-hassle process to exchange your product or to get it repaired for free. Country Living has a photo gallery of 25 products/companies that practice what they preach.

My recommendation to a Start-Up or an SME that manufacturers or distributes physical products is: Guarantee your product unconditionally. Yes, you will be tested on your resolve, but the resulting customer goodwill and word of mouth will be worth every penny you spend on fulfilling your promise.  Do not get into fine print with qualifiers. Just spell out clearly what constitutes a failure of the product and what the procedures are to get it replaced or repaired. Yes, it is OK to charge for shipping – just do not make that an unrealistic amount. You will be doing the right thing.

Update on November 18, 2018 –  NYT She collected 1500 companies that stand behind their products.