People wait in line to enter a Costco store in Toronto on Monday, April 13, 2020. Canadians who weren’t happy with some of their holiday gifts or who changed their mind after making purchases might face trouble when trying to get their money back. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

People wait in line to enter a Costco store in Toronto on Monday, April 13, 2020. Canadians who weren’t happy with some of their holiday gifts or who changed their mind after making purchases might face trouble when trying to get their money back. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

Ask about COVID-19 return policies as you shop to avoid disappointment later: experts

Canada has no laws requiring retailers to accept returns, but provinces have some rules

Canadians who weren’t happy with some of their holiday gifts or who changed their mind after making purchases might face trouble when trying to get their money back.

Scores of retailers across the country have changed their return policies to quell the spread of COVID-19, making it trickier to get an exchange or refund, depending on the store.

“It is absolutely a patchwork of all kinds of policies that are constantly changing … and you have no control” said Joanne McNeish, a Ryerson University professor specializing in marketing.

“This is truly customer beware territory.”

Shoppers who took a close look at fine print and store signage might have discovered that in recent months Walmart Canada temporarily stopped accepting returns of three or more of the same items and won’t process returns for any items purchased after June 1 without a receipt.

The retailer is also not allowing returns for a slew of items including swimwear, earphones, air mattresses, sleeping bags and trading cards, and has adjusted the return period for many electronics.

Costco Canada shoppers have posted photos on social media of store signage revealing the company has stopped accepting toilet paper, paper towels, sanitizing wipes, water, rice and Lysol products for returns in some provinces.

Canadian Tire said in an email to The Canadian Press that during lockdown its Ontario stores are not accepting returns and those in Quebec will only process returns for essential goods.

For purchases where the 90-day returns window expires during the lockdown period, the retailer will offer a 15-day extension to return items when stores reopen.

And if you picked up the wrong bottle of wine at the LCBO, drink up. The Ontario alcohol purveyor has stopped taking returns during COVID-19 shutdowns.

“It’s all very difficult to figure out because websites are not necessarily clear and I started looking at the back of paper receipts it’s not necessarily printed there,” said McNeish.

Stores switched up policies because COVID-19 has been a burden for retailers, she said. They have had to purchase hand sanitizer and Plexiglas shields and are grappling with the demand and high costs associated with delivery.

To avoid being disappointed later, she recommends customers get as much information as they can about returns during the purchase process.

Snap a photo of the policy if it’s on a store wall or print a copy of the fine print because sometimes employees can misunderstand their own company’s policy and their word won’t be worth much later, she said.

If you buy something you later decide you don’t want or that you have a problem with, she urges people not to wait to return it because policies could change in that time.

“Returns policies are going to continue to tighten up, especially over the next couple of years, while stores recover from the huge expense they’ve incurred,” she said.

It’s also important for customers to know what they’re entitled to, she said.

Canada has no laws requiring retailers to accept returns, but provincial and territorial legislation gives consumers some rights.

For example, under the Consumer Protection Act in Ontario, products ordered for delivery must be dropped off within 30 days of the promised date or shoppers can request a refund. However, if the item arrives late and you keep it, you lose your right to a refund.

While companies are not obligated to offer returns and the Alberta government has discouraged it during the pandemic, many businesses offer them anyway as a sign of goodwill and a way to build consumer trust.

To avoid confusion, Ken Whitehurst, the executive director of the Consumers Council of Canada, has simple advice: “always ask about exchange and return policies.”

If customers feel wronged by a return policy they can always take the company to court, although that is less likely to succeed unless the retailer has agreed to liberal return terms., Whitehurst said in an email.

If they’re trying to return phone or internet equipment, Whitehurst said they can turn to the Commissioner for Complaints in Telecom-Television Services. Car return troubles may be arbitrated by bodies like the Ontario Motor Vehicle Industry Council, he added.

If there is no industry association or council to take concerns to, he said, “It never hurts to report the nature of return problems to provincial consumer protection offices.”

ALSO READ: B.C. company makes 1st Canadian-made mask to receive official CSA certification

Tara Deschamps, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

CoronavirusRetailShopping and Classifieds

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

File photo
Gov’t of Alberta identifies estimated 300 new COVID-19 cases Sunday

Online COVID-19 dashboard unavailable as upgrades being completed

COVID
Red Deer down to 313 active cases of COVID-19

Alberta reports an additional 411 COVID-19 cases

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Alex Panetta
Economists “cautiously hopeful” for economic recovery in Alberta

Charles St. Arnaud says Alberta’s recovery will rebound along with roll-out of the COVID-19 vaccine

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw acknowledged that Friday would be one year since the first case of COVID-19 was identified in the province. (photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Three more Red Deer COVID-19 deaths, 331 active cases in Alberta

Red Deer is down to 362 active cases of the virus

Elvira D’Angelo, 92, waits to receive her COVID-19 vaccination shot at a clinic in Montreal, Sunday, March 7, 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
‘It’s been a good week’: Tam hopeful on vaccines as pandemic anniversary nears

Tam says the addition of two new vaccines will help Canadians get immunized faster

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Vaccine hesitancy decreases in B.C. as mass immunizations set to begin: poll

Two-thirds of British Columbians, and Canadians, would get the vaccine as soon as possible

A woman walks through Toronto’s financial district on Monday, July 30, 2018. A new poll suggests most Canadians believe there’s still a long way to go to achieve gender equality in this country. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graeme Roy
Canadians, especially women, say gender equality not achieved in Canada: Poll

Poll results themselves underscore the challenge, with more men believing equality had been achieved

This image provided by Harpo Productions shows Meghan, The Duchess of Sussex, left, in conversation with Oprah Winfrey. (Joe Pugliese/Harpo Productions via AP)
Race, title and anguish: Meghan and Harry explain royal rift

Meghan said she struggled with concerns within the royal family about her son’s skin colour

Kiara Robillard is seen in an undated handout photo. When the pandemic began, Robillard had to rush back home to Alberta from California, where she had been living for five years, after she was struck by a truck that broke her spine in two places. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Kiara Robillard, *MANDATORY CREDIT*
‘It kind of clicks:’ Text4Hope program helps with depression, anxiety during pandemic

Participants receive one text message every morning for three months

(The Canadian Press)
‘Worse than Sept. 11, SARS and financial crisis combined’: Tourism industry in crisis

Travel services saw the biggest drop in active businesses with 31 per cent fewer firms operating

Hockey hall-of-fame legend Wayne Gretzky, right, watches the casket of his father, Walter Gretzky, as it is carried from the church during a funeral service in Brantford, Ont., Saturday, March 6, 2021. HE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Walter Gretzky remembered as a man with a ‘heart of gold’ at funeral

The famous hockey father died Thursday at age 82 after battling Parkinson’s disease

Supporters rally outside court as Pastor James Coates of GraceLife Church is in court to appeal bail conditions, after he was arrested for holding day services in violation of COVID-19 rules, in Edmonton, Alta., on Thursday March 4, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
‘Law remains valid:’ Pastor accused of violating health orders to remain in jail

The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms is representing the pastor

A decommissioned pumpjack is shown at a well head on an oil and gas installation near Cremona, Alta., Saturday, Oct. 29, 2016. The Alberta Energy Regulator says it is suspending all of the licences held by an oil and gas producer with more than 2,200 wells and 2,100 pipelines after it failed to bring its operations into compliance. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Alberta Energy Regulator suspends licences of oil and gas producer that owes $67M

The company is being asked to comply with past orders to clean up historic spills and contamination

Most Read