Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
Just$1.99
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to globeandmail.com
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(select.open)}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](select.open),dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

Shoppers line up outside a Walmart Supercentre at the Creekside Crossing Shopping Mall in Mississauga on Jan. 12, 2021.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

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.

Story continues below advertisement

“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 e-mail 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 return 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.

Story continues below advertisement

“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,” Prof. McNeish said.

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.

Story continues below advertisement

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, Mr. Whitehurst said in an e-mail.

Story continues below advertisement

If they’re trying to return phone or internet equipment, Mr. 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.”

Your time is valuable. Have the Top Business Headlines newsletter conveniently delivered to your inbox in the morning or evening. Sign up today.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Coronavirus information
Coronavirus information
The Zero Canada Project provides resources to help you manage your health, your finances and your family life as Canada reopens.
Visit the hub
Report an error
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies