As we are now full-blown into the holiday shopping season, I thought it would be a good idea to talk about one of the most commonly asked questions about retail sales: Are stores required to offer the return, refund, or exchange policies?
Here at Consumer Protection BC, the inquiry team gets asked this question a lot. Some people figure there is a mandatory return or refund policy for retail sales within a certain time frame. The reality? Retail stores determine their own policies around returns, refunds, and exchanges. Some stores do not allow any type of refund or exchange at all and others offer different policies depending on the items you purchase. For example, a clothing store I often visit in our building complex offers the following policies on returns:
- Full refund on regularly priced merchandise within 30 days (with a receipt)
- Exchange or store credit for sale items within 14 days (with a receipt)
- No refunds or exchanges for “intimate” apparel (this would include clothing items such as undergarments or hats)
It is always best to ask about a return, refund, or exchange policies before purchasing any item. Many stores will display their return policies at the checkout counter or print them on receipts.
Return and refund policies are definitely something to keep in mind when buying gifts. Many stores offer gift receipts in case the recipient doesn’t love it as much as you thought they would. The receipt will show where the item was purchased and what the return policy is but will not show what you paid. Usually around the holiday season, stores will also extend the timeframe for refunds in order to give the recipient time to make a decision. Remember, it is your right to decide where you spend your money. If you are uncomfortable with a store’s policies regarding refunds, you don’t have to spend your money there.
The bottom line? Ask about a store’s refund policy before you buy.
Dear Consumer Protection BC: returns and refunds
Can I return a new car?
Returns and refunds: a tribute to smart holiday shopping
46 thoughts on “The truth about returns”
Just read this article by the New York Times…
It is a horrifying account of how an online store would use extreme bullying against any customer looking to return a product (many of them fraudulent) for the goal of getting negative ‘chatter’. This chatter would result in better search engine ranking which lead to more sales.
Ultimately, this guy crossed the line and was arrested but it took an investigative team from NYT to get the story in front of the right people.
In Canada, might you be a resource for people facing a similar problem?
Hi Martin, thank you for your question and sharing that story.
Our organization deals with specific consumer issues in British Columbia. Saying that, we want to help consumers and strive to be a good resource for people if we can’t help resolve their specific issue.
People can always give us a call and we will help them in any way we can. Our toll free number is 1-888-564-9963 or we can be reached via email at email@example.com.
[quote name=”Michelle”] Our organization deals with specific consumer issues in British Columbia.[/quote]
So if the online merchant is a member or based in BC you would be good place to start?
Consumer Protection BC regulates and licenses various industries in BC (by law) rather than being membership driven. For more information on those industries please visit our corporate website: http://www.consumerprotectionbc.ca.
To answer your question, if the consumer or the business is from BC, we welcome inquiries and will provide information or referrals.
I am setting up our store return policy and I am looking for accurate information regarding standards in BC in relation to sale return policies. Is there a minimum number of days that businesses are required to provide consumers for returns in BC?
If yes what would that number be.
Rapid Edge Sechelt BC
Hello Lisa, thank you for your question.
Return and refund policies are not covered by the Business Practices and Consumer Protection Act. In terms of standards, some resources you may want to consider are the Retail Council of Canada (www.retailcouncil.org), the Association of Retail Entrepreneurs (www.shelfspace.ca) or Small Business BC (www.smallbusinessbc.ca).
I hope this helps!
The store policies on returns seems reasonable but what about the case where the item bought is defective and a return is necessary? I recently bought a camera which had a metering fault which I did not fully understand until a more experienced photographer pointed out there was definately a problem. I took it back to the store I bought it from, they tested it and conluded there was indeed a problem. Their only option was to send it to the manufacurer under warranty to fix it. I really would prefer either a full refund or an exchange. They said they could not do this as I was out with their 15 day return policy. I thought this policy on applied to non-defective items where people, for one reason or another, did not want the defect free item. Is the store correct in refusing me the option of refund or exchange?
Sorry, but my last comment was meant to be addressed to Michelle and not Lisa.
If an item you purchase is defective and the retailer is not able to resolve the situation, you may wish to review your rights under the BC Sales of Goods Act (here’s a link http://bit.ly/gIsd0M). It is my understanding that the Sale of Goods Act includes language that holds the retailer responsible for resolving the situation. This being said, how the situation is resolved is a decision made by the retailer (ie return, refund, repair). For more information on your rights under the BC Sale of Goods Act, you may wish to obtain legal assistance.
A washing machine was purchased yesterday and was delivered today. It was a faulty machine. The company that sold the machine said that they wouldn’t take back the faulty machine that the warranty was with maytag and that it would have to be taken up with them. If the buyer said that they do not want to do that and they want the machine returned to the store does the seller have to take it back for a full refund? If the buyer no longer wants any machine like this one is the seller obligated to give a refund? Please, if you could let me know if the consumer has the right to get the seller to refund if the buyer informed the store immediately upon finding out the machine was faulty? I would appreciate your help.
Hi Heather, thank you for your comment.
I think that the response given by Michelle on January 12 (see above) applies here as well.
Our understanding is that the seller is not obligated to take back the machine or provide a refund. Take a peek at the Sale of Goods Act as it relates to your particular situation (link bit.ly/gIsd0M) to see if you can find any additional information around faulty goods. You mentioned that you didn’t want to contact Maytag but it may be worth it to see what they say.
Please let us know if you have any additional questions. You can also email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call toll free 1-888-564-9963.
In terms of a stores return policy stating ” exchange or in store credit within “x” days”
Is the retailer in the wrong for having a store credit that expires?
There is no legislation that restricts retailers from including an expiry date on store credits. I hope this helps!
My wife went to a salvation army used store and purchased a used shaw television black box brought it home and called shaw to install on our tv only to find out it would not receive signal try to return it but was told no returns this is not posted anywhere in the store was not told when bought it that couldn’t bring back doesn’t say on reciept that couldn’t bring back what’s the scoupe are they not suposed to to have it posted somewhere in store on front door at till or near no-returnable products I know it used but when you pay good money for somethink I think it should be the law to post there rules on returns for public awareness
Hi Randy, that’s an unfortunate situation. There’s no law that states that a store has to accept returns or provide refunds. We always hope that the business will make that information clear to consumers but they aren’t legally required to do so. We always encourage consumers to ask about a store’s return and refund policy so that they make an informed decision. I’m sorry to hear that you had that experience.
Hi, I bought a hd pvr from future shop about a year ago. When payingfor it at the till I was asked if I wanted an extended warranty. I did buy the 5 year warranty, but only after 1 year the pvr was defective. I have tried to return the pvr for a replacement box, but was told I could only get store credit for it, as they no linger carry that model. I wish for the pvr to be replaced as it was on sale for $99.99, and a new one is $349.00. Leaving me to pay the difference, is this legal, or am I entitled to an equivalent? Thanks cam
Hi Cam, I’m sorry to hear about your experience. Guarantees and warranties are not covered under Consumer Protection BC laws. I would recommend escalating your complaint to a manager or possibly filing a complaint with the BBB. I’m sorry I couldn’t offer more assistance.
Policy on cigarette returns? Customer bought 4 cartons wants to return 2…wrong brand. No problem totally willing to exchange but he doesn’t want that…turns out he just needs the money back. What’s your take?
Hi Heather. All retailers have the right to refuse a cash refund and can offer an exchange only. My understanding is that there maybe some specific law relating to cigarettes returns in BC but as it does not fall under our legislation I am unable to provide an exact answer. Could be under the Consumer Taxation Branch.
I have the following question about a laptop
warranty: when I bought a laptop it said that
the warranty was valid for a year and the expired
date was November 26, 2014. Would that be
at midnight on the 25 or at midnight on the 26?
We wouldn’t be able to interpret the warranty contract as to the expiry date. I would recommend asking the company directly and if you disagree you may want to seek a legal intpretation.
When and to which businesses does the Business Practices and Consumer Protection Act apply? It looks to me it doesn’t protect the retail consumer at all.
Hi Joe, We use the legislation for the industries that we license and regulate. It has been used in court actions by individuals as well.
I agree with Joe. To me it looks like you guys have no powers whatsoever. What’s the point of a protection agency if the stores set their own policies and you can do nothing about it?
What use is a sterile bull to a farmer?
Hi Mark, We license and regulate debt collectors, travel agents, home inspectors, payday lenders. Since we do not have regulatory power over the retail industry we like to try and shared educational information so consumers are aware of their rights and responsibilities.
My boyfriend bought me a watch for my birthday and when I received it I noticed the leather from the strap was all scratched up and peeling. My boyfriend didnt notice cause he was in a rush to buy it and left. They didnt tell him the return policy either. As I look at the receipt now, it states that I can return within 15 days but no refund. Does that mean I get store credit? But it’s suppose to be brand new and it looks like someone used it for years. It’s not a cheap watch as its in the thousands.
I was given two gift cards to a local spa and hotel. When I called to make an appointment for a spa service I was told that I could not make that appointment unless I was staying at the hotel. The reason was that too many “locals” were booking in spa times and the hotel guests could not get times. I was told I can use the gift cards for the restarant rather than the spa, however I do not want to do this nor do I want to stay in the hotel. Can I request a refund for the amount of the two gift certificates and is there an obligation for the business to honor these gift certificates.
Hi Melaney — Thanks for your question. BC’s gift card law is silent on your specific questions, as the law mainly speaks to when a gift card can expire and/or have fees. That said, the purchaser should have been made aware of the terms, conditions and any limitations for the usage of the gift cards at the time they were bought. You may want to get in touch with the person who gave them to you to ask for a copy of documents that came with the gift cards (such as a receipt, information booklet, packaging, etc) to ensure these limitations were clearly stated. Here’s more information about BC’s gift card laws: http://www.consumerprotectionbc.ca/consumers-other-businesses-home/how-can-we-help/gift-cards
Happy to answer any other questions you may have.
I issue store credit to customers when we process a return. Can you please let me know what legislation pertains to this, including using expiry dates, and where I can find a copy to print.
Good morning Alison — There are two pieces of legislation that you may want to get familiar with. Our office oversees BC’s gift card law, which you can read about on this page on our website: http://www.consumerprotectionbc.ca/consumers-other-businesses-home/how-can-we-help/gift-cards (there are links to law at the bottom of the page, too). You may also want to read BC’s Sale of Goods Act — while we are not responsible for administering this law, there may be information in it that relates to your business. Here is a link to that law: http://www.bclaws.ca/civix/document/id/complete/statreg/96410_01 I hope that helps.
Hi Nicole — For food-related items, you’ll want to reach out to your local Health Authority as they have some oversight over this area and will have information about how to make a complaint. I hope that helps! Melaina
Can’t seem to find this answer anywhere. Is there any legal protection in regards to “defective” produce. I recently bought some grapefruits and they all turned out to be rotten upon cutting the day they were purchased. What is the store’s responsibility in this case?
Thanks in advance.
Hello. I was just looking for information on my rights to return contact lenses that I bought for my wife. She found them very uncomfortable & they were coloured, but very unrealistic. As the package was opened, do we have any rights to return them? Any help would be appreciated.
Hi Steve, thank you for your question. Returns and refunds are not required by law and it’s up to each business to set their own policies. So I would encourage you to contact the retailer to see what they may be willing to do about the situation. I hope this helps!
Is there something we can do if we perchase something that turned out to be missing parts or ruined in some way. And there was no verbal discussion about return policies . No visible notice on policies in store and nothing on the receipts about policies ???
Hi R.L, thank you for your question! By law, a business is not required to provide a refund or exchange. They can set their own policies. Having said that, the situation is different when it’s a defective item. In this case, a piece of law called the Sale of Goods Act may apply. It is our understanding that when a consumer purchases a defective item, the seller must address the situation typically by returning the consumer’s money, offering an exchange or store credit, or repairing the item.
Unfortunately there is no government body or other agency that administers this Act although it can be used in court. What we would recommend is to first go back to the business and see if they would be willing to work this out with you. I hope this information helps.
I recently purchased a number of items from a clothing store. I was unsure about a couple items and asked about the refund policy before purchasing. They told me that there is a full refund within thirty days with the receipt. So I decided to purchase the items and try them on at home. When I got home and decided I wanted to return a couple I read the receipt and it says the refund is put onto a store credit, which is not what I want or what I was told. What can I do to go in prepared to get my full refund on my card back?
Hi Caitlin, thank you for posting your question. Returns and refunds are not required by law and it’s up to each business to set their own policies. In your case, you may still want to contact the retailer directly to see what they may be willing to do about the situation. I hope this helps!
As a small business owner (lingerie shop) what should I do if a customer returns a bra which had been worn and washed? she was happy with her purchase when professionally fitted, the issue occurred after machine washing and then putting her finger through the lace. All bras state that they are hand wash only.many thanks for your time. Bad customer reviews can obviously seriously damage a small shop.
Hi Helen, businesses in BC are allowed to set their own return, refund and exchange policy so it is up to you to decide on how you want to handle this situation. I’m not sure if Small Business BC would be able to give you any help in this types of situation but here is their link – http://smallbusinessbc.ca/ I hope you can resolve the situation soon.
It would appear consumers have little, if any protection when buying goods in B.C. There is a provincial election coming next year and already politicians are rolling out their policies. Will your organization push for more balance in the equation between buyer and seller, similar to how it is in Alberta? If not, what good is Consumer Protection B.C. in protecting the public interest?
We are always supportive of efforts to assess improvements to BC’s consumer protection laws. That said, all changes to the law (including who has the authority to oversee them), as well as the creation of new law, rests with government. If you have specific concerns or suggestions for changes, we would be happy to hear about them, and forward these to the government as appropriate. For some background, our focus is to oversee the industries and the laws delegated to us (you can find out more about those on our website). If you wish to learn more about the work we do, you can take a peek at our annual report and strategic three-year business plans, which are available here: http://bit.ly/2aXTpSI.
Hi Natalie, This is a very good question! Generally speaking, it’s my understanding that advertising practices are overseen by Advertising Standards of Canada. The act that we are responsible for enforcing is BC’s Business Practices and Consumer Protection Act and it does not speak to retail sales or advertising standards. I’m curious, can you let me know which act you are talking about? I did a quick search for Canadian Consumer Act but couldn’t find the exact one. Thank you for raising this question, Natalie!
Your response seems to always be ‘businesses can set whatever refund rules they want’ but, doesn’t the law also state that there are rules about false advertising? Aka, if a business has refund rules (a form of advertising/part of it), and then doesn’t follow their own rules, isn’t that in violation of paragraph 74.1.1(c) of the Canadian consumer act?
I bought an electric scooter and had to take it back after 3 weeks to get it repaired. It had to get repaired because the company who built it and the people who put it together didn’t put the bake lines in the track. They just zip tied them to the bottom of the bike. When the zip ties broke the cable dragged on the ground and got damaged. I took it in to get repaired and they took 24 days to get the job done. Except when they called to say it was done I went to pick it up only to find out it wasnt fixed at all. They didnt replace the cables only put them into the track to hide the damage because they say that the manufacturer sent them too long of brake cables. Now I want my money back they want to charge me a restocking fee. I returned it within 30 days due to a manufacturing error which they could not ( or decided not to ) fix.
Hi Rebecca, thanks for your question! I responded to your DM on Facebook. Thanks!