Due to COVID-19, there may be some slight differences to a store’s policies on returns, refunds and exchanges. Here’s some information to help you understand the rules.

Looking for a refund, return, or exchange during COVID-19?

There are many different reasons why you may want to take an item back. Maybe you realize a pair of shoes is a bit too small or perhaps you’re experiencing some buyer’s remorse.

However, in BC, there are no laws that deal directly with refund, exchange and return policies. This means that retail businesses can set their own policies when it comes to customer returns. Some stores may have super flexible return policies, and others may not. With COVID-19, some stores may have changed or updated their policies to reduce the risk of infection for customers and staff.

Ultimately, it’s up to the store to decide how they want to deal with refunds, returns, and exchanges.

How to avoid problems with a return, refund or exchange policy

Because businesses set these policies themselves, it is very important to ask about their refund and return policy before you make the purchase. If you think you knew what a store’s policy was on returns, refunds or exchanges before the pandemic, be sure to ask again when you make a new purchase – the policies may have changed in an effort to protect customers and staff.

What to do when you encounter a problem

Here are a few steps to follow if you’ve run into a problem with a return policy.

  1. Make sure you’re aware of the store’s refund and return policy. You should do this before you make any purchase. However, if you’ve already bought the item, reference the return policy to see what’s possible.
  2. When you speak with the business, be sure to give clear information about the reason for your return. If you purchased defective goods, calmly explain the defect and the outcome you would like.
  3. If you have a problem that isn’t being resolved by front-line staff, make a request to the store’s administration. Most businesses want happy customers, and they are often willing to work with them to solve the issue. However, please be aware that some stores may no longer be flexible when it comes to their return or refund policies due to COVID-19. Please try to be understanding and remember that their doing their best to keep their customers safe.
  4. If you believe the business is not abiding by their current return or refund policy, you can check out the Civil Resolution Tribunal (CRT). The CRT can help you try to resolve small claims disputes under $5,000 and strata (condominium) disputes of any amount. We’ve written a blog post that goes over what you can expect from the CRT. Alternatively, if you want a legal opinion, consider trying the Lawyer Referral Service from the Canadian Bar Association. They provide the opportunity for you to have a consultation with a lawyer for up to 30 minutes for a fee of $25 plus taxes.

The exceptions

There are exceptions to the rules around returns, refunds, and exchanges in certain types of transactions…

  • Did your gym or fitness studio change the services that are offered? By law, if a fitness studio has closed its doors or changed the services offered during the COVID-19 pandemic (i.e. moving classes online or no longer offering certain services), consumers are within their rights to cancel their contract and receive a refund for unused services. This is considered a “material change” by the supplier. Learn more about your options in this situation.
  • Did you buy something online that never arrived? If you ordered something online and it hasn’t been delivered to you within 30 days of the supply date (the expected day of delivery), you’re within your rights to cancel the order and receive your refund (no matter what the store’s refund policy is). Read our blog post to learn how to receive your refund when your package never arrives.

Did you like this? You might like these posts too!

5 ways to effectively manage debt
Some things to consider when you’re travelling within BC this summer
Three tips for safely buying a vehicle during the pandemic
COVID-19: what to expect at the farmers’ market

Look through all of our COVID-19 related information on our website.

Where do we fit in? 

Yes, we are a provincial regulator. We are responsible for some very specific transactions in BC. We aren’t experts on COVID-19. We won’t – and shouldn’t – ever give medical or legal advice. But we are in a unique circumstance right now and we want to help people navigate the current reality. We don’t have all the answers, but we will do our best to share information from reliable sources, put it in ways that are easy to digest and understand, provide referrals and help you navigate this situation.

About Consumer Protection BC:

We are responsible for regulating specific industries and certain consumer transactions in British Columbia. If your concern is captured under the laws we enforce, we will use the tools at our disposal to assist you. If we can’t help you directly, we will be happy to provide you with as much information as possible. Depending on your concern, another organization may be the ones to speak to; other times, court or legal assistance may be the best option. Explore our website at www.consumerprotectionbc.ca.