Returning goods purchased after Christmas


Shutterstock photo Copyright VitaM

Q. Are stores required to have in place refund or exchange policies after Christmas, and are consumers protected?

A. Retail stores set their own refund policies. Some stores don’t allow refunds or exchanges. For others, it depends on the items you purchase.

Don’t look for a particular section of law that deals with this subject. There is nothing about brick and mortar stores having to refund shoppers in the Consumer Protection Act. No law forces these retailers to refund or exchange goods purchased.

You enter into a commercial contract when you purchase from a retailer, by pressing ‘ok’ as witnessed by the Interac machine. When you do that a successful closing has just occurred. Why would lawmakers interfere with this valid commercial contract?

It’s different if the store, at its discretion, indicates by a sign on a wall, on the back of a receipt or just having in place a return policy, that goods can be returned. Then that wording becomes a part of your contract.

There are reasons explaining why some storeowners are reluctant in adopting a refund policy. Fraud on returns includes a wide range of con-jobs, like customers stealing products and attempting to return them. Think of clients who buy goods with the intention of using them once, say a stereo system for a cottage party, only to return them back for cash.

When storeowners accept refunds, that concerned look on their face may result from apprehending such potential scams, while they carefully check, ask questions airport-security style, on why the goods are being returned, name, address, and everything else.

It’s also costly for the merchant and ultimately the consumer. Such items are often not resold, meaning stores take a loss. This increases cost and leads to higher prices for consumers.

However consumers do have legal rights in some circumstances and justifiably so.

If you purchased a defective product, the merchant who sold it has obligations, regardless of any refund policy. The Consumer Protection Act (CPA) stipulates that goods must withstand normal use for a reasonable length of time. The merchant must then either repair the product, exchange it, or provide a refund

Should your vendor not comply with taking back defective goods, those less inclined to go to court may explore another way of administering as much justice as one desires, by writing to the Office de la protection du consommateur. This is interesting because the number of letters that are received by them along with the reasons are open to public viewing at the following website:

www.opc.gouv.qc.ca/en/information-merchant/

Any sorry company you enter the name of, if being publicly whipped, will appear on the screen for your viewing pleasure or displeasure.

Some of the confusion on returns may come from the fact that certain contracts may be cancelled under certain conditions under the CPA. For example, you may cancel a purchase made by phone, internet, or by mail without charge and within a short period of time if the merchant breaches certain commitments, such as not respecting delivery deadlines or providing a contract with mandatory information.

Contracts for goods sold by itinerant merchants are another category of contracts cancellable within 10 days. This may be because of itinerant merchants who put undue pressure on consumers when they invade a house with an endless checklist of positive things to say about a product. Or from the back of a truck or on the street.

Bottom line: brick and mortar stores have no obligation to accept returned goods unless they agree to it at the time of the sale. Just like with any other commercial contract this is negotiable.

Please send your legal questions to editor@yourlocaljournal.ca.

Website of law office: vmaranda.com

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