The Ultimate Guide To Return Policies In Canada

6/11/2021
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Mark Trapani
Reimagine logistics hero

Us Canadians are known as kind and helpful folk, so we expect the same kindness from the brands we engage in, especially when it comes to returns. That’s just the nice and honest thing to do! Many of us are used to instant purchases through Amazon or Walmart and never worry about the right fit or size -- if we pick the wrong product, we can always return it! 


Online purchases have made it easier to shop, and since we are buying products that we cannot touch, test, or try out, we expect to make a complete return if we are not 100% satisfied. Besides, corporations down south with our big brother America all have extensive return policies, so Canadians have grown to demand the same treatment.  


Even though returns feel like a common practice, no law in Canada requires a seller to take back an item. Plus, each store has a different return policy, and that can create some confusion. Lululemon, an apparel shop with custom fittings, has a far more robust return agreement than used lumber refunds from Home Depot. 


This means that with some retailers, you as a Canadian consumer are not entitled to a return, even if you have a receipt and brought it back within thirty days. Between all the different return policies, getting your refund can be a big hassle, and the cash coming back is not guaranteed. To make sure you do not end up stuck with an item you do not want, we compiled a list of the common questions and concerns about Canadian return policies. 


Is there a set time limit to make a return?

There are no requirements for sellers to have a return window. With that stated, most companies use a return policy to maintain a positive business-to-customer relationship with you. Most stores want to offer a positive shopping experience, so they allow returns up to a set date. You receive the assurance of product satisfaction, while the company uses the time window to limit folks who act in bad faith. In general, large and oversized items that take longer to ship have an extended return window (e.g. Canadian Tire has a 90-day return window, while Sport Check limits theirs to 30 days). 


Recommendation: When purchasing a product you might return, confirm the return window! 


Can I return used items?

Sometimes, depending on the item. Returns cost retailers, and they want to limit that expense. The value of the sale item drops if it has been used and returned. To prevent any damage or value loss, stores will sell specific products that do not qualify for a refund (would you buy a new pair of shoes with grass stains on them?). Costco is very liberal in its return policy and will issue refunds for unboxed items. Other Canadian hardware or furniture stores like Home Hardware and Leons will take back partial or used products because they can be resold or recycled. Others have strict policies: Ikea has a return window of 365 days, but hey will not accept furniture returns that are used, scratched, or damaged. Best Buy refuses any returns for major appliances such as fridges and stoves that are unboxed from the original packaging. 


 In general, the following items never qualify for a return if used:

1. Swimwear

2. Personal Wear (earrings, face masks)

3. Undergarments

4. Party attire

5. Suits with tailoring

6. Shoes

7. Personal Hygiene Products


Recommendation: Before purchasing an item you are unsure about, check the vendor's refund policy to determine how lenient they are with used returns. 


Do I need proof of purchase?

Yes. Almost every single Canadian retailer will ask for a receipt. Not only does this ensure that the return goes back to the right person, but it limits the attempts made to return products that did not originally come from the store. Walmart does not accept items bought from The Real Canadian Superstore, as the product has no resale value and will backlog inventory. In most cases, every single Canadian store will require you to have the exact same form of payment you used to purchase the item, so make sure you bring the right credit card with you. In most cases, if you do not have proof of payment, but the product clearly came from that particular store, customer service can arrange a store credit. 


Recommendation: Save your receipts, and keep any boxes or hangtags attached to the item. 


What about partial refunds?

Some returns policies will not give a full return. Instead, you may receive a gift card, vouchers for your next purchase, or store credit. The retailer wants to create a positive relationship with you, but for some products the cost of the refund is too high for a full cashback policy. Air Canada rarely gives complete returns for airfares, and major appliance outfits do not take back oversized items.    


Additionally, refunds for Canadians have different policies for international stores. American retailers have shipping and inventory costs, and that means return policies for Canadian branches are much stricter. For example, Lululemon will refund you with a gift card if you return an American product bought online to a physical Canadian store. 


Recommendation: Inquire about the refund payment type before making a purchase, and confirm the return region. 


What Options Do I Have If A Store Will Not Refund Me?


The best method is to communicate with the Canadian customer service desks of that particular company. Remember, the primary purpose of a return policy is to offer you flexibility and quality assurance, so in most cases a deal can be made. Whether it is a partial refund, store credit, or changes to shipping costs, something is better than nothing. 


Sometimes you cannot work out a deal. Apple does have an extensive return policy, but the company still offers zero refunds for any opened software, even if that software contains issues. Dollarama has a no exchange and no return policy. For dire situations, if you purchased the item on credit, you can initiate a chargeback claim. All Canadians can request a credit card purchase reversal if a payment, charge, or refund was made in bad faith. Talk to your credit card company for more information. Lastly, if required, you can enter into small claims court and sue. 


Can I get a deposit back?

A store is under no obligation to repay a deposit payment. They can also charge fees if you cancel a planned purchase with a set deposit. Additionally, Canadian law requires that any deposit above 50$ requires a written contract and receipt to receive reimbursement. 


Recommendation: only set a deposit for high-value items, and recognize that there is little protection for you to receive that money back without paperwork. 


Can I get a replacement If I have a warranty?

Refunds are different that warranties. A warranty covers manufacturing or construction defects, and the payment amount is covered by the product creators, not the retailer. Not all warranties are the same, so you will need to read the fine print before making a purchase. Warranties only apply to situations when the product does not perform to the promised quality; it is of no use if you are simply unsatisfied with the item, a critical distinction. 


Can a Canadian Retailer Charge Return Fees?


Yes. All stores can charge restocking or shipping costs on any return. Most of the amount owed comes off of the refund balance owed to you. Some major companies like Wayfair or Best Buy have open return policies, but certain large-sized products may have modified clauses that include fees. 


Recommendation: When purchasing expensive, large, seasonal, or heavy items, ask the store representative if there are any extra return fees.  


Can I return “As Is” items?

No. “As Is” items have no refund policy attached to them. You have very little legal recourse to get a return for an “as is” item, even if the product is defective. The only time you can receive a refund is if you can prove that the store did not properly communicate or advertise the “as is” status of the product. 


American Vs Canadian Return Policies 

Most big box stores have international policies that make returns within the country of purchase relatively simple. Generally speaking, most corporations in the United States have a wide-open return policy, and they adopt the same overarching formula for Canadian subsidiaries — with a few tweaks. For example, Bestbuy.ca requires that Canadians make a return by mail if they bought an item online, even if they are able to walk to the store down the road. Amazon.com has a wide variety of specialty items like jewelry or baby supplies that can be returned in the United States but not in Canada. Walmart holds a 90 day return window, but in Canada specific items such as computers, electronics, phones, or eyeglasses only have 30 or sometimes 14 days for a return.

If you are a Canadian buying in Canada, make sure you take a look at small changes made to speciality items. The most abrupt return policy edits are made there when compared to our American friends, so watch out for those unexpected restocking fees when you buy a fridge! It is simply more costly to make returns as a Canadian: Best Buy offers free shipping on return purchases made from America, while most items sent to Canada (even bought from a Canadian store), will still have handling fees. 


Of note, cross-border returns will always include extra costs. You may not get your import fees back, and for some third-party sellers you might have to foot the entire cost of the return, including shipping and handling. Some places such as Amazon.com have an international return policy, but most of that only concerns items that are distributed by Amazon and include their specific “free returns” label. As a Canadian, check with the sellers individual return policy if you are on Amazon.com. 


Where can I find a store's return policy?


Most stores have an updated return policy on their website. You can also go to the physical locations and ask a customer service representative. We compiled a handy list of return policy links for several major Canadian retailers:


>365 days


Costco - no return limit with valid membership ID, excluding electronics (90 days)

Home Depot - 180 days standards, 365 for Home Depot Credit Card holders 

Ikea - 365 days in unused condition

Canadian Tire - 90 days with valid ID presented


>60 day returns: 


Indigo - Mail or in-person within 30 days

Joe Fresh - 8$ charge for mail returns, 30 days window

Aldo - 60 day return window excluding specialty items

The Shoe Company - 60 day return window for unworn items

Old Navy - free returns within 45 days


>30 day returns: 


Hudsons Bay - Standard 30 day window, 14 day for select items, 90 day for store credit

Winners - 30 day window

Homesense - 30 day return policy

Staples - Standard 30 days, 14 days for electronics

Best Buy - 14 - 30 days dependent on appliance category

Shoppers Drug Mart - 30 days for return or exact dollar amount exchange in-store

Rexall - equivalent replacement within 30 days

Lululemon - 30 days, can return stores purchases via mail. 

Amazon.ca - 30 days for Amazon distributed items

Apple - 15 Calendar days for unopened products.

Walmart 30 days for standard items. 45 - 60 days for varied products

Sephora - 30 days window for free returns, 60 day window for store credit.
Wayfair - 30 days window, but shipping costs will deduct from refund

Sport Chek - 30 days window for free returns, 60 day window for store credit


Final Sale with exemptions: 


Leons - All Sales are final, but a 60 day price guarantee

The Brick - All sales are final, but 90 day reselection window with delivery fees


No returns: 


Dollarama - no exchanges, no returns


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