Since the start of the pandemic, many people have been wondering about the price of goods and services. Here are some answers.

During a pandemic, can a merchant refuse to give me a deferred purchase coupon for a sale item that is out of stock? i

Pandemic or not, a merchant who advertises an item on sale must have a sufficient quantity of that item to meet the demand. If quantities are limited, the merchant must specify the exact quantity in stock in the advertisement. In such a case, statements such as “quantities limited” or “while supplies last” are not enough.

When an advertisement does not specify the quantity available, some merchants agree to give a deferred purchase coupon to customers who request one when the item is out of stock. However, this is not an obligation on their part: nothing in the Consumer Protection Act requires them to do so. This is rather a voluntary practice by certain merchants to ensure customer loyalty, while trying to avoid committing an offence under the Act.

As a consumer, however, you can ask the merchant to compensate you, under the Act, by offering you a similar item of equal or higher value at the advertised price. If the merchant refuses to compensate you, you can file a complaint with the Office de la protection du consommateur. The page titled Contact Us lists our contact information.

Can a merchant charge additional fees to cover costs incurred by COVID-19? i

A merchant may not charge a higher price than advertised. Merchants are in fact required to advertise an “all-inclusive” price. This means that the advertised price must include all of the amounts you will have to pay to purchase the product or service (the GST and QST are some of the exceptions).

In a nutshell, merchants may increase their prices to cover costs incurred by COVID-19, but these costs must be included in the advertised price. Any “surprise fees” are prohibited by law. This applies to all advertised prices, whether they appear in an advertisement, a sign, a flyer, a website or a verbal agreement.

For example, a hairdresser may not charge you sanitary cleaning fees if they increase the price that was advertised earlier. Similarly, it would be illegal for a repair shop to charge you surprise fees to disinfect the automobile or household appliance if such fees were not included in the evaluation.

If you are charged such illegal fees, you can simply refuse to pay them. You can contact the Office to file a complaint. Note that if you have paid such fees, you are entitled to demand a reimbursement. If you cannot come to an agreement with the merchant, you may initiate legal proceedings against that merchant and file for damages and punitive damages, in addition to the reimbursement of those fees.

What should I do when faced with a merchant who seems to want to gain from the COVID-19 situation by charging outrageous prices? i

While prices may reasonably vary based on supply and demand, good faith and contractual morality must prevail at all times. A merchant may not inflate prices to the extent that the difference between the value of what is offered and the price is so considerable that the merchant is exploiting the consumer. This is known as “price gouging.”

When faced with such an overly inflated price, you should first ask yourself whether you really need the product or service in question. If not, the solution may simply be to avoid purchasing it.

If you decide to purchase the product or service anyway, by agreeing to pay the inflated price, you may subsequently request a cancellation of your purchase or a reduction in the price. If you cannot come to an agreement with the merchant, you can turn to the courts.

Can merchants charge a price other than the one advertised in their flyers? i

No. Merchants may not, for example, change their advertised prices because of the onset of COVID-19. For example, an item that was advertised on sale at $9.47 for the period from Friday, March 20 to Thursday, March 26 must be sold at that price. The GST and QST may, however, be excluded from that price.

For more information, refer to the section titled Advertising an All-Inclusive Price.

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Last update : October 21, 2020

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The information contained on this page is presented in simple terms to make it easier to understand. It does not replace the texts of the laws and regulations.