Pandemic or not, it is always a good idea to check a merchant’s return, exchange or reimbursement policy in effect at the time of purchase.
Can merchants invoke sanitary reasons to refuse a returned item, even when their policy states otherwise? i
The law does not require merchants to accept a returned item after it was purchased if the consumer no longer wants the item. Merchants are free to determine whether or not they have a return, exchange or reimbursement policy. If they have one, however, they are required to abide by it.
The current pandemic situation is unprecedented and merchants may change their regular policy by indicating to their customers that, due to the pandemic, they will no longer accept returns, agree to exchanges or issue reimbursements. We therefore suggest that consumers check the policy in effect when they make their purchase, even with merchants with whom they do business on a regular basis.
If a merchant whose policy accepts returns refuses to take back an item or reimburse you for sanitary reasons, it is strongly recommended that you try to reach an agreement with that merchant. If no agreement can be reached, you could send the merchant a formal demand requesting that the merchant abide by the return policy. If the merchant refuses to do so or fails to respond to the letter, it will then be up to you to decide whether you want to turn to the courts to force the merchant to do so.
Note that this applies when a consumer wants to return or exchange a non-defective item. The law has other provisions that apply to goods that are defective, damaged or fail to meet the statements about them issued by the merchant or manufacturer. The page titled How to Have Legal Warranties Applied provides information on this subject.
Furthermore, if the item was purchased online and the merchant failed to abide by certain obligations, you may be able to cancel your purchase without charge and within short deadlines. Please refer to the page titled Conditions to Cancel a Purchase Made Online to find out more.
What can I do if, as a result of measures adopted by the government, I am unable to return or exchange an item within the deadline specified in the merchant’s policy? i
If the measures adopted by the government to fight the spread of COVID-19, such closing stores and limiting purchases to essential products only, prevent you from returning or exchanging an item within the deadline specified in the merchant’s policy, here are a few suggestions.
You could invoke the fact that you are in a situation of force majeure to assert your right to return or exchange the item when it once again becomes possible for you to do so.
You could also invoke the requirement of good faith that must dictate the conduct of both parties and argue that a merchant that has a return or exchange policy must allow consumers to benefit from that policy.
This only applies to cases where the government measures make it truly impossible to return or exchange the item within the deadline specified in the merchant’s return or exchange policy.
For example, this would not be the case if the deadline to return or exchange the item occurred after stores reopened. This deadline could not be extended by the number of days the stores were closed.
Nor would it be the case if the item could be returned or exchanged by means other than in person at the store (e.g. goods purchased online, which can usually be returned or exchanged by postal or courier service).
In the case of a defective item, if the measures implemented by the government to fight the pandemic make it impossible to apply the item’s warranty, you could also invoke the fact that the situation is a force majeure in order to assert your rights.
It is recommended, however, that you notify the merchant or manufacturer of the defect as soon as possible, if the merchant or manufacturer can be contacted. For more information on warranties, please refer to the section titled Defective Goods and Applying Warranties.
In all cases, it will be up to the courts to assess the facts specific to each case and rule on the issue if the parties fail to come to an agreement. However, it is to the merchant’s advantage to maintain good business relationships with its customers.
Last update : January 22, 2021
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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.