In Canada, there are no laws that force merchants and businesses to accept the return of an item that you bought. Each store and seller can choose to offer a refund or return policy and, as a result, the options offered to us consumers can vary dramatically from store to store and province to province.  

This is particularly concerning given that the post-pandemic world is moving more and more to online shopping. According to Statistics Canada, e-commerce sales reached a record high in December 2020, increasing by 69.3%, year-over-year. (Compare this to brick-and-mortar retail store purchases which increased by only 5.9% during the same time frame.)

Since no one wants to get stuck with unwanted goods or jump through hoops just to get ‘their money’s worth’ it’s a good idea to consider how each store deals with returns and exchanges. To help, I’ll walk you through how to find a store’s return and refund policy, what changed because of COVID, the best tips for getting a refund and the stores with the best refund and return policies in Canada.  

Why return and refund policies matter?

While companies are not obligated to offer returns many businesses offer them anyway as a sign of goodwill and as a way to build consumer trust. In a Harris Poll, 91% of consumers responded that a merchant’s return and refund policy is a decisive factor in the decision to buy or not. Stores with customer-centric return policies are favoured over stores with restrictive or non-existent refund and return policies.  

Turns out it’s not only the ability to take an item back that helps build confidence among consumers. According to data, just having the policy regarding returns and refunds prominently displayed, or easily accessible on a merchant’s website, provides customers with more confidence in the retailer, which helps overcome some of the psychological barriers of spending.

Plus, there are some governmental regulations that help prompt good corporate citizens to implement policies to help consumers. For instance, under the Ontario Consumer Protection Act products ordered for delivery must be dropped off within 30 days of the promised date or shoppers can request a refund. (If the item arrives late and you keep it, you lose your right to a refund.) 

 

Refund and return policy terms you need to know

Return or refund policies are the rules and terms that allow customers to return a product (or service) to a business. Most of the time, return and refund policies follow a standard format that clearly states what condition the goods must be in to qualify for a return or refund; how long a customer has, from time of purchase, in order to qualify for a return and what items are excluded from the return policy.

Some stores may also try to limit refunds by only offering in-store credit or charging a restocking fee. Other stores will deny a refund or return request if you do not have the original receipt. 

To understand how returns and refunds are handled, it pays to understand the terminology. 

Here’s the most common terms used in return policies in Canada: 

All Sales Final

This policy means the merchant does not offer refunds, exchanges or store credit. Anything bought cannot be returned. 

Exchange Only

As the name suggests, an exchange-only policy means that a customer cannot get their money back, should they need to return the item, but they can get the same or a different time of equal (or lesser) value. 

From Date Of Purchase

This refers to the amount of time you have to buy a product and then change your mind and return the product. Most stores offer a standard 30 days from date of purchase. 

Restocking Fees

Many businesses charge a restocking fee of 10% to 20% to help cover the administrative fees for processing and handling returns. Restocking fees are normally charged only on returns and exchanges made at the customer’s discretion, not on returns of defective merchandise..

Store Credit

Store credit means you can return an item but you won’t get your money back. Instead, you will get store credit — an amount equal to the cost of the item you returned that can be spent at the store. 

 

How returns and refunds changed due to COVID

Like everything else, the pandemic had a big impact on retailers — including how merchants handle refund and return policies. 

At first, many retailers paused all returns and exchanges and offered customers extensions oon standard return policy timelines. Other retailers expanded their list of items that were excluded from any return or exchange policy. While customers have never been able to return intimate apparel, such as bras and underwear, other personal items, such as jewelry or hats, also began to be included on the no-exchange or return list. 

These days, it’s best to check on the return policy of a store even if you’ve been shopping at the merchant for years. 

 

Tips for making a return or getting a refund

It’s always easier to return any item if you have the original store receipt. Another good tip is to not wait to make a return. The earlier you can return an item, the better. 

Also, despite your frustration (perhaps you are annoyed that a product doesn’t work) it’s always a good idea to be nice and be polite. Remember, no one will make an exception for you if you’re being a jerk.

If the item you want to return is faulty, broken or damaged through no fault of your own, you can rightfully request for a refund. Make sure to take some pictures of the damage before you head back to the store or request a refund online.

Try to avoid taking the tags off the item you wish to return and bring the original receipt with you, whenever possible. 

Can you return an item without a receipt?

Yes! While there’s no law that requires a retailer to take back an item, many larger retailers will accept returns without a receipt, under certain conditions. So, what stores can you return items without a receipt?

Walmart 

Once allowed customers to make up to three returns without a receipt, within a 45-day period. But after the pandemic, the retail giant changed its return policy. Now, stores can refuse to accept a return of any merchandise where three or more of the same item was purchased. Also, all returns must be accompanied by a receipt. No receipt, no return, no exceptions. 

Canadian Tire, Home Depot and Costco

All these retailers allow exchanges or returns for unused or un-opened merchandise, as long as store personnel are able to locate your original receipt in their system using the credit card you used to pay for the merchandise.

3 ways some stores will deny you a return or refund 

Not all stores are good corporate citizens and, as a result, not all stores will comply with a return or refund policy without a bit of a fight. To avoid these situations be on the lookout for these three ways that stores try to avoid a return or refund. 

  1. Asking you to send faulty products back to the manufacturer: Remember it is the store that you have a contract with, not the manufacturer who may not even have an office or location in the country.
  2. Claim that the item isn’t meant to last or that the item is meant to work the way it does: Nothing lasts forever, but products are not meant to disintegrate the day after their warranty expires.
  3. Shift fault to you, the customer: You can easily disprove this by showing video or images to prove that the item was defective when you received it. More importantly, if an item advertised as durable fails within the first six months, the fault clearly lies on the quality of the item and it should be regarded as if it was defective from the start.

If you’re keen to shop online or in-person at retailers with the best return policies, then check out this list of 17 merchants with the best return policies in Canada. Not to be forgotten, there’s also a list of 7 stores with good-in-theory, standard return policies, as well as 8 stores with the worst return policies in Canada.

Top 17 Stores with the Best Return Policies

To help identify these stores, here are 17 stores found in Canada with the best return and refund policies. 

Abercrombie & Fitch Return Policy

This retailer will refund any merchandise in resalable condition when a copy of the original invoice is produced up to 60 days from date of purchase. The refund will go back to the original payment method; if the order was purchased using PayPal and returned to a store with your original invoice, a store credit is issued. 

Nothing too surprising, here. What makes Abercrombie & Fitch’s return policy part of the “best” list is their Speed Exchange. This allows you to choose your replacement merchandise and get it shipped to you before returning the original item. The retailer will charge your original payment type for the replacement merchandise, right away, in the meantime, you can send the original merchandise item and, once received, you get a full refund. 

Amazon Return Policy

Amazon has one of the more generous return policies found among e-retailers. You have 30 days from the date of delivery to return items for free for a full refund. Keep in mind that this only applies if the item is defective, damaged, or the incorrect product and the item must be sold and/or fulfilled by Amazon directly. If it’s not sold or fulfilled by Amazon directly, then you may still be able to return it, but you’ll have to pay for return shipping.

Don’t assume that every purchase you make from Amazon is returnable per the Amazon return policy, because it can be different if it’s a third-party seller. The return policy for items that are fulfilled by third-party sellers is determined by the seller rather than Amazon. Customers can view the seller’s return policy before and after ordering.

Also, if you bought and want to return insects, grocery products or items classified as hazardous materials, then you are out of luck as the online retailer prohibits returns on these items. 

Amazon also imposes various restrictions on returns for technology products, downloadable software, gift cards, jewelry, video game cards, online subscriptions, and health and personal care orders.

American Eagle Return Policy

This popular clothing retailer offers free returns with no time limit as long as you have proof of purchase. That even includes items that no longer have tags (excluding bathing suits or intimates). 

If you can’t find your receipt, you can still return the item but American Eagle’s return policy means you’ll only get store credit based on the item’s current retail price.

(The) Bay Return Policy

The Bay’s return policy is pretty good. You must have your original receipt and all returned items must be in their original state, with all tickets attached and deemed by the Bay to be unworn and undamaged. 

For most items purchased on the HBC mastercard or credit card, you have up to 90 days to return. If you are returning furniture, mattresses, major appliances or patio furniture you have 60 days and 30 days for home electronics. All clearance items are final sale. 

Bed, Bath & Beyond Return Policy

You can return almost any item within 90 days for a full refund as long as you have a receipt. Some exceptions do apply. For instance, smart home tech and seasonal items can only be returned up to 30 days after purchase and only with a receipt and you have 60 days from time of purchase to return or exchange electronics. 

If you have a gift receipt then you’ll get store credit for the amount paid for the item.

If you have no receipt, don’t despair. If your item was purchased within the last 365 days, Bed Bath & Beyond will try to find a record of the transaction. If the store can’t, you’ll still get an exchange or merchandise credit minus 20% off the current selling price.

Out of an abundance of caution, they are only accepting returns and exchanges in stores open to the public (this does not include Curbside only locations.)

Cabela’s Return Policy

Cabela’s offers a 90-day return period on everything in the store except for firearms and ammo, gas-powered items, or drones.

This is especially amazing if you want to try out a sport or hobby and then you’re just not into it.

Bring your item back to a Cabela store and if you have a receipt, you’ll get a full refund. Without a receipt, you’ll get store credit at the lowest sale price.

Canadian Tire Return Policy

Canadian Tire has a generous return policy. Most items can be returned in original and unused condition up to 90 days from purchase. 

If you don’t have your original receipt but you paid using your Triangle Rewards Mastercard then not to worry. Store staff can find the original receipt using your credit card. 

While not stated, Canadian Tire customers also point out that the retailer stands behind its products and its customers. Quite often, if a product is deemed damaged or defective, through no fault of the customer, the retailer will replace the product up to 365 days from date of purchase. 

Keep in mind, tinted paint and stain products, products cut to length or modified, magazines, ammunition, fireworks, clearance or final sale items are not refundable. 

Costco Return Policy

Costco’s return policies are hard to beat: There’s no time limit for returning most products purchased from the discount retailer. Simply bring them into your nearest Costco store for a cash or check refund.

Technically, this big box retailer policy says you have 30 days to bring back your purchase, but Costco members know that you won’t be hassled if you bring your items back up to a year later. 

Still, don’t push your luck when it comes to electronics which must be returned within 90 days. Keep in mind, though, that this return policy is three times longer than the standard return period for electronics at most other retail stores so if you buy your TV as another store you’ll have, at most, 30 days to try it out while the Costco TV return policy gives you 90 days. 

Another advantage to Costco is that you can make your return — even years later — without a receipt. Store personnel will use your membership card to look up purchases using your membership number. 

One final advantage, Costco memberships can be cancelled at any time if you are unsatisfied — I just haven’t met a customer, yet, who didn’t like Costco’s return policy. 

If the item you received doesn’t match the description in the original listing, or if it arrived faulty or damaged, you’re covered under the eBay Money Back Guarantee. You can return it even if the seller’s returns policy says they don’t accept returns.

Ebay Return Policy

If the item you received doesn’t match the description in the original listing, or if it arrived faulty or damaged, you’re covered under the eBay Money Back Guarantee. This means you can even return an item even if the seller’s returns policy says they don’t accept returns!

To start a return, select the item from your order history. The seller will have three days to respond to your return request. If you do not hear from the seller after three days, you can ask eBay to step in to help. 

You will need to select a reason for the return. If the item is defective or broken, you can attach up to 10 photos to attach to show the damage. If your reason for returning is because you changed your mind, the seller has the discretion to offer a full, partial or no refund. Even if you get a full refund approved, you may still be required to pay shipping costs. 

Home Depot Return Policy

Customers have a generous 90-day period to return an unwanted item. There are a few exceptions, such as rugs and furniture, which only have a 30-day from date of purchase return window. Other items with a 30-day window include: paint, electronics, furniture, and gas-powered equipment.

Home Depot Return Without a Receipt

You don’t even need the receipt when returning items to Home Depot. Just bring the debit or credit card you used to make the purchase and Home Depot will look up the original charge and credit your account.

For those with a not-so-green-thumb, Home Depot provides a generous return policy. You can get a full return or exchange on any plant that ends up dying—no questions asked — 365 days from date of purchase! 

Ikea Return Policy

IKEA’s return policy was always pretty generous, but as of October 2020, the return policy for this global merchant got even better. Now, you have up to 365 days to return unopened products for a full refund, with proof of purchase. If you opened your products, not to worry, you still have 180 days to return the product for full refund, with proof of purchase. While not expressly stated, Ikea also accepts returns without receipt, but your refund will come as store credit for the item’s lowest possible price within the last 365 days. 

But there are limits: You cannot return plants, cut fabric, custom countertops, as-is products or any items that were modified from its original form when purchased or any goods that are dirty, stained, or damaged.

Ikea Return Without Receipt

No receipt? No problem. Bring in the item for return and store personnel will try to locate a record of purchase in their system. If they can’t, they’ll issue a merchandise credit for the lowest-selling price of the item within the last 365 days.

Lowes Return Policy

The Lowes’ Return Policy claims “no hassle” refunds. As such, most items can be returned when in original packaging and with a receipt, up to 90 days from date of purchase. 

Exception include: 

  • Outdoor power equipment and liquid paint: 30 days
  • Major appliances: 7 days (due to manufacturer defect). You could get longer, but you need to call customer service
  • Any item purchased as part of the Winter Holidays theme must be returned before December 26. 

MEC Return Policy

If you’re not satisfied with Mountain Equipment Co-Op’s gear, you can get a cash refund within 30 days. However, we know members who have exchanged worn-out items up to 10 years after the item was purchased. The co-op’s guarantee even covers staff recommendations: If an employee advises you to purchase something and you don’t like it, just take it back.

While this generous return policy may change — given the recent change in ownership — for now MEC’s return policy still remains one of the best in Canada.

Sephora Return Policy 

The Sephora return policy lets you return gently used items within 60 days with a receipt. However, you can only get a full refund within the first 30 days of that period. For the second 30 days, you can only get store credit. Still, for personal items, this return policy is very generous! 

What makes Sephora’s return policy even better is that you don’t need to produce your original receipt. Instead, store personnel can look it up using the debit/credit card you used to purchase the item or through your Beauty Insider account number. 

Sephora monitors return activity which means that if you use this policy too much (up to each store’s discretion), the retailer may start to refuse your return and exchange offers. Also, anything purchased online can only be returned in store.

Staples Return Policy

Staples’ return policy says you can return office supplies for any reason, at any time.

Items do have to be in resale condition with the original packaging, so just make sure you hold on to the box while you’re testing it out. You can even return software and ink & toner as long as they’re unopened and not expired. Software can’t be returned at all.

The only exceptions are electronics and furniture. For these items you have only 14 days to try, test and return. Software can’t be returned at all.

Wayfair Return Policy

If you aren’t bothered by recent political events and still shopping at the online home furnishing and decor retailer, then rest assured you will have 30 days from the date of purchase to return an unwanted (and unused) item for a full refund. If you are over the 30 days, you can still return the item up to 90 days from date of purchase but only for a store credit. 

There are some limits: You cannot return items marked as non-returnable, gift cards, personalized items, or clearance items. Also, be sure to check the return policy on items that require assembly (as not all are returnable).

Finally, the return policy on mattresses is quite good. Wayfair allows you to try out a mattress and, if you don’t like it, you have 100 days to return the item. 

Keep in mind, as an online retailer, all returns must be shipped back, which can be a hassle if you are buying large or bulky items. 

Toys R Us Return Policy

According to the Toys R Us return policy, you have 45 days to return an item. There are exclusions. For instance, you cannot return certain electronic items, monitors and breast pumps. 

7 Stores with Standard Return Policies

Apple Return Policy

You can return your items to an Apple store within 15 days of receiving your item as long as you bought the item through Apple. Be sure to bring a valid piece of ID with your photo on it, along with your order number. 

Items that cannot be returned include: Opened memory, opened software, software downloads & upgrades, print products, gift cards, Apple Developer products. 

The one bright spot in the Apple return policy — and the reason why it makes it to the “standard” list and not the ‘worst’ return policy list — is that you can return opened and used electronics, as long as you have all the original packaging (with all the cords). This is not typical in the retailer landscape.

Returns using a gift receipt are refunded in the form of an Apple gift card.

Indigo Return Policy

You can return your Chapters or Indigo purchased items — whether bought online or in-store — within 30 days from date of purchase. For online orders, you can start your return online, print a return label and drop off the return package at any local post office.

H&M Return Policy

The retailer has a pretty standar return policy. You can return items within 30 days, after 30 days you are not eligible for a return or exchange. 

Also, H&M’s return policy restricts certain items from return or exchange such as underwear, swimwear, pierced earrings and cosmetics. 

Rona Return Policy

Standard return policy of 30 days with receipt. There’s no restocking fee and relatively few exceptions. Keep in mind, however, that the Rona return policy does require the item to be in original packaging. 

Shoppers Drug Mart Return Policy

Shoppers Drug Mart has a fairly standard 30 day return policy if you have a receipt. There’s a hefty 20% restocking fee for some items at Shoppers Home Health Care Stores — be sure to ask before you buy an item if this fee would apply. 

The Shoppers Drug Mart return policy without a receipt is case-dependent. The store can decide whether or not to honour the return and, if approved, you will only get store credit, based on the last lowest sale price for the item. 

 

Walmart Return Policy

There was a time when Walmart led the retailer charge for customer retention through customer-centric return policies. This meant that you had 90 days to return an item and if you didn’t have a receipt, you could still return the item, but the refund would be for store credit. 

Walmart Return Without Receipt

Since COVID-19, the store’s policies have changed. Now, you have 30 extra days to return items — so up to 120 days since you bought the item — but the retailer will not return or exchange headphones and earphones, air mattresses, sleeping bags and any item without a receipt. The retailer will also refuse to honour the return or exchange of any item in an opened package or box or any bulk return of more than three of the same item. 

The one bright spot: you now have 45 days, not 14 days, to return or exchange unused computers, tablets, e-readers, laptops, monitors, printers, camcorders, digital cameras, GPS units, wearable tech, video game consoles and handhelds, computer games, wireless prepaid phones and 15-day contract post-paid phones. The length of time to return or exchange TVs, DVDs and home or portable audio and video equipment also increased to 60 days. 

Zara Return Policy

You have 30 days to return an item to a Zara Store or you can ship it (go to www.zara.com for details).  

 

8 Stores with the Worst Return Policies

Best Buy Return Policy

This retailer has one of the most comprehensive store return policies. That doesn’t mean it’s good, just detailed. 

If you need to return an item to Best Buy, you’d better do it quickly. Unless you’re a My Best Buy Elite or Elite Plus member you only have 15 days to return items.

Some items, like TVs, home theatre audio, media, major appliances, cable and streaming devices have a 30 day return window, but you must have a receipt. 

If you return an item from a different province, you could be subject to a standard restocking fee —  either $45 or 15% of the item purchase price.

If you are buying during the holiday season, the Best Buy return policy is a bit more generous. Any item bought in November or December can be returned for in-store credit up to the first two weeks of January. This more robust return policy excludes: cell phones, tablets, wearables, AppleCare monthly plans and major appliances.

Freschco Return Policy

The Freshco return policy gives you 14 days for exchange and no returns or exchanges on clearance items. There are no exceptions and no returns without receipt.

Fortinos Return Policy

The Fortinos return policy gives you 14 days for exchange and no returns or exchanges on clearance items. Returns without receipt may be possible with photo ID.

Loblaws Return Policy

The Loblaws return policy gives you 14 days for exchange and no returns or exchanges on clearance items. Returns without receipt may be possible with photo ID.

London Drugs Return Policy

London Drugs allows only 15 days for exchange, no returns plus shipping and handling are non-refundable.

No Frills Return Policy

The No Frills return policy gives you 14 days for exchange and no returns or exchanges on clearance items. Returns without receipt may be possible with photo ID. 

Real Canadian Superstore Return Policy

Grocery and non-food items may be returned for exchange or refund within 14 days of purchase with original receipt. 

If you are over the 14-day limit, the Real Canadian Superstore return policy will allow you to exchange the item for store credit as long as you have the original receipt — however, this is also up to the store’s discretion. 

Real Canadian Superstore returns without receipt require you to provide photo identification and the exchange will be for store credit as long as the item is still in the original sealed package.

The Brick Return Policy

You have just 7 days to return an item for exchange-only but only if the product is still in its original sealed package plus delivery charges will apply to your new selection. The one bright spot: No receipt required and all charges for extended warranties are also refundable within those 7 days (when returning the item).

Romana King

Romana King is an award-winning personal finance columnist and real estate expert. She specializes in creating editorial content that uses data to help home buyers, sellers and investors make smarter real estate decisions.