As business owners navigate this unprecedented pandemic, in B.C. and around the world, consumers are also having to figure out how to balance their bank accounts, including the return of merchandise or cancellation of services.
But British Columbians should be prepared to see some companies, big and small, denying them full refunds – even if the service didn’t happen due to COVID-19.
“In B.C., there is no law that dictates that a business has to give you a refund, exchange or return,” explained Consumer Protection BC spokesperson Tatiana Chabeaux-Smith.
“A store gets to set their own policy.”
Chabeaux-Smith said a consumer should always understand the terms and conditions laid out by a business, but noted that it wouldn’t be unusual that a business didn’t have a policy for these unforeseen times. That has made for a difficult situation for the thousands of consumers who may be having to pull back financially and the businesses trying to stay afloat.
“Start with the business, ask them what is possible,” Chabeaux-Smith advised. “See if you can get somewhere. Be patient with one another. There is no guideline.”
Consumers look to buy gift cards in order to support local
With many businesses forced to shut doors until further notice, the Better Business Bureau and other business groups are encouraging consumers to buy gift cards as a way to support the business financially now, and cash in on the service once this pandemic is over.
Chabeaux-Smith said gift cards can’t expire, but warned that gift certificates for a specific service can, as long as the expiry date is clearly listed.
The length of expiry can vary and is completely up to the businesses’s discretion, because “the cost of delivering a service changes over time.”
Regulations dictate that a business has to be upfront about when a gift certificate expires. If it does expire, there are no guidelines that dictate a business owner must allow the dollar amount to be used as credit.
“If you want a gift card that doesn’t expire, my advice would be to go for a dollar value,” Chabeaux-Smith.
But her advice comes with one caveat – if a business is forced to close, don’t expect that money back.
“If they declare bankruptcy, all the creditors get put into a big bucket, and rent or something else will get priority,” she said.
Price gouging can be reported: here’s how
While there is no regulation on refunds in the province, there is a law on price gouging and that’s where Consumer Protection BC can step in.
Anyone who suspects a business is taking advantage of the pandemic by drastically increasing the prices on certain items can report them to the regulator online. Chabeaux-Smith said that photos and other evidence of alleged price gouging helps the investigator.
If a business is found to be at fault, the regulator starts first with education but can escalate enforcement to cease and desist letters.