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Reopened stores putting returned items in quarantine before re-shelving due to coronavirus

Some Manitoba stores are quarantining items that are returned to protect customers.
Some Manitoba stores are quarantining items that are returned to protect customers. Getty Images

Items being returned to local stores may now sit for days in quarantine before being placed back on the shelves — if stores are taking returns at all.

An employee at a Winnipeg Sport Chek store said that since the business reopened on May 4, any items returned have been placed in a storage room or behind the counter for three days before heading back to store shelves.

“Even if a customer brings something up and changes their mind, we have to quarantine,” she said.

“It’s pretty messy back here,” she added, gesturing to a pile of returns behind the counter.

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A spokesperson for clothing chain H&M said the company is taking a similar approach.

“All returns will be quarantined for 24 hours,” the spokesperson said.

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“After the 24 hours, the items will then be placed back on the sales floor. For example, all items returned on Monday will not be placed on the sales floor until Wednesday morning.”

Over at Walmart Canada, “it’s not business as usual,” spokesperson Felicia Fefer said.

The retail giant has made numerous changes to its return policy since restrictions were put in place around the country, she said.

Grocery store sales plateau; still well above average
Grocery store sales plateau; still well above average

They include an expanded return time for items bought before March 14, a refusal to accept bulk returns of more than three of the same item and the policy that some items are now considered final sale, including clothing, shoes, wearables, mattresses, sleeping bags, bedding and towels.

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“We will also not accept returns on any opened products or any item without a receipt if purchased after March 20,” she said.

Fefer said the changes help protect customers and staff alike.

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But some stores have taken the bigger step of not accepting returns at all.

A Loblaws spokesperson said the company has stopped allowing returns for the time being.

“In an effort to keep both customers and colleagues safe and to reduce the risk of transmission, we have temporarily suspended returns and exchanges,” they said.

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Loblaws owns several grocery and pharmaceutical chains across the country, including Atlantic Superstore, Real Canadian Superstore, No Frills, Extra Foods and Shoppers Drug Mart, among others.

At Sobeys, which also owns Safeway stores, the story is much the same, although rules may relax soon.

“We temporarily stopped accepting returns early on in the crisis however, we are committed to working with our customers to make it right and ensure they are satisfied,” said spokesperson Natasha Compton.

“We are now in the process of reviewing a safe return process that we can mange in our stores given the current environment.”

Different province, different rules

John Graham, prairie director with the Retail Council of Canada, said every province that has started loosening restrictions has different guidelines for retail stores when it comes to returning merchandise during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In Alberta, for example, stores must wipe down hard-sided merchandise before placing it back on the shelves.

“In Saskatchewan, all returns must be quarantined for 72 hours, which is the most conservative (return period) we’ve seen,” he said.

In Manitoba, there are no official guidelines for returning merchandise, but many stores are taking their cues from national head offices and developing best practices “based on what we know about the virus at this time,” said Graham.

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Smaller stores are also doing their best, as most stores have a small back room to store merchandise until it can be placed back on the floor, he added.

Customers who walk into a retail store and go to purchase something should ask about the store’s return and quarantine policy and understand that some stores may not be taking returns, said Graham.

“On the other hand, stores are trying to rebuild their businesses and don’t want to create unnecessary restrictions,” he added.

“So it’s best to ask.”