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More unhappy returns for Dollarama shoppers

Canada’s largest dollar-store chain has a strict policy of not accepting exchanges or returns. It also has limited communication to customers about the policy.

Many shoppers learn of it only when bringing items back, as I wrote in a column last week.

There are messages on the screen when you check out, and messages on your sales receipt. But there are no signs posted prominently in stores.

Other low-cost retailers are upfront about their return policies, which pop up quickly in a Google search.

Dollar Tree: Does not offer refunds and considers all sales final. Will exchange any unopened item with the original receipt.

Giant Tiger: Satisfaction guaranteed or your money refunded with the presentation of sales receipt — no time limit. Exchange or refunds may be made at any location. All require customer identification.

Value Village: While they don’t provide cash refunds, clothing, accessories and small household items may be exchanged within seven days of purchase, provided the item has the original tags attached and you have the receipt.

Shouldn’t Dollarama work harder to tell buyers that they may be stuck with a purchase if they change their minds?

Some readers defend the chain’s stance, especially if they work in retail and see liberal return policies being abused. They blame customers for not asking the right questions before handing over cash or plastic, rather than blaming retailers for poor disclosure.

Dollarama says a point-of-sale system is the best way to convey the policy. “We are sure to reach every single customer. The message cannot be covered, lost, misplaced or taken down,” said spokeswoman Lyla Radmanovich.

“We primarily communicate with our customers in stores because that is where they are making their purchases. Our website is not transactional.

“Having said that, we are always listening to our customers. So if our customers tell us it isn’t clear, then we will take that into consideration. We are continuously taking customer feedback into consideration.”

Most of my readers want to see signs posted on doors, walls and near checkouts. Screen messages may go unnoticed. (I never spotted them in my own purchases.)

As for using a sales receipt, that’s too late. You’re already committed to a contract you entered into unwittingly.

When it comes to post-purchase regret (wrong size, wrong colour), stores are within their legal rights to turn you away.

But what if items — such as batteries, clocks, extension cords, light bulbs or toys — are defective right out of the box? Can you give them back?

Under the sale of goods laws in Canada, retailers can’t sell products that are unfit for their intended purpose. But I heard many stories of shoppers being turned away when trying to return things that didn’t work.

That’s not only unfair. It’s illegal.

But Dollarama’s rigid policy seems to embolden staff not to make exceptions. Here are a few stories.

John Follis: I bought a defective plastic box and returned it. The store reluctantly exchanged it, but 60 seconds later, my replacement box broke. I asked for my money back, only to be told “no refund.” I stood my ground, politely requesting my refund while backing up a line of 20 to 30 customers. I got my $ 2 back and a round of applause from the lineup.

Erin Wallans: I bought four solar lights that couldn’t hold a charge. I returned them in two days with the receipt. The store finally said I could get an exchange, but not return anything again. I work for my money and expect the products I buy to be in working condition.

Tasha Stewart: My boyfriend, a chef, bought a measuring cup. Once he took it home and tested it, he realized the measurements were wrong. He took it back immediately. The manager said, “This isn’t Kitchen Stuff Plus.” He wouldn’t accept that the product was defective. Why else (would you) buy a measuring cup but to measure? After much arguing, he allowed an exchange for a similar item.

Denny Hall: I bought a photo frame and carried it home in a reusable cloth bag. When I removed it, the glass was shattered. I could see, looking at the shards, that the glass was too thin to be used safely. The manager said I broke it. Pointing out the unbroken, unmarred plastic wrap, I said it was defective. He said no. Luckily, 20 people were waiting in line and he gave me the credit.

Several readers went beyond the reluctant store staff to notify head office about poor products.

Joseph Kong Ting received a $ 10 gift card within two days of contacting the CEO about a defective tablecloth. He sent a link to Dollarama’s code of conduct and ethics at its website, saying his store experience contradicted it.

So, how do you reach the right people to report on a dud purchase?

“If a product is defective, we are the first to want to know,” Radmanovich said. “In such cases, store associates are instructed to invite customers to contact our customer service department online or by toll-free phone (1-888-755-1006, #1000, outside the Montreal area).

“This ensures that dedicated personnel can evaluate and address problems. It also allows us to continuously improve our product offering.”

Gift cards are offered to cover, at minimum, the value of goods purchased in cases where the product cannot be replaced, she said. This doesn’t prevent managers from addressing claims directly if they are able to do so.

Ellen’s Advice

If you’ve had a bad experience with defective products at a store, please contact Dollarama’s customer service for a review, as Radmanovich urges, and tell me about the outcome.

Meanwhile, keep sending me stories about retailers with restrictive or difficult return policies. Let’s keep the conversation going.

Ellen Roseman’s column runs on Tuesday in Smart Money. You can reach her at eroseman@thestar.ca.

TORONTO STAR