The Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) today released a report entitled “Point of No Return: Consumer Experiences Returning Online Purchases”. The report studies the importance of the return policy for consumers purchasing goods online in light of the demonstrated growing popularity of online shopping. The 108-page report examines consumers’ experiences with returns for online purchases and their ability to return the product.
“Canadian consumers need better protections for shopping online and a clear, unequivocal right to return products purchased online,” said Janet Lo, PIAC legal counsel and author of the report. “Business policies and practices for return policies for online purchases vary greatly and Canadian consumers do not always have the ability to return products purchased online.”
The report notes that the European Union recently passed a new Consumer Rights Directive that gives consumers the right to return online purchases and requires retailers to reimburse shipping costs incurred by the consumer. The EU Directive also requires retailers to provide clear information to consumers about their right to return the product and costs associated with the return.
PIAC’s study surveyed Canadian consumers regarding online purchases and returns, with 89% of respondents stating that the right to return was an important consideration when deciding whether or not to purchase a product online. PIAC also purchased and returned products from 15 North American retailers to test the online return process. Retailers had varying return periods and used inconsistent ways to calculate the period for return. As well, consumers are expected to bear the cost of returning a product purchased online by paying for shipping to return the product and having original shipping and handling fees deducted from their refund.
“Consumers purchasing items online do not have the benefit of inspecting the products in person, so the right of return is an important consideration,” said Lo. “The cost to return products purchased online often represents a high percentage of the total purchase price, which likely dissuades consumers to purchasing more items online.”
PIAC called for more comprehensive legal protection for the right to return products purchased online. PIAC’s report recommends several consumer-friendly business practices that should be implemented by online businesses for online returns. PIAC also provides a tips sheet for consumers who are returning online purchases.

The report, “Point of No Return: Consumer Experiences Returning Online Purchases”, is available here:

thumb_pdfDownload File: online_returns_final_website.pdf [size: 0.75 mb]

Point de non-retour : L’expérience des consommateurs concernant le retour d’achats effectués en ligne Rapport rédigé par le Centre pour la défense de l’intérêt public Le Centre pour la défense de l’interêt public a reçu du financement en vertu du Programme de contributions pour les organisations sans but lucratif de consommateurs et de bénévoles d’Industrie Canada. Les opinions exprimées dans ce rapport ne sont pas nécessairement celles d’Industrie Canada ou du gouvernement du Canada.
Une résumé est disponible ici:

thumb_pdfDownload File: online_returns_french_exec_summary.pdf [size: 0.05 mb]

PIAC’s tip sheet for consumers who are returning online purchases is available here;

thumb_pdfDownload File: consumer_tips_sheet_for_online_returns.pdf [size: 0.06 mb]

PIAC received funding from Industry Canada’s Contributions Program for Non-Profit Consumer and Voluntary Organizations. The views expressed in the report are not necessarily those of Industry Canada or the Government of Canada.
For more information, please contact the Public Interest Advocacy Centre.
(613) 562-4002