Things to Know Before you Complain

Refund and Exchange Policies

The only case where a consumer has the absolute right to a return is when there is a defect in the product. Most merchants have refund and exchange policies. Always ask about the refund or exchange policy before you buy.

Many businesses, service providers and retailers only accept returns and exchanges for a specific period after a purchase, so it is important to return a defective or unsatisfactory product before the deadline.

Personal items, such as earrings, bathing suits, underwear, and mattresses may be final sales (they cannot be returned or exchanged) or have extremely limited exchange and return policies.

Copyright protected items, such as computer software, may be exempted from refund and exchange policies if packages are opened.

Item Goes on Sale After a Purchase

Unless it is store policy, merchants are under no obligation to refund customers the price difference if an item goes on sale after a purchase.

Some merchants may have a price guarantee policy that outlines how a customer can get the sale price if an item goes on sale after a purchase.

Some retailers will give "rainchecks" to customers which allow them to return at a later date and get a sale price of a product that is out of stock.

Be Aware of Contract Terms Before Complaining

Your rights and responsibilities may depend on several federal and provincial laws and may be laid out in your agreements or contracts with the business, service provider or retailer.

Always review a contract or agreement carefully to ensure that you understand its terms and conditions before signing it. Check the contract before contacting a business or service provider and lodging a complaint.

Contract Cancellations

A contract can take many forms, such as an oral or written agreement. All are equally valid.

Getting out of a contract is a very difficult thing, but it can be done in limited circumstances, if:

  • both parties could agree to end the contract
  • the contract lists the ways in which it can be cancelled
  • it is covered by an automatic cooling off period. In some provinces, "cooling off periods" exist for some credit contracts for dating clubs, health clubs, and door-to-door sales, which allow you to cancel the agreement within a set period of time after the contract has been signed.

Cancelling a contract without mutual agreement, or without cause, may end up being more expensive than fulfilling the original contract.

Defective Products

Obviously, consumer goods cannot last a lifetime, but they should work as promised under normal use when purchased. Most consumer goods carry a time limited guarantee.

If the product is defective you can ask:

  1. that the product be repaired;
  2. if it cannot be repaired, that it be replaced; or,
  3. if the product cannot be repaired or replaced, that a refund be provided.

Private Sales

A private seller may offer a given product at a lower price and may be able to provide first-hand knowledge of its history.

It may be difficult to get compensation from a private seller if problems arise, since private sale contracts are not subject to consumer legislation.


A lien is a legal claim or a "hold" on some type of property, usually due to it being used to secure a loan or services. Always check for liens against a product, especially when buying higher value items such as a car or boat from a private individual. Generally, ownership of a property with a lien cannot be transferred until the debt is paid.