Some stores loosen return policies during the pandemic, for now

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- The impact of COVID-19 is being felt by shoppers at national chain stores in a way few of us could have imagined.

Many major retailers are now implementing return policies that are more generous than those before the coronavirus, but you shouldn't expect that to last.

Jennifer Litwin is shopping online like so many of us these days.

The consumer author says stores wouldn't take returns at the beginning of the pandemic until safety protocols could be put in place.

"Stores like Walmart and Costco, Stub Hub were retailers who were really not doing a good job of explaining to customers how the return policy would work," she said.

Now that proper cleaning protocols are in place in most of those stores, there's been a major shift.

"Some stores like cosmetic stores, Sephora, are giving you a year to return products, but other stores are averaging between 30 and 90 days. Probably up double the amount of time you're normally given," Litwin said.

Despite that, disputes over returns are at a high.

Monica Eaton-Cardone is with Chargebacks911, a business-to-business company which helps resolve and prevent chargebacks.

"We've seen a massive increase. So just since COVID-19 in the past few months, chargebacks have increased by over 25 percent industry-wide," said Eaton-Cardone.

She says too many customers are filing disputes with their credit card company even before calling the retailer.

That may be because not all stores have loosened their return policies.

Stores like Walmart are still refusing to take in-store returns.

A spokesman said the return of food, paper goods, home cleaning supplies, laundry soap, pharmacy, health & beauty and apparel must be done online.

Customers unable to return items online can wait until in-store returns are accepted and will have up to six weeks to make that return.

Some travel companies have been reluctant to give refunds, preferring to offer credit instead.

Still, Eaton-Cardone encourages customers to first contact the retailer before filing a chargeback.

That's because with every chargeback, retailers are assessed a penalty and that has put a strain on the bottom line.

"As a result, merchants are changing policies. Customers are giving up freedoms. They're paying for a lower-quality product and they're paying higher prices for it," she said.

Litwin warns that at stores with more liberal return policies, don't expect that to continue. She expects those policies to tighten by the end of the month.

Take a look at more stories and videos by Michael Finney and 7 On Your Side.

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