Is it time for Walmart to drop its COVID-19 return policy?
Because of the novel coronavirus pandemic, some retailers with liberal return policies were forced to make all or most sales final, in part due to concerns over accepting, processing and restocking potentially contaminated merchandise. At Walmart, in-store returns remain unavailable. And some customers have gotten irate about it.
Ten customers so far have contacted local Chicago ABC affiliate ABC 7’s investigative I-Team about the policy, an article from the news station reports. The customers were upset about not being able to return items that would normally be taken back at a Walmart store without issue, such as apparel with the tags still on and accompanied with a receipt.
In response to the investigation, Walmart clarified that it is not accepting returns or exchanges in-store for common categories like apparel, cleaning supplies, health and beauty and pharmacy. Customers can, however, ship items back via a process utilizing the website or Walmart app. When Walmart changes its return policy back, the retailer says deadlines on returns of formerly restricted products will be extended an additional six weeks.
The fact that customers can still arrange product returns online would indicate that the chain is concerned — in addition to any requirements for enhanced sterilization — with the social distancing difficulties created by long in-store return lines.
Other large retailers have taken different approaches to pandemic-era returns. Target was the other national mass retailer to temporarily suspend returns in all or most stores, but ended that policy on April 26, according to USA Today. Since it has resumed taking returns, Target has been quarantining specific types of items, like apparel, and sanitizing others before restocking. Other retailers, like Kohl’s, have adopted similar quarantine periods in an attempt to ensure product safety. Kohl’s and others have also extended the period of time after purchase in which a customer can return product.
The recent blowback on Walmart returns is not the first flap around return policies during the novel coronavirus pandemic. In mid-March, when the first wave of the pandemic led to rampant hoarding of staple goods, Costco specifically banned the return of the six most frequently hoarded items.
- Some Walmart customers upset about new returns policy – ABC 7 Chicago
- Store return policies have changed due to COVID-19 with some retailers suspending returns – USA Today
- Costco is refusing returns on hoarded items – RetailWire
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Given the complaints, should Walmart consider liberalizing or changing its in-store return policy for the duration of the pandemic? How can retailers ameliorate customer irritation while still assuring public health and safety measures are being observed?