CHICAGO (CBS) — Consumer alert: Check the return policy before shopping these days. It is advice we’ve all heard before, but temporary policy changes because of COVID-19 are creating confusion for customers.

Morning Insider Lauren Victory traveled to a north suburban home that illustrates the problem.

Theresa Bartley’s living room re-decorating is not going so well. Not only was the color of the sofa she ordered unexpected – so was her return experience with birchlane.com.

“It’s never been taken out of the package. So why don’t you just come pick it up?” Bartley said.

Her request was deferred to Birch Lane’s parent company, Wayfair.

“I was told they cannot pick up anything in this area due to COVID-19,” Bartley said. “If you delivered it during COVID-19, why not pick it up during COVID-19? Like that doesn’t make sense to me.”

Wayfair’s website does note a pause in pickups in “select areas” but there’s no mention of Chicago–or 50 miles north where Bartley lives.

The online retailer isn’t the only one with a geographically specific return policy right now. Target only just started accepting returns again with a little asterisk: You are subject to different rules if you live in New Jersey.

Walmart is being a stickler about particular products like cleaning supplies, laundry detergent and clothes.

And at Jewel-Osco right now, it is a hard no on any returns.

Retail shopping expert Sara Skirboll said the policies are in place to protect store staff.

“‘What I’m hearing is that big box retailers and even grocery stores just don’t want to cross-contaminate,” Skirboll, a shopping expert with coupon finder, retailmenot, said. “So they need to make sure what’s being returned is clean and safe and not infected.”

Some stores are beginning to ease up, such as CVS, which reinstated its normal return policy as of Mother’s Day.

“It’s just really important for buyers to beware, be cautious and really be reading that fine print,” Skirboll said.

Bartley thinks Wayfair’s fine print should list areas where pickups are banned.

“I was told this is all going to be in my living room for two months,” Bartley said. “I can’t wait to get rid of it.”

In a statement, Wayfair apologized and understood “the frustration with the situation” and said it would work with Bartley on getting the sofa returned when the company “can safely do so.” Here is the full response:

“We’re very sorry for the inconvenience to our customer. We understand the frustration with the situation.

Given the current challenges related to COVID-19, we are taking all steps necessary to ensure the safety of our customers and our employees. This means we have moved to a contactless delivery process that includes a number of preventative measures including our employees wearing gloves and masks and maintaining appropriate social distance from customers. At the same time, we have temporarily halted the pickup of returns because it is more challenging to manage a returns pick-up while adhering to our safety practices. We understand that pausing returns causes a temporary inconvenience to customers but believe it is critical that we focus on safety first and do our part to help reduce the transmission of COVID-19 in our communities.

In this instance, it’s likely that the delivery person was erring on the side of caution and strictly following our return protocol to ensure safety. We will work with the customer to pick up the return as soon as we can safely do so. We are looking to guidance from health experts, the CDC and local and national government to determine when it is safe to resume pick-ups. Again, we understand this is an inconvenience. As we navigate this challenging time along with our customers, we hope that they will understand why we are taking these extra safety precautions. Our priority is the safety of our customers and our team.”

 

Major Retailer Return Policies

Wayfair

“We are committed to the safety of our customers and employees as we navigate COVID-19. Therefore, we are temporarily pausing return pickups of large items in select areas.” (This includes Chicago.)

Gap Inc.  

“Athleta and Hill City purchases can always be returned at any time. Gap, Gap Factory, Banana Republic, BR Factory, and Old Navy purchases made between January 1 and April 30, 2020, have an extended return window through July 1, 2020. Purchases made on or after May 1, 2020 adhere to our regular return policies. For customers looking to return an item in a store once we reopen, our stores will follow health and safety measures put in place to help protect our employees and customers and will hold merchandise for 24 hours once it is returned.”

Jewel Osco

“Our return policy has temporarily changed due to the pandemic. We are not accepting returns at this time and we have also temporarily suspended our raincheck service. The health and safety of our associates and customers is our main priority. We appreciate our customers’ understanding and patience.”

Walmart

“We are temporarily not processing returns/exchanges in our stores of: Food, Paper Goods, Home Cleaning Supplies, Laundry Soap, Pharmacy, Health & Beauty and Apparel. If you need to return any item, including those above, and have a receipt, please start your return on the Walmart app or at http://Walmart.com. It’s easy and may allow you to complete your return without coming to the store. If you’re not able to return the item online, don’t worry! Once returns reopen for impacted categories, we will be extending the return period by 6 weeks for those items.”

Walgreens

No change to typical return policy.

Woodman’s

“Effective March 19, 2020 Woodman’s has suspended all product returns until further notice. This change is for the health and safety of our store teams and guests.”

Mariano’s

“Due to the current COVID-19 pandemic, we are temporarily suspending product returns on Food products, Cosmetics & Apparel (clothing, shoes & accessories).”

Target

“Guests who have items with a “return by date” from March 26-April 26, during which we suspended returns, will have until June 15 to return them. Target.com purchases can also be returned by mail using our online return center—sign in to your Target account to get started. New Jersey stores will continue to observe state-ordered return restrictions.”

CVS

“As of May 10, CVS’s normal return policy was reinstated. It was temporarily changed on March 25 out of an abundance of caution, due to potential contamination risks during the COVID-19 pandemic. It was intended to be a proactive effort to keep our customers, colleagues, and communities safe.”

Lauren Victory