One of the post-lockdown fantasies is to once again walk into fashion stores smelling the new trends, feeling the textures of the fabrics, and taking selfies in the fitting rooms as you suss out prospective purchases. There’s no question, however, that Covid-19 will change the way we shop going forward.

Since the lockdown rules have been slightly relaxed to Level 4, shoppers are already experiencing the inevitable impact of the pandemic on shopping.

Some stores have announced delayed delivery periods for online purchases in addition to extended return window periods due to the lockdown. Physical stores have their own hygiene and safety considerations to make when it comes to curbing the spread of the virus.

This has raised concerns with the sector’s ombudsman, and of course, raises questions for consumers. How should clothing returns and refunds work during this pandemic? Are you allowed to fit clothes in the stores at all?

There’s no simple answer as yet but the Consumer Goods and Services Ombudsman (CGSO) has provided some suggestions relating to this.

Magauta Mphahlele, the CGSO Ombudsman, says: “The CGSO fully understands why suppliers would want to limit the fitting and return of clothing because of the potential of the virus to be spread. However, a balance must be struck between the very necessary measures required to minimise the spread of the virus and compliance with the Consumer Protection Act (CPA)”.

What the law says

The ombud, which has more than 1 000 retailers, manufacturers and distributors registered with them, says clothing stores have the right to implement their own returns and refund policies as long as those do not breach the CPA.

Magauta recognises that the lockdown restrictions present new challenges that are not fully provided for in current laws. “In the absence of clear legal directives, we must find a middle ground that will allow for the management of the spread of the virus and taking care of consumers’ rights,” she says.

As far as the current law the CPA provides for the following:

Shoppers have the right to return unsafe or defective good and receive a refund. The consumer may return goods to the supplier, and receive a full refund of any consideration paid for those goods, if the supplier has delivered goods to the consumer in terms of an agreement arising out of direct marketing, and the consumer has cancelled that agreement during the cooling-off period

The same applies for goods that the consumer did not have an opportunity to examine before delivery and the consumer has rejected delivery of those goods for any reasons recognised by law.

The shopper may also return a mixture of goods that she has refused delivery of or if the goods are unsuitable for the particular purposed they were purchased. The return needs to happen within 10 business days after the consumer received the items. 

This does not apply to any goods if for reasons of public health or otherwise, a public regulation prohibits the return of those goods or the goods have been partially or entirely disassembled, physically altered, permanently installed, affixed, attached, joined or added to, blended or combined with, or embedded within, other goods or property.

Safety first

Another issue the pandemic raises is a topic that has long been considered among fashion consumers. Do you have to wash the new clothes you buy?

Given the pandemic, buying clothing in-store might nudge more people to wash their new items before wearing them. has made a case for washing your new clothes, in general, to avoid an allergic contact dermatitis rash from disperse dye in some synthetic fabrics.

Thrifter’s have long known to wash thrifted items before wearing them due to the insurmountable number of people who may have had contact with the item. For this same reason, when thrifting you know to fit the clothes over stockings rather than on your skin.

These might be good habits to adopt all round. 

To ensure your clothes are clean concerning the coronavirus specifically, the World Health Organization suggests you wash your clothes with warm soapy water as illustrated below:

Be proactive

Before shopping at a store, confirm its return policy during the current pandemic on its website (FAQ pages) or through its customer care channels. When ordering online, check what safety measures the store is taking to ensure yours and its staffs’ safety upon delivery. For example, major retailers like Mr Price and Superbalist, promise contactless delivery and with the former adding upgraded hygiene and safety guidelines at its warehouse.

To minimise disputes and maintain healthy shopping practices, it is best to keep up with any new lockdown delivery, return and refund policies.