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'It's a balance between not penalizing customers but not paying for abuse,' Sears Canada CEO Calvin McDonald said of the company's new return policy.

Aaron Vincent Elkaim/The Canadian Press/Aaron Vincent Elkaim/The Canadian Press

Returning products to Sears stores will get a lot easier starting next month, the company said Tuesday.

The national retailer will overhaul long-standing return policies that have sometimes left customers frustrated, new chief executive officer Calvin McDonald said Tuesday at the Sears Canada Inc. annual meeting.

Sears will scrap the 10-day return policies that have existed for years and it will also stop charging a 20-per-cent restocking fee for big ticket items such as appliances, electronics and outdoor power equipment, among others.

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The changes are part of a major revamp of operations at Sears Canada, which has been struggling to overcome losses as well as find its strategy ahead of an onset of new competition from discount retailers like Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Target Corp.

"When we look at the market, times are tough. Consumer confidence is low and unemployment is not getting dramatically better," Mr. McDonald told shareholders.

"There are a lot of reasons we can sit and point to how and why it's tough to grow top line, but we don't look at those factors."

Instead, the company will focus on improving its product, store conditions and marketing, he said.

Mr. McDonald was brought on last summer to help reverse recent losses, and he immediately began an initiative to declutter the stores.

Last month, the company said three high-profile department stores in Vancouver, Calgary and Ottawa would close by the end of October, affecting some 670 jobs.

While Mr. McDonald said Tuesday there are no plans to close further locations, he outlined plenty of other drastic reductions that are part of a three-year plan aimed at transforming operations.

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At the top of the list is a massive reduction in the number of brands it sells, down to 20 from a staggering 90 brands.

"We just don't need a plethora of brands that are nominal in size and dollar volume," he said.

Sears also plans to expand its Corbeil Appliances brand, which has so far existed only in Quebec with 30 locations, into a four-store pilot project in the Toronto area.

As for the return policy, the changes raise questions about whether many consumers could take advantage of return policies, which is a factor executives spent much time discussing, Mr. McDonald said.

"It's a balance between not penalizing customers but not paying for abuse," he said.

Sears has roughly 30,000 employees across Canada and more than 400 corporate, dealer and home services stores.

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