Returning gifts causes Christmas stressKnow your rights when taking back unwanted items

17 November 2010

A Christmas giftwrap

More than seven million Britons have experienced problems when trying to return unwanted gifts, according to new research from consumer champion Which? Legal Service – which is urging people to ensure they know their rights before shelling out for Christmas presents this year.

Experts from our legal telephone advice line found that 9.9 million consumers have tried to return an unwanted gift in the past two years. Of these, 82% experienced difficulty getting a refund.

Around half of the people refused refunds were told this was because they did not have the receipt for their item, while 16% couldn’t get their money back because their gift came from a retailer that did not allow refunds for unwanted goods.

Know your rights: refunds and returns

Worryingly, when it came to knowing their rights, just 47% of the people surveyed by Which? Legal Service were aware that there is no legal obligation for a store to offer you a refund for an item if you decide you no longer want it.

The study also found that only 18% of consumers check a retailer’s returns policy at the time of purchasing goods in shops, although 34% will do so when shopping online.

A significant number of people who took part in the Which? Legal Service research were also unaware of which items can, and can’t, be returned – even when you buy them online, which ordinarily means you have the right to ‘reject’ unwanted goods and get a refund. 10% of those questioned mistakenly thought you could get a refund on flowers if you changed your mind about sending them, while 30% wrongly believed you could return unwanted CDs and DVDs, even after they have been taken out of their plastic wrapping.

You can learn more about your rights when returning items to shops and online retailers by reading the Which? Returning goods advice guide.

Top tips for stress-free Christmas shopping

Which? Legal Service is offering the following advice to people hitting the high street, or shopping online for Christmas gifts:

1. Always read the retailer’s returns policy. Returns policies in shops can be as strict as the retailer wishes, but many shops will refund, exchange or offer credit notes for unwanted items as a gesture of goodwill. Be sure to check what rules will apply to your purchase before you pay for it.

Also, it’s a good idea to find out whether a store’s usual returns policy will be extended over Christmas. Some retailers offer longer periods within which consumers can bring things back during the holiday season.

2. Be sure to keep your receipt. Your receipt for an item counts as ‘proof of purchase’ under the law, and providing it when you ask for a refund, exchange, repair or credit note should make matters easier. However, a receipt is not the only proof of purchase that’s acceptable in the event you need to take an item back; you can also offer a bank statement or credit card as proof of purchase should you need to do so.

3. Check who pays for postage and packing. When shopping online, a website’s terms and conditions should make it clear who is responsible for paying for postage and packing in the event something has to be sent back. The rule is that if they don’t say, they pay!

4. Remember, not all goods are refundable – even when you buy online. You may be refused a refund on items such as CDs, DVDs and computer games if they are no longer sealed within their plastic wrapping. You’re also likely to experience difficulty getting a refund on fresh items (such as bouquets of flowers) and personalised or tailor-made items.

5. Know your rights! Most purchases made online, by post or by phone benefit from a ‘cooling off period’, which starts the minute you place your order and finishes seven working days after you receive your goods. During this time you are free to cancel your order – even if it’s only because you have changed your mind about wanting the items.

Which? Chief executive Peter Vicary-Smith says: ‘Our independent research shows that many people don’t know what their rights are when shopping on the high street or online. But just knowing some of the basics could mean you won’t be stuck with unwanted gifts you can’t return.’

Lawyers from Which? will be taking part in a live Q&A about your refund rights from 12 noon on 17 November. Visit the Which? Legal Service website for more information, and to take part.

Are you surprised to hear you can’t legally get a refund on purchases if you’ve simply changed your mind about them? Tell us about the good and bad experiences you've had returning unwanted items on Which? Conversation.

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