No right to return gifts

Many of us are surprised to find out that high street shops don't have to accept returns unless an item is faulty, not as described or is unfit for purpose.

The good news is that most retailers choose to provide a 'goodwill' returns policy, especially at Christmas, offering an exchange, refund or credit note for most returns.

And if your gift was bought online, over the phone or by mail order, you have additional rights to return it under the Consumer Contracts Regulations.

There are some gifts you may not be able to return, however (see 'Items you can and can't return', below). 

Returning a gift not bought by you

If you receive an item as a gift, you'll need proof of purchase, and to know the date the gift was ordered if it was bought online.

The best way to do this is with a gift receipt. If you weren’t given one with your gift, you’ll need to ask for the receipt from person who bought it for you.

If it was bought online, you may need to ask the person who bought it for you to return it as there are special regulations that apply to online purchases.

However difficult it may be to tell a loved one that a gift isn’t right, just remember that there is only so much space in the back of your wardrobe to store unwanted Christmas jumpers.

And if you don’t return an unwanted gift, you may just find that for many more Christmases to come you’ll end up with something you really, really can’t stand!

Check returns policy before you buy

You can only return non-faulty goods for an exchange or refund if the retailer has a returns policy. Shops don't have to have a returns policy, but if they have one they must stick to it.

Returns policies are usually displayed on receipts, on signs in store and online. 

You can also ring the shop's customer services phone line to find out details of its returns policy.

Most retailers impose time limits for returning non-faulty products, such as 28 days, but many extend their returns policies around Christmas, so you might have more time than you think.

If you pay by credit card, you also have extra protection under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act.

And under the Consumer Contracts Regulations, if you buy a gift online you have the right to cancel your order from the moment you place it until 14 days after you receive your goods.

After you've told the retailer you'd like to cancel your order, you then have a further 14 days to return your goods to the retailer.

Items you can and can’t return

There are some returns exceptions worth knowing about, including:

  • DVDs, music and computer software Many retailers refuse returns if the seal or packaging has been broken
  • Perishable items You won't usually be able to return an item if it's perishable. This includes food and flowers
  • Made to order If an item has been made to order or personalised it's very unlikely that you'll be able to return it
  • Hand-knitted Christmas jumpers If it was made by a relative or friend, no matter how hideous or ill-fitting, your only option is to say thank you and graciously accept it. You'll probably have to be seen wearing it once a year, though!

What you need to return a gift

Depending on a retailer’s returns policy some will only exchange or give you a credit note, while others will give you a refund. 

But all shops usually require a few key things.

  • A receipt Always keep your receipt and take it with you. If you’re buying a gift for someone else, ask for a gift receipt so they can exchange it if they want to.
  • The card you paid with If you paid for an item on a debit or credit card, take it with you when you return the item. This is especially important if you want a refund as it's often credited to the card you paid with.
  • The original packaging We’ve said it already, but don’t underestimate the importance of taking the item’s original packaging with you. Even down to the pesky cable ties.

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