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2 Feb 2021

Coronavirus: extended returns policies and your rights to a refund

Find out retailers' extended returns policies for Christmas and lockdown purchases

With high street stores shut, and government guidance instructing us to only leave home for essential reasons, you might be wondering how to return any unwanted Christmas gifts or lockdown purchases.

Whether you're looking to return a book you were gifted twice at Christmas, or are regretting some of your January sales shopping, you shouldn't have to worry about missing out on a refund or exchange because of lockdown restrictions.

Which? contacted some of the biggest high street and online retailers to find out whether they've extended their returns policies in light of the restrictions.

Here, we reveal some of the most generous returns policies, explain your rights and how to secure your refund.

How long do I have to return something?

The best returns policies

Argos, The Entertainer, John Lewis, Sainsbury's, Smyths Toys and TK Maxx are allowing you to return items once stores have reopened, giving you peace of mind that you'll get your money back.

This includes items bought over Christmas 2020 and those bought since the start of the national lockdown.

The retailers' deadlines do differ, so it's worth double-checking how many days you have to return something when stores have reopened.

Other stores have good policies all year round, including Wiggle's one-year returns window and Lakeland's three-year guarantee.

M&S, Arcadia Group and Waitrose ask for speedier returns

M&S customers complained on Twitter at the beginning of January after the retailer encouraged people to travel to M&S foodhalls to make Christmas returns.

M&S has since extended its returns deadline to 28 February and says it will continue to review this policy.

The Arcadia Groupretailers (Topshop, Dorothy Perkins, Burton, Miss Selfridge, Evans) have decided not to extend their Christmas returns or normal returns policies, giving customers just 28 days to take back items. Those waiting to make a return to an Arcadia Group store should be aware that the Group went into administration in November 2020. We've asked Arcadia whether stores will reopen for returns once the lockdown restrictions are lifted.

Notonthehighstreet.com has also decided not to extend its returns policy further, although customers can organise a contactless home collection service.

Many of the supermarkets, aside from Sainsbury's, aren't extending their policies, although Tesco has said that shielding customers can return items to stores whenever they feel comfortable.

Waitrose's returns window is only 35 days (including for Christmas gifts), but it told us it will always help elderly shoppers or those shielding if they want to return an item but can't get to the shops at the moment.

Amazon has extended its deadline for Christmas returns to 28 February, but only announced this after its initial deadline of 31 January had lapsed, meaning customers could have already made a non-essential trip to the Post Office.

Its usual 30 day returns window applies for purchases shipped after 31 January.

The full list of retailers' lockdown returns windows

If you're looking to make a return, here's what some of the biggest high street and online retailers are offering.

RetailerReturns policy for Christmas purchasesReturns policy for purchases made from 1 Jan
Aldi60 days60 days
AmazonReturnable items shipped between 1 October 2020 and 31 January 2021 have a return deadline of 28 February 2021.Returnable items shipped between 1 October 2020 and 31 January 2021 have a return deadline of 28 February 2021. Items shipped after 31 January have a 30 day window for returns.
AO.com100 days100 days
Arcadia Group (Topshop, Dorothy Perkins, Burton, Miss Selfridge, Evans)Arcadia's extended returns period applies for orders placed from 2 November 2020 to 31 December 2020, which can be returned until 31 January 2021.Normal policies apply - eg Topshop's returns window is still 28 days.
ArgosAny purchases made from 18 October 2020 can be returned up to 30 days from the reopening of non-essential retail in your area.Any purchases made from 18 October 2020 can be returned up to 30 days from the reopening of non-essential retail in your area.
B&Q135 days - its website also states it will accept a late return if you're unable to return the item due to current restrictions.135 days - its website also states it will accept a late return if you're unable to return the item due to current restrictions.
Currys/PC WorldCustomers will have an additional two weeks to return unwanted items once their local Currys PC World store has reopened. Only those items which are unopened and in their original packaging will be accepted.Customers will have an additional two weeks to return unwanted items once their local Currys PC World store has reopened. Only those items which are unopened and in their original packaging will be accepted.

'I think they should be a lot more flexible'

Katey's mum, who has been shielding since the start of the pandemic, bought her granddaughter a pair of trainers from Sports Direct's website for Christmas.

Unfortunately, the trainers didn't fit and needed to be exchanged for a different size.

'My niece processed an exchange online and paid £8 to send them back,' Katey explained. 'But then the trainers were sent back to us with a note from Sports Direct saying they can't accept them.'

Katey and her mum couldn't get through to Sports Direct through their phone line so tried Twitter instead.

'I got a response saying their extended period had ended the week before,' Katey told us. 'We missed it by one working day.'

Both Katey and her mum felt this was unfair.

'We weren't asking for the money back, we were asking for an exchange,' Katey said. 'They thentold us to try taking them back to the store when they reopen, but that it's up to the store's discretion whether to replace them.'

Katey was frustrated with this response, not wanting to wait for stores to reopen.

'If it's OK for the stores to exchange them, why is it not OK to do it through the online process?' she questioned. 'I think they should be a lot more flexible.'

We asked Sports Direct for comment and it confirmed that Katey's case has now been passed on to its customer service team.

What if the retailer's gone bust?

Margaret, from Sutton, was concerned about returning two unwanted Christmas gifts to Debenhams, which fell into administration last year.

She contacted Debenhams, which initially told her she could return the items to a store once they reopen.

'The Debenhams near where I live isn't scheduled for closing down yet, as far as I know, but anything can change,' she explained.

After we spoke with Margaret, Boohoo announced it had bought the Debenhams brand and website, but that it would not be taking on any of the high street stores.

Which? contacted Debenhams to check its policy and ensure Margaret wouldn't be left out of pocket.

Debenhams told us it expects to reopen the vast majority of its remaining 116 stores when government restrictions are lifted, to complete closing down sales.

You have one week after stores reopen to return any items you've been able to return due to temporary store closures.

Its website also says it won't be accepting any returns or exchanges for non-faulty items or excluded items purchased on or after 26 December 2020.

If you're waiting to make a return to a troubled retailer, it's well worth double-checking its returns policy and reading our tips below for getting a refund.

Tips on securing your refund

Follow our advice to ensure you're not left out of pocket.

1. How to get your money back if a retailer goes bust

A string of high street retailers have fallen into administration since the beginning of the pandemic.

Once a retailer goes bust, the administrators can decide to stop accepting returns and gift vouchers.

If you find yourself in this situation, follow our tips to get your money back.

2. How to return an unwanted Christmas gift

If you're waiting to return a Christmas gift, make sure you hold onto your proof of purchase, whether it's a confirmation email or a gift receipt.

For unwanted vouchers, you'll need to check the T&Cs - it's unlikely that you'll be able to exchange an unwanted voucher for cash.

Your right to cancel an online order starts the moment you place your order and ends 14 days from the day you receive your goods. Make sure you don't accept credit notes for online purchases if returned within 14 days.

3. Your rights when returning an online order

High street shops don't have to accept returns unless an item is faulty, but returns for online purchases are covered by the Consumer Contracts Regulations.

This means that, for most items, you have a minimum of 14 days after receiving an order to request a refund, and a further 14 days to send the items back.

This rule applies for sale and discounted items too.

The retailer should also refund you the standard delivery cost you paid to get the goods sent to you in the first place.

Your refund for the goods and standard delivery cost must be paid within 14 calendar days after returning the goods, or providing evidence that they were returned.