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Return to vendor – how to take back an unwanted gift

Luke Whitmore - Law on the Web

  1. 02 December 2015
  2. Consumers
  3. 0 comments
A bad Christmas present

It’s almost too perfect a scenario – it’s only the start of November and you’ve spotted the perfect Christmas present for that finicky friend or family member. Basking in the glow of your own generosity, you take it to the counter or click on Buy Now, confident that the gift will delight.

Unfortunately, maybe it was too perfect a scenario – two months later they open the wrapping and their face drops. “Not really my thing.” Or maybe “I’ve already got one.” Perhaps even “Why would I want that?”

There's only one thing for it – you'll have to take it back. But what rights do you have?

Returning a gift to a shop

It might surprise you to learn that, contrary to popular belief, you actually have no right to return a product to a shop simply because it isn’t wanted. Consumer rights cover goods which are faulty, not as described or not fit for purpose, but they don’t go as far as guaranteeing you a refund simply because you changed your mind (or the recipient didn’t want it).

However, this is one area where most retailers will go above and beyond the minimal legal requirements to look after their customers. Particularly during the festive season, most shops offer generous gift return policies – you might be able to get a refund, or they may just give you store credit or let you exchange the product for something else.

It’s still important to keep in mind that they don’t necessarily have to do this, though - if you don’t want to take the risk, be sure to check out whether they have a returns policy, and how it works, beforehand. While shops aren’t required to have a returns policy, if they do, they have to honour it.

One thing to be careful with is the length of the returns period. Retailers will usually have a limit on how long you have to take something back. This tends to be around a month, but is often longer over Christmas – again, if you’re not sure, check with the retailer.

Another thing to keep in mind is any potential exceptions to a returns policy. Personalised items will likely not be refunded due to the impossibility of reselling them, and perishable items such as food products might also be excluded for the same reason. Due to the risk of piracy, DVDs, music CDs and software which have been removed from the sealed packaging may also be unreturnable, so think twice before you tear off that shrinkwrap because you think it looks nicer without.

Remember to bring a receipt or other proof of purchase when returning an item.

Returning gifts bought online

Believe it or not, there are actually stronger consumer rights in place if you purchase something from the internet than if you get it from a physical retailer. If you buy something online, you’ve got 14 days from the day after it arrives to change your mind, allowing you to return it for a full refund. This is known as the ‘cooling-off period’ - you should let the seller know if you’ve changed your mind about a purchase within 14 days, and then send the item back within 14 days of notifying them.

While this 14-day period may be perfect for that last-minute gift, it’s not really ideal if you bought well in advance of Christmas. Luckily, however, some internet retailers willingly extend their return periods, particularly for unwanted Christmas gifts. For example, Amazon is allowing customers to return anything bought from the start of November right up until the end of January. Again, you should check the individual returns policies of any online retailer to see if they offer something better than the legal minimum.

The same exceptions you’ll find in a regular shop’s return policy also apply to the online cooling-off period. You can’t reject goods such as perishables, personalised items or unwrapped CDs or DVDs.

You should also bear in mind that these rules only apply when buying from a business – if you’re just buying from a private seller, like an individual selling off something unwanted on eBay, you won’t get a cooling-off period. (However, business sellers on eBay must still obey the cooling-off period.)

Dealing with other consumer issues

Remember that the regulations laid out here are only for if you want to return a gift because it isn’t wanted – if it’s faulty or isn’t as described, you have a far stronger set of consumer rights. Take a look at our section about common problems with goods and services to find out more.

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