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The savvy shopper's guide to gift returns

The chaos of Christmas is over, but for many consumers the headache is just beginning. Dealing with the hassle of broken or unwanted gifts, unexpected credit card fees and confusing fine print leaves many lacking holiday cheer. 

 'Now more than ever, consumers have a wide range of buying options,' said TSI chief executive Leon Livermore. 'They can buy items in the store, online, or by using a voucher. While we warn consumers to know their rights before making a purchase, it's equally important for them to understand their rights before making a return or exchange.

 'The answers to these questions will help prepare consumers planning to make returns and exchanges after the holidays.'

 Q. Do my rights differ when returning items bought in store or online?

 A. When you buy something in a shop, you can only return it if it is faulty or misdescribed. This means that unless the store operates a 'change of mind' policy, you must have a reason to return it. 

When you buy something online, you have seven working days, starting the day after the goods are received, to cancel the contract in writing. You can return the goods for any reason for a full refund which generally should include delivery. This is not the case with personalised gifts, or unwrapped CDs, DVDs and computer software missing the cellophane wrapping. 

Q. What are my rights when returning an item bought online from a company based in a foreign country?

 A. If you buy from a company based within the European Union, you generally have the same rights as when you buy from UK-based companies. To be on the safe side, check the terms and conditions before you buy. 

Products purchased from outside the European Union are not covered by European rules for distance buying. Therefore, you should always carefully check the terms and conditions before you buy. The chances of getting a refund increase if you use a debit or credit card rather than cash as you may be able to make a claim against the card provider.

Q. What happens if the wrong item is shipped, do I have to pay for its return?

 A. If you receive the wrong item, it is up to the sender to cover the return costs.

 Q. What are my rights if I paid for next day delivery or was guaranteed a Christmas delivery but it arrived late or not at all?

 A. Unless a company uses a courier firm, you are at the mercy of the postal system, which is stretched to its limits during Christmas. If you paid extra for next day delivery and the package is late, you should be able to claim back the extra amount paid for the rushed service.

If the agreed delivery date passes and you are still without your order, the trader could be in breach of contract. If so, you may be able to cancel the order, but that doesn't mean you're automatically entitled to claim compensation in these circumstances.

Q. What happens if I want to return something, but the company has closed for good?

A. If the item cost over £100, but less than £30,000, and is faulty or misdescribed, and you bought it on a credit card, the card provider is equally liable for your purchase. This means you can claim against the credit card company if there is a problem.

If the item cost less than £100, but you paid on credit or debit card, you may be able to claim a refund from your bank under something called chargeback. Unfortunately, if you paid cash or on a gift voucher, there is nothing you can do.

Q. Can I buy an item in December and return it for a refund, to re-buy the item at a lower price in the January sales?

A. You only have the right to return goods if they are faulty or misdescribed. The shop might have a goodwill policy which allows you to return items after Christmas, but they may refund it at the current selling price, not the price you bought it for. 

Q. Can a company deny me using a gift card or voucher?

A. It is up to an individual store to decide what method of payment they are willing to accept in any particular circumstance.

Q. Can retailers set an expiry date on gift vouchers, and how will I know when it is?

A. The majority of gift cards and vouchers have expiry dates which will be marked on the vouchers themselves. You should always check these dates carefully as the store is under no obligation to extend the date if the voucher has expired.

Q. What are my rights with hidden credit card fees?

A. Traders can charge an extra amount for paying by credit card, but these fees must be clear before the purchase is made. Traders may only charge fees that match the costs they incur when processing the credit card payment; they're not permitted to make a profit from the fee. 

Q. What should I do if I am told to claim the guarantee from the manufacturer? 

A. When you buy any goods, your rights are against the retailer, not the manufacturer. Any guarantee given by the manufacturer is in addition to your statutory rights and does not replace them. 

Whilst you might choose to claim off a guarantee, particularly if an item fails after a few months, a shop cannot force you to do so. Your rights in relation to the goods last for up to six years (five years in Scotland), so don't be fobbed off if the trader tells you they can't help you after 28 days or six months.  

You are not entitled to a full refund after you have had the goods for a while, but you should be entitled to a repair or to compensation, provided you have not caused the damage yourself.

Q. Can I return a faulty Christmas present that was given to me, if I know which store it was purchased in?

A. If you receive a present which is faulty, and it has not been given to you with a gift receipt, you will have to go back to the person who gave it to you and ask them to contact the shop on your behalf.


Notes for Editors:

For further information or to arrange an interview, please contact the TSI press office on 07780675815 or

Trading Standards Institute (TSI)
TSI is a training and membership organisation that has represented the interests of the Trading Standards profession since 1881 nationally and internationally.  We aim to raise the profile of the profession while working towards fairer, better informed and safer consumer and business communities. TSI’s members are engaged in delivering frontline trading standards services in local authorities and in businesses. 

DATE: 20 December 2013