Christmas shopping and sales – know your rights

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Buying gifts you may want to return

Not sure if you’ve got the correct size? Buying for someone with tricky taste? It’s worth knowing whether you can return a gift if it turns out it’s not quite right.

Check the retailer’s returns policy. You don’t have an automatic right to return something you bought in-store unless it’s faulty. But most retailers have a returns policy, meaning you can take the item back if you meet their conditions. Note that they don’t have to have a returns policy – but if they do, they must stick to it.

See if their returns period is different at Christmas. Many retailers will give you longer to return things during the festive season. So even if you’ve returned something there before, it’s worth re-checking the returns policy.

Ask for a gift receipt. This proves what was bought and when – but without showing how much you spent. You can give this receipt to the person receiving the gift, so they can return or swap the item if they want. Note that retailers don’t have to provide gift receipts.

Use your cooling off period. Under the Consumer Contracts Regulations, you have extra rights for returning most online purchases. You can change your mind within 14 days, and you have another 14 days to return the item once you’ve told the seller.

Wrap the gift in its original packaging. Some returns policies ask you to keep the original packaging if you want to return something. It’s important not to break the seal on DVDs or CDs that you bought online, or you’ll lose the right to a cooling-off period.

Consider buying with a credit card or PayPal. You may be able to get your money back through your credit card provider or PayPal if something goes wrong with the purchase (e.g. it doesn’t arrive or the seller goes bust). This can be easier than trying to get a refund directly from the retailer.

Act quickly if the product's faulty. You have a legal right to get your money back if a product is bad quality, different from its description, or doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do. But you should contact the retailer within 30 days of buying the item – otherwise, the process can become a lot harder.

Returning a gift you received

Not keen on that ugly sweater? Got the same book twice for Christmas? It may be difficult to return a gift you didn’t buy, but you can give these tips a try:

Talk to the gift-giver. Didn’t get a gift receipt? Consider asking the person who gave you the gift if they still have proof of purchase. Some people won’t mind, especially if you just want to swap the item for a different size. Note that the retailer may ask for it to be returned by the person who bought it.

Check the store’s returns policy. If you can’t get ahold of the receipt, it’s worth seeing if the retailer will let you return or exchange the gift without one. You can normally find out where the product was bought by looking at the label, tag or packaging.

Shopping in the Christmas sales

Before you dive into the sales racks, here are some useful things to know:

Discounts don’t affect your right to a refund. You have exactly the same rights whether you bought something at its full price or in a sale. This means you’re entitled to a full refund for faulty products within 30 days, and a 14 day cooling-off period for most online purchases.

Returns policies may treat sales items differently. If the product isn’t faulty or you’ve gone past your cooling-off period, you’ll need to rely on the seller’s returns policy. They may have different rules about returning sales items, so it’s worthing checking first.

Online discounts may depend on the dispatch day. For example, a supermarket may promote a “2-for-1” offer that lasts until Christmas day. But if you ask for the product to be delivered to you the week after, you may be charged full price. Double-check the summary page before you purchase.

Sales promotions must not mislead you. The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has guidelines to prevent this. For example, products can’t be discounted for longer than they were offered at full price – this stops shops from setting high prices for a short period, just so they can advertise big savings later. If a sale seems misleading, think twice before buying anything and consider reporting it to ASA.