Christmas presents: what about returns?

December 14, 2017

Did you end up getting a tacky tie, silly socks or the dreaded domestic appliance for Christmas?  Or worse still, something that doesn’t work? What if something you bought in the sales turned out to be faulty? Or you want to return something because it doesn’t fit or you simply don’t like it? And what about those signs in shops that tell you “no refunds or exchanges”?  Use our Q and A to help you work out where you stand.

Can I return a Christmas jumper I don’t like?

Legally you’ve no right to return items bought in stores, unless they’re faulty. However, many established retailers have very customer-friendly policies around returns, especially around Christmas time and have extended timeframes for returning unwanted goods. But, shops can sometimes change their returns policy during the sales so you will need to check with the shop about their individual policy. For example, some may not give you a refund but will only exchange or give you a credit note or voucher.

I didn’t buy the present. Assuming the store allows returns, can I take it back?

If you are returning a gift you received because you don’t want it, the shop can ask for proof of purchase so if you don’t have a gift receipt you may need to ask the person who bought it to give you the receipt so that you can return it.  A debit or credit card statement can also be accepted as proof of purchase.

But, what if I don’t have a receipt. Can I still return the item?

The receipt’s the proof the item was bought in that store, so it’s definitely worth trying to get it from the person who bought the present. But some shops allow you to return goods without a receipt, so again, it could be worth a try.

What about a gift I got that’s faulty? Can I return it to the store where it was bought?

If something you bought  turns out to be faulty, you’re entitled to a repair, a replacement of the same value or a refund of the price you paid for the item. However the contract is between the person who paid for the item and the seller, so if you have received a gift that’s faulty and you don’t have a gift receipt, you may need to ask the person who bought it for you to take it back or to give you the receipt. You should check to see if the item comes with a guarantee or warranty and see what terms are attached. Guarantees and warranties are separate to consumer rights.  A guarantee is an agreement from the manufacturer confirming that they will repair or replace an item if something goes wrong within a certain amount of time after you buy it.

A warranty is like an insurance policy – it covers the item beyond the manufacturer’s guarantee. The idea of a warranty is that you won’t have to pay for repairs if the item breaks or becomes faulty within the warranty period. So you know all of your options, find out if the manufacturer will offer a repair or replacement, but remember a guarantee or warranty doesn’t replace your consumer rights. If you have received an item that turns out to be faulty and you don’t have the receipt and you don’t want to ask for one, using the guarantee or warranty may be your best option.

Ok, but what happens if it was bought online and I don’t want it? Do I have more rights?

If your gift was bought online, over the phone or by mail order then the good news is the person who bought it has additional rights under the Consumer Rights Directive. Essentially, they have 14 days after they receive the order to inform the retailer that they are returning it and can get a full refund – and if they choose to do this, they then have a further 14 days after notifying the seller to actually return the item. So even if there’s nothing wrong with the item and you just want to get something else, they can return it, provided it is within these timeframes. There are some things you can’t return including perishables and personalised items.

If the gift I am returning is now half-price, am I entitled to the original amount paid or the sale price?

It depends on the reason for returning it. If it’s faulty you are entitled to a repair, a replacement of the same value or a refund of the original price. However, the person who bought it may need to return it, as the ‘contract’ is between the shop and the person who bought it.  If you are returning something simply because you don’t like it, then you have no legal rights but are at the mercy of the shop’s policy.  However, many established retailers have customer-friendly policies around returns, especially around Christmastime and have extended timeframes for returning unwanted goods.

What about a pair of boots I bought that are too big for me. Can I exchange them?

Shops don’t have to let you exchange something simply because it does not fit. But in practice most shops are more lenient if you’re only asking for an exchange. In fact, after Christmas many retailers actually extend these policies to allow more time for people to return gifts in January. It varies between stores, so it’s worth checking.

Do my rights change if I bought in the sales?

No. Your consumer rights don’t change in a sale. When you buy something – regardless of whether it’s on sale or not – it should be as described, of merchantable quality and fit for the purpose intended.  If something you bought on sale turns out to be faulty, your consumer rights are the same as at any other time of the year. You are still entitled to a repair, a replacement of the same value or a refund of the price you paid for the item. You will however need proof of purchase such as a receipt or credit or debit card statement to show the price you paid.

Can I return or get a refund on something I bought in a sale?

It depends on the reason you are returning it.  If you bought something at full price and it turns out to be faulty, you are entitled to the full amount you paid, even if it’s on sale when you return it. However, if you simply change your mind about something and want to return it to a shop, you don’t have consumer rights; it’s a matter of shop policy, and some shops change their returns policy during the sales.  So check before you buy.  They may still be willing to exchange it, give you a credit note or a refund, but it’s likely to only be for the sale price.

I am returning something faulty but the store has a sign saying ‘no refund or exchange’, where do I stand?

Stores are not allowed to display signs which suggest that your rights are restricted. If you have a complaint about a faulty item, shop notices such as “No Refunds” or “No Exchanges” don’t limit your rights.  If something you buy is faulty, you are entitled to a repair, replacement or refund.  They cannot tell you that they don’t offer refunds or exchanges during sales, if an item is faulty.  You should return the item to the shop as soon as you notice the fault, explain to them what the problem is and tell them what you would like, i.e. a repair, replacement or refund.

And finally, what if the shop won’t co-operate. Is there anything else I can do?

Always act quickly. If there’s a problem, the sooner you try to resolve it, the better.  You should return to the store, explain the problem and tell them what you would like them to do about it, i.e. you would like a repair, replacement or refund.  If you are not happy with their response, you should set out your complaint in writing to the head office. We have complaint template letters to help you. If you are still getting nowhere you could use the Small Claims procedure.  It’s a relatively cheap and easy way to resolve issues.  The application fee is €25 and you can use it for claims worth up to €2,000. Another option, if you paid by debit or credit card, is to try and have your card provider (usually your bank) reverse the transaction.  This is called a chargeback. You will need to show evidence that you tried to resolve the issue directly with the retailer first.

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