Money tips – how to return unwanted Christmas gifts

Christmas is over and it's time to return any unwanted Christmas gifts before the new year starts. It’s helpful to know your rights ahead of heading out to the stores.

Money tips – how to return unwanted Christmas gifts – your rights, returns policy and sale items

Christmas is over and it’s time to take advantage of Twixmas  -the quiet period in between Christmas and New Year – and return any unwanted Christmas gifts before the new year starts. It’s helpful to know your rights ahead of heading out to the stores. 

Check out the returns policy 

Most high street shops offer at least a 28-day period in which you can return unwanted items that have been unused and get a full refund or exchange. Usually, over the Christmas period, shops will extend this period. An example of this is John Lewis – their standard return period is 35 days but gifts bought between 1 October 2021 and 24 December 2021 can be returned until 28 January 2022. 

Go online or look at the back of the recipe (if you have one) to see the return policy. If you did not purchase the item you won’t get cashback but you might get store credit or an exchange providing you have a gift receipt.  

How can I make a return? 

It’s worth knowing where you can return an item, some retailers will let you return items bought online or in a shop at any of their branches but some will have strict restrictions. 

An example of this would be shops that don’t allow you to return items bought online to a shop for a refund but will allow you to exchange the items. 

Online returns are usually free and you can easily download the label and pay for postage. 

You should be able to find out the rules by looking at the store’s website, a receipt or a gift receipt. Alternatively, you could telephone the store and enquire. 

Returning unwanted Christmas gifts? What are my rights? 

Online shopping usually has a 14-day cooling-off period – the time in which you can return your items and reclaim all your cash. 

If your Christmas order hasn’t arrived and you no longer need it (providing it’s not perishable or has been customised) the law allows you to cancel within the 14-day period – most will have a cancellation or returns form to fill in. Then, if the item has arrived, you need to arrange to send it back. The law gives you another 14 days to get it to the retailer. Once it has arrived, your refund must be processed within 14 days. If you opted for fast delivery and paid more than the shop’s standard p&p charge for it, it does not have to refund you for the extra cost you paid, only for its basic service.

If an item arrives and it’s faulty it’s your right to ask for a replacement or repair. The law says that within the first six months the retailer has to prove the item was not faulty when you bought it if the retailer tries to turn down your request. This is only applicable if the person requesting is the buyer. If you received a gift that is faulty you will need to ask the person who gave you the gift to deal with the retailer. 

On the high street, buying something you change your mind about or being given a gift that you don’t like or perhaps doesn’t fit is not covered by consumer law. Instead, most rely on the retailer’s goodwill.

The small print and items on sale 

Items bought in the sales are usually not given such a big window for returning the product. If when you purchased you were made aware of a fault (i.e a missing button) then the product would have been discounted and the salesperson would have made a note saying you were aware of the missing button. Therefore you cannot return the item based on the missing button. 

For online shopping, the 14-day cooling-off period stands even for sales items. Some retailers offer a longer returns period online and will restrict it to the legal minimum during the sales – retailers such as Marks & Spencer do this. 

The gift that is a gift receipt 

A gift receipt makes it easier for people to return unwanted gifts allowing them to get store credit or an exchange. Most retailers offer gift receipts now and if you received one it should spell out the return’s policy and the last day for an exchange. 

Take good care of the item 

For a refund, exchange or gift card the item must be in perfect condition and still have its sales tags on. 

If you purchased online you have likely removed the item from the plastic packaging to try the item on. A retailer is not allowed to deduct any of your refunds because you’ve taken the item out of the original package (for online purchases) – but like store-bought items, the return must be in perfect condition. 

As Citizens Advice explains on its website: “Sellers can ask you to pay if something gets damaged because it wasn’t packaged properly. The seller can also ask you to pay (or reduce your refund) if you’ve reduced the value of the item, eg, if you wore shoes outside and scuffed the soles – but they can only do this if it’s in the terms and conditions.”

Track the return

Parcel your return up safely, so it doesn’t get damaged, and consider paying for a tracked return. Gareth Shaw, the Which? head of money, says: “If you are paying for the return you might want to consider tracked postage for peace of mind, and if the retailer hasn’t provided a free, tracked pre-paid label, we recommend you get proof of postage so you can show that you returned your goods.”

Citizens Advice suggests you get a certificate of posting from Royal Mail when you post the item in case you need to show the seller that you did return it.

Things to do in the strange period between Christmas and New Year 



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