When Santa gets it wrong: Returning unwanted gifts

Published: 16/12/2014

As good as he is (and as good as you may have been!) sometimes Santa doesn’t bring you the gift you wanted or even needed. When this happens you understandably want to return it and either get your money back or exchange it for something else. This guide explains your consumer rights when returning items or goods and the obligations of the retailer.

I don’t like it

Just because something is more your Auntie Margaret’s cup of tea than yours doesn’t mean you have an automatic right to ask for a refund or exchange. In this situation it is at the retailer’s discretion whether to accept the return and any conditions regarding the return (e.g. the shop may agree to exchange but not refund).

It is a good idea to check a retailer’s returns policy (check the retailer’s websites for details). Marks and Spencer, for example, offer a ‘goodwill’ returns policy, allowing the customer up to 35 days to return or exchange an item. You do need a valid receipt though; without it the retailer is likely to offer you a credit receipt or exchange to the value of the last known selling price so bear this mind especially after Christmas when it’s sales galore.

Remember returning an item that you just don’t like is solely at the discretion of the retailer so smile and be polite.

Returning faulty goods

If an item is not working properly then this is a whole different ball game; under the Sales of Goods Act retailers must abide by a strict set of rules.

Under this act, goods must be:

  • As described
  • Of satisfactory quality
  • Fit for purpose

They must also match any sample you were shown or any description in a brochure or on the website and should last a reasonable length of time.

If this is not the case then you could have a claim under the Sales of Goods Act.

Second hand or sale items

Just because an item has been reduced doesn’t mean your rights are. Unless the seller has pointed out any flaws with the item then you have the same right of return as if the item were full price. This is also true for second hand shops; items must be as described otherwise you have every right to return them.

However if you’re buying items from a private seller (e.g. on an auction site like eBay and not a shop) then your rights are reduced. In this instance the seller only needs to correctly describe the item and have the right to sell it. Bear this in mind when you read the item description; if the description is pretty basic and you buy it anyway then you are pretty much lumbered with it regardless of its condition. Also take into consideration how they describe the condition of the item as this can be quite subjective – someone’s idea of excellent may not be the same as yours!

How to make a claim

First things first, your relationship is with the retailer, not the manufacturer, so any claim you make is against them.

If the item is faulty they should provide one of the following:

  • A repair
  • A replacement
  • A full/part refund.

It’s important to return any faulty item as soon as possible; if you leave it too long then this could impact on your claim. You should aim to reject and return the item within three or four weeks of purchasing. You should also not try and repair the item yourself as this could cause further damage and allow the retailer to question the original damage.

A retailer should then repair or replace the item ‘within a reasonable time’. If they fail to do so you are entitled to claim for either:

  • A reduction on the price,
  • Your money back.

If you pay to have the item fixed, you can then claim compensation from the retailer for these costs.

If the retailer refuses to refund or fix, you have up to six years to take your claim to the small claims court.

Ultimately, in order to have a successful claim, you need to be able to prove that the fault was there when the item was bought and is not simply the result of wear and tear (or of you dropping it, for example!)

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