Taking care of gift gaffes

Christmas is over and, as you munch your way through cold turkey sandwiches, it’s time for the inevitable Christmas-present de-brief

Saleswoman and customer at checkout counter
Saleswoman and customer at checkout counter

As well as the favourites, there will inevitably be some that don’t hit the mark – clothing that doesn’t fit, duplicated gifts, or presents so naff the only thing to do is to quietly exchange them for something else.

So how do you make sure you can return your gift, and where are the best places to go if you need to?

Here are my tips for dealing with unwanted presents:

1) Be quick – you might not have long

Returns policies are generally set from the point at which the item is sold or – if bought online – delivered, so returning a Christmas gift isn’t always easy.

Some retailers have special policies for festive gifts that extend returns until well past Christmas. If you buy from John Lewis, you’ll get three months to take back anything. Beware, though, because there are plenty of retailers out there with much more tricky returns policies.

2) Find some other proof of purchase if you don’t have a receipt or threw it away

If you don’t have a receipt or gift receipt, you’ll need alternative proof such as a bank statement. If the purchase was over £100, go to the credit card company, as they may be responsible for sharing the compensation/refund burden.

3) Be nice if you’re taking an item back beyond the seller’s official returns period

A retailer isn’t obliged to allow you to take a product back after its official returns period is over, but it’s amazing how far a polite manner and a winning smile will get you.

4) Keep it in the packaging if you can

Make sure you keep any unwanted gifts in the packaging if you can – for example it’s really hard to return opened DVDs or games. If the product is opened, unless it’s faulty, the store isn’t obliged to accept a return.

Many retailers will, however, provided a product is in good condition – so keep as much of the packaging as you can, just in case.

5) If it’s broken, take it back

If you purchase a product under the Sale of Goods Act 1979, it should be of “satisfactory quality, as described, fit for purpose and last a reasonable length of time.”

If you found that the product broke on Christmas Day, take it back as soon as you can.

6) Don’t expect a full cash refund – you won’t always get it

Some shops offer a full cash refund, but many will only offer store credit or gift vouchers, especially if you’re returning a product with a gift receipt rather than a full receipt.

Check the website of the shop you’re taking the present back to if you want to find out what their particular policy is.

7) Who to return a product to?

Always return the product to the shop you bought it from and not to the manufacturer.

Sometimes the retailer will say ‘go to the manufacturer’, but your contract is with the shop. Not the manufacturer.

8) Beware hidden charges for returns

Some shops charge a ‘re-stocking fee’, while some online retailers make you pay for the cost of postage when you return an item.

9) If the store refuses a refund, check to see if there’s alternative cover

If you can, always pay by credit card.

If something goes wrong, you then have the right to claim back against the credit card provider as well as the retailer. If you cannot resolve the issue with the retailer, you can go to the credit card company to get compensation for any purchase between £100 and £30,000.

10) There are different rules for online shopping

If you have bought something online, your rights are different than buying in store.

Online purchases are covered by the Consumer Contract Regulations. This means you can return the product within 14 days if you do not want it. This is designed to allow you to check the product. If the seller’s agreement does not state that you need to pay postage or redelivery charges for returns, then you don’t have to.

Purchases from many high-street retailers are often under the same terms as their online equivalents, some firms offer free returns.


David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer