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Many happy (January) returns

What are your legal rights when returning goods and trying to claim your money back?

When the rush of the festive season is over, the January sales present a further opportunity to hit the shops, whether online or in person. For some it’s an opportunity to return unwanted gifts, for others it is a great time to bag a bargain. Whatever your reason, when setting out to the high street or booting up your computer, you should be aware of your consumer rights.

Unwanted Gifts

We’ve all been there; the polite acknowledgement of a gift on Christmas morning that we know we will never use…whether it’s the wrong colour or size or simply a bizarre choice, can you return it for something more suitable as the gift that keeps on giving?

The quick answer from a legal perspective is ‘Not necessarily’. Although many stores have goodwill returns policies (especially around Christmas), there are some important legal factors to consider.

  • You will have no proof of purchase since the contract was not made with you as recipient of the gift.
  • Where goods are bought in store, there is no cancellation right and you are unable to take them back just because you don’t want them.
  • If goods were bought online and delivered within the last 14 days, the person who bought you the gift may be able to return them online and receive a full refund; but you will have to ask them to do this for you.

Shops don’t have to have a “returns policy” (unless, for example, items are faulty), but where they do they will have to honour it. You may have been given a gift receipt which retailers offer to cover such scenarios, and which may allow you to exchange the item or receive a refund of the price paid (check the terms of the gift receipt to see what your rights are).

Of course, if the goods are faulty, the contracting party will have consumer rights…but what if the gifts are damaged when you unwrap them?

Damaged Goods

Consumer remedies do cover goods which are damaged. In a shop you might be able to negotiate a price reduction for these, but ultimately, it’s up to a customer whether to buy them or not.

Where goods have been identified as damaged on delivery, consumers have remedies. However, where these have been opened by the original recipient, re-wrapped and potentially moved to a different location, it may be hard to prove that the goods were damaged upon delivery or when purchased.

Personalised Goods

Where goods are personalised or bespoke, for example made using photographs which are supplied to the retailer or by adding your name or some specific text, these are non-returnable (unless they are faulty, not as described or not fit for purpose). This is regardless of whether the products were bought in store or ordered online. This is because they are made specifically for you and cannot reasonably be re-sold.

Goods reduced in a sale

Where goods are bought in a sale at a reduced price, consumers still have access to their consumer rights. If you bought the goods in a shop and they are faulty, they can be returned for a full refund (within the first 30 days). After that, if goods cannot, after one attempt, be successfully repaired or replaced, a price reduction or final right to reject would be the legal remedy. This means that you might get a sum of money to keep them as they are, or you could return them and get your money back (this might be a full or a part refund depending how long you have had them for before you noticed the issue).

The amount of the refund would be calculated by reference to the price paid, not the original non-reduced price of the goods.

It’s also worth noting that if you were told the reason for the price reduction before you buy them, (such as damage), you cannot return them based solely on that issue.

You will need proof of purchase to return goods; without this your refund could be refused or might be based on the current selling price, which could be substantially less. You may be offered store credit, which might be a reasonable alternative if the goods are simply unwanted.

Kevin Grix, CEO and Chief Ombudsman, Dispute Resolution Ombudsman said, “January is typically a month in which we expect to see a slump in sales once the busy holiday period is over, however many can benefit from reduced retail prices, both online and in-store. Whether you’re planning on bagging a bargain or returning unwanted gifts, consumers are offered an additional layer of protection when shopping with businesses enrolled with a government approved Ombudsman scheme.

“Our members demonstrate responsible retailer practise by helping to raise industry standards, promoting fair trade and trusting us with their most prized asset; their customer.”


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