Can I take my unwanted presents back?

Sarah Coles
Cringing woman holding sweater she got for Christmas
Cringing woman holding sweater she got for Christmas

Some people shouldn't be allowed to buy Christmas presents unsupervised. Every year those people ignore all your subtle hints and blatant list-making and decide what you really wanted was a pair of humorous Christmas socks or a paperweight. A survey by eBay revealed there will be 29 million unwanted gifts given this year - with mums and aunties responsible for the lion's share of them. The question is whether you can do anything about these ghastly festive mistakes.

The bad news is that you have absolutely no right to return them to the shops where they were bought. If they are broken then you have the right to a repair or a replacement, but if they are just horrible, the stores are perfectly within their rights to refuse to take the item back.

There are some kinds of products where retailers will always stand their ground. This includes things like food, DVDs and CDs which have been taken out of their wrappers, and anything which has been personalised or made to order.

The goods news is that aside from these items, a huge number of shops offer more than your basic rights, and will let you return unwanted presents. John Lewis and Marks & Spencer are famous for their no-quibble returns policies. Nowadays most other retailers have something similar. However, this isn't true across the board so you will have to check with the retailer you bought it from.

Online stores are equally flexible nowadays, so search for the company online and check how to return your items. In some cases you will need to pay the postage, but often the return will be free and easy.

Proof of purchase

Whether or not you get a full refund will depend on whether you have proof of purchase. With any luck the gift-giver will have enclosed a gift receipt, which makes the whole thing more straightforward. If they haven't, you need to decide for yourself whether they would be offended if you asked them for the receipt. If they don't have it, then proof of purchase is often enough, so a bank statement showing the purchase will work.
With the receipt you will be able to choose whether you want a refund or an exchange - and you will get back exactly what was paid for the product.

However, you will need to act fact, because stores have a time limit on returns. This tends to be 28 days from the day it was purchased, but in some cases is just 14 days. Most stores will extend the period to take account of the fact that Christmas presents might have been bought early, but it's still important to act as fast as possible when you are returning gifts.

No proof

If asking for a receipt or a bank statement would cause an irrevocable family rift, you can take it back to the store and rely on their goodwill. Policies vary dramatically here. and there are a large number of stores which will not entertain any kind of return without proof of purchase. If this is the case, there's no point in arguing with them, because they are not obliged to help.

Those that do accept returns without proof of purchase will usually only offer you an exchange. They will scan the product and you'll only get back the value of the product at the time you return to the shop. If it's on the sale it could be 70% less than it was originally bought for. If you don't want an exchange, they may offer a gift card.

Other options

In those instances where you cannot return an item, you have the options of re-gifting it, or selling it on. Re-gifting is a great way to get full value from the product, and is the option selected by one in five people, but you have to be honest with yourself: if you didn't like the gift yourself, how would you feel about giving it to someone else? Is the saving worth the embarrassment of being the person who hands over the offending item to one of your nearest and dearest?

If you are one of the 12% who choose to sell it on instead, it's worth checking online auctions like eBay to see what your item is fetching. It tends to be swamped at this time of year: it recently revealed that the items it expects to be overwhelmed with after Christmas include socks, ties, technology, DIY items and kitchen gadgets (including juicers). So if you can, it might be worth holding onto it for a couple of months until the glut has gone.

If the item isn't worth re-selling, then you could do worse than give the items to a charity shop. The eBay survey revealed that one in four people take this approach. And why not? At least somebody will be able to benefit from your unwanted presents.

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