Christmas shopping 2013 - know your rights and return policies


Pedestrian with shopping bags walking in downtown shopping area at Christmas

It's all very well getting the Christmas shopping done early - but what if the recipient of your largesse doesn't like their present, it's faulty or it doesn't fit?

According to classifieds website Gumtree, Brits spent over £2 billion last year on unwanted Christmas presents. However, only four percent of people said that when they didn't like a gift, they'd ask the giver for the receipt. A fifth said they simply stashed the present in a cupboard, and a quarter passed it on to someone else.

Every year, stores see a deluge of people wanting to return items they've been given or were hoping to give someone else. Returns policies, though, are highly variable. Shops don't actually have to offer a returns service at all, unless an item is faulty, not as described or unfit for purpose.

It's worth noting here that for items over £100, it's a good idea to use a credit card, as the card supplier is then jointly liable for such faulty goods. This is particularly useful in the case of returns to stores that go bust in the meantime - a particular danger when buying vouchers, as they're often not redeemed for a while. If you're buying less than £100-worth of vouchers, think carefully about the stability of the firm.

Most stores do offer a returns policy for non-faulty goods, on production of a valid receipt. But this is less useful at this time of year as few people hand over a receipt (even a gift receipt) with their presents - it means admitting the present might be a duff one, after all.

For Gumtree, naturally, the solution is to sell unwanted items on its website. But some major stores will accept returns even without a receipt, offering vouchers or gift cards instead. And, recognising that many Christmas presents are bought early or handed over late, quite a few extend their returns period. We look at what's on offer from some of the UK's major retailers.

Marks and Spencer
For delivery-only furniture and clothing, the company offers a 35-day refund period, with receipt. For other products, such as beauty, food, gift cards and non-delivery furniture, it sticks to statutory terms only - in other words, offering a refund only when a product is faulty, not as described or unfit for purpose. For technology, once a product's tamper-proof seal has been opened, it's non-returnable unless there's a fault; otherwise, standard legal terms apply. For Christmas, the company is extending its returns period, so that anything bought after 19 September can be returned until 18 January.

Apart from certain exceptions - opened cosmetics, bedlinen, underwear and the like - Debenhams will exchange items returned within 28 days. Tags need to be intact, and the product in saleable condition. This Christmas, items bought between 15th October and 24th December can be returned up until the end of January.

John Lewis
John Lewis gives customers a generous 90 days to return goods, even if the product isn't faulty; and where there's no receipt, will issue gift vouchers to the value of the item. You will, though, need the original packaging. Exceptions include custom-made or personalised items, as well as opened computer software or games, where standard conditions apply.

House of Fraser
Products can be returned within 14 days for a full refund, or within 28 days for a voucher or gift card. After that, only faulty or damaged goods will be refunded. Items such as lingerie and bed linen must be unopened, and food and beverages aren't returnable at all. For Christmas, the company's extended the period during which items can be exchanged for gift cards or vouchers until January 7.

Currys allows unwanted products to be returned within 21 days, with proof of purchase - which can be a bank statement as well as a receipt or online sales invoice - as long as they're unopened.
For Christmas, it extends this period to allow items bought after 24 October this year to be returned until 14 February.

Argos offers a 30-day returns policy for most items - though there's no refund for hygiene-sensitive items such as earrings or foot spas; recording devices such as digital cameras; or video games consoles, unless they're faulty. Video games needs to be in their original plastic seal. Where it does offer refunds, though, it will give vouchers even without a receipt as long as there's other proof of purchase.

Next will receive returns within 28 days, or 15 days for sale items, as long as there's a receipt. Refunds from gift receipts will be given in the form of vouchers, as will refunds for debit and credit card purchases, unless the purchaser and card are both present. Gifts bought for Christmas, says the company, can be returned until 22 January.

WH Smith
WH Smith offers a 30-day refund period for most items - though not, in case you get any ideas, for newspapers and magazines. Nor can you return unsealed CDs, DVDs or computer software, personalised items or perishable goods; unless they're faulty, of course. You'll need a receipt.

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