What to do with unwanted gifts?


Cringing woman holding sweater she got for Christmas

This Christmas the average adult received two presents that they didn't want. Most people who thoughtfully gave us the DVD we already had or the unfashionable trousers we hate, didn't think to include a gift receipt. So we'll be shoving unwanted gifts to the back of the cupboard. One in five of these gifts are set to stay here until the day we de-clutter.

But is this your only option?

You don't have to live with the mistakes of your nearest and dearest, because there's still plenty of time to get the money back.

Come clean

If you can tactfully tell the person who gave you the gift that it's not quite right (without causing a family rift), then this is the easiest option. Once you are armed with the receipt, most stores will exchange the gift or refund it. In theory most stores will accept a bank statement showing the purchase instead of a receipt, but it's a brave person who is willing to ask the gift-giver for access to a statement.

Even with proof of purchase, you don't have any automatic right to a refund or exchange (unless the goods are faulty, unfit for purpose or not as described), but a large number of retailers will allow refunds and exchanges around Christmas as a goodwill gesture.

Chance your arm

A number of stores will exchange items that are clearly from their store and unopened at this time of year even - without a receipt. For clothing, tags will have to be intact, and it needs to be in a condition which enables the store to sell it again. For things like DVDs or computer games, the original cellophane will have to be undamaged.

However, you will usually only get the value that the retailer currently places on the item, so if it's in the sale you'll only get the sale price.

Dodgier ground

Some stores will have a policy of not accepting returns under any circumstances without a receipt. In these circumstances New York Magazine recently suggested returning it to a big department store that stocks the same product and is likely to have a more flexible returns policy. Of course, you're on less ethical ground here.

Act fast

If you are planning to return something, you will need to act fast. Most stores have a 28 day or 30 day policy, and after this time you won't be able to return it. Some shops have extended their policy for Christmas, so House of Fraser will allow returns until 7 January, Marks and Spencer will accept returns until 18 January, Debenhams until the end of January, and John Lewis until three months after it was purchased.


It may feel like more of a hassle to return things bought online, but in many cases it's easier. If the person buying the present did so less than seven working days earlier, you have the right to cancel the sale under the distance selling regulations. It doesn't need to be faulty, you can cancel just because you don't like it, and a refund will be processed within 30 days. However, the refund will come to the person who bought the gift.

If it has been longer than this, or you don't want the gift-giver to know, you still have options. Online retailers will all have their own policies, so it's worth checking what can be done. Amazon, for example, has a great policy. If you contact customer services and provide the sender's name, email address and phone number, they'll give you the order number. With the order number you can then return the gift for a gift certificate.

If the deadline has passed on returns, you have no proof of purchase, or the retailer will simply not take it back, there are still some other options.


Around a third of us regularly re-gift presents, around half think they have received at least one re-gifted present, and 83% of people consider to be no big deal to receive a re-gift. If you have been given something that's not particularly appealing to you - but you know someone else would like it - then this may be the best way to get full value from the gift. Only you will know whether your circle of friends and family is large enough for your re-gifting to remain a secret.

Sell them

It may seem odd to sell unwanted gifts, but it's better than them sitting at the back of the cupboard - because at least someone gets to love them. According to eBay, there are around 100,000 unwanted Christmas presents sold on the site each year - so you're not alone.

The best place to sell will depend on what you are trying to flog. If you're selling clothes then eBay is a reasonable option, while CDs and DVDs tend to do well on Amazon. Even online classified like Gumtree, or local ones like a local newspaper or shop window could help you get some value from your gifts.