How to return unwanted Christmas gifts

Unwrapped and unwanted … we tell you how to return those Christmas presents you’d never have asked for

The dodgy seasonal snowflake jumper, the paperback you read when it was out in hardback, the ill-fitting underwear your partner unwisely bought you … just some of the things on the list of Christmas gifts you don’t really want to keep. But can you take these back to where they came from – and should you?

Am I entitled to a refund if I don’t like what I’ve been given?

Contrary to popular belief, you do not have any right to return unwanted goods, only those that are damaged or faulty. However, many retailers will offer either a refund or exchange and many have extended the period in which they will allow returns after Christmas.

Shops’ policies vary, with big retailers like Marks & Spencer and John Lewis offering particularly generous terms. But even where a store does allow for returns, there can still be limits. Many insist that goods are returned in their original packaging and most stores will not allow you to return certain items, such as perishable goods or earrings.

Do I need a receipt?

Your chances of an exchange or refund is greatly enhanced if you have the receipt or other proof of purchase, such as credit card bill. M&S, for example, will give you a full exchange or refund with a receipt or gift receipt until 15 January if you (or someone else) bought the goods between the 1 October and 12 December.

If you do not have a receipt, M&S will still let you return the goods but only at the current selling price – which could be substantially less than they were bought for if they are now in the sale. Without a receipt, it will also only refund you in the guise of a credit note. Some stores, such as TK Maxx, will not allow you a refund or exchange without a receipt.

It is worth bearing in mind for next year’s round of present buying that when you buy an item you have a contract with the seller, so any refund or exchange would be made to you only. However, if you ask for a gift receipt or just write on your receipt “gift for Bob”, for example, your rights transfer to the recipient.

Are the rules different if the gift was bought online?

You have seven working days from the date the item was delivered to cancel the order and return a gift ordered online, even if it’s just because you don’t like it. The retailer should then refund you within 30 days of you cancelling the order. However, as on the high street, the contract is between the buyer and seller, so any refund is likely to be transferred straight back on to the card used to pay for it.

If the goods were dispatched directly to you, you can often use the dispatch note as proof of purchase and can get a refund on this basis, depending on the retailer’s terms and conditions.

Amazon, for instance, promises not to tell the gift giver you are returning an unwanted present. It will give you a gift certificate for the value of the goods if you provide the order number that came on the packing slip when the goods were delivered. If you don’t have the slip, you can contact customer service for the order number. You have to provide the sender’s name and email address, and the phone number of the address to which the gift was shipped.

Regardless of where the buyer bought them, if the goods you have received were personalised you have no chance of returning them.

What if the goods were bought on eBay?

If you are buying from a trader who makes some or all of their living selling on eBay it is worth contacting them. They have no obligation to offer you a refund or exchange unless the item is damaged or faulty, but they may. If the gift comes from a private seller you are very unlikely to get your money back; a lot of the goods sold on eBay are unwanted goods in the first place.

What happens if the goods I ordered arrived after Christmas?

You can only be certain of a refund if delivery by Christmas was guaranteed by the retailer. Online retailers have up to 30 days to deliver goods unless otherwise agreed, so last-minute shoppers may have been caught out.

Is it morally wrong to return Christmas presents?

That is an issue for your conscience. However, if you are uncomfortable with the idea but really don’t want the gift, there are ways to make sure it ends up in a more loving home. You could give it to your local charity shop. Most will be very happy to get books, CDs and games, though there are items they cannot accept for safety reasons. Oxfam will not generally take unwanted hair straighteners or other electrical goods (although a small number of its shops do), and most will decline perishable goods. You could hold a gift-swapping party with friends who have similar unloved presents, or offer the gift up on a website such as Freecycle, which encourages recycling by allowing you to advertise and pass on an item, free, to another person.

Which stores let you do what?

Marks & Spencer has extended its returns policy; if you bought between 1 October and 12 December you can get an exchange or refund up until 15 January. If you can provide proof of purchase or a gift receipt you can get a full refund or exchange, if not you will be offered a credit note for the value of the goods at the current selling price.

John Lewis has no set time limit for the return of unsuitable products, a generous rule that applies all year round. If you can provide proof of purchase or a gift receipt you can get a full refund or exchange. This refund can be put back on to your debit card or be given back in gift vouchers.

Without proof of purchase, so long as the item is still sealed and in a good condition the retailer will offer an exchange or refund in gift vouchers. Refunds will be given at the current selling price.

Debenhams has a 28-day returns policy (35 for its website) but is taking returns with gift receipts until 28 January. Refunds on gift receipts will be on to a gift card. Without proof of purchase, it will exchange at the current or last selling price for alternative products. Where items have been reduced by 50% or more it offers an exchange for another product or refund on a giftcard.

Amazon Items purchased from and dispatched during the period from 1 November 1 to 31 December inclusive may be returned at any time before midnight on 31 January.

In the case of gifts bought for you, you’ll receive a gift certificate for the value of the goods. Unless there is something wrong with them, this will not include the cost of gift-wrapping or the cost of returning the item.

The rules are different if you received a gift that was fulfilled by a third-party seller via Amazon’s Marketplace. In that case, you will need to contact the seller directly about the return.

TK Maxx’s refund policy is still 14 days instore and 28 days online. For a refund, TK Maxx needs the original purchase receipt, and, if appropriate, the original card used to purchase the item. It has extended its store exchange policy for items purchased as gifts between 24 October and 20 January, but you will need a receipt or gift receipt. A gift receipt entitles you to an exchange or a gift card to the value of the item. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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