Shoppers: know your rights this Christmas
As spending on unwanted gifts reaches £1bn this year, Sam Meadows checks when shops are obliged to refund you
High street retailers have been accused of keeping the public in the dark over their rights when they want to return unwanted Christmas presents and of forcing shoppers to jump through hoops to send items back. Telegraph Money has also discovered that some shops have shortened their refund periods this year for those who try to return Christmas gifts.
Over the next couple of weeks Christmas shoppers are likely to spend almost £1bn on unwanted presents, according to Vouchercodes.co.uk, a website for discount offers. Experts have warned that few shoppers know their legal rights concerning refunds and that shops rarely make this easier. Most retailers offer extended return periods for the festive season, allowing those who decide to return a gift received on Christmas Day, but purchased long before, to do so.
But, while many shoppers might believe they have a legal right to a return until the end of January, this is not the case and the length of time that firms offer can differ wildly.
Martyn James from Resolver, a complaints service, said some shops were guilty of failing to make customers’ legal rights clear.
“There’s so much confusion around when you can actually return something under the Consumer Rights Act,” he said. “There are huge firms that confuse the difference between their own returns policy and the legal rights you have.”
So far this year the service has received about 120,000 complaints relating to online or high street shopping, the bulk of which concerned problems with products or returns.
Special rules around the festive period complicate matters, but Mr James warned that you might not have as long as you thought to return unwanted gifts. Research by Telegraph Money found examples of firms cutting the number of days consumers have to make a return this year.
Game, the video game shop, offers returns until Jan 20, a reduction on last year’s deadline of Jan 31. Selfridges, the fashion retailer, has moved its latest date for postal returns of online purchases from Jan 11 to Jan 7. Game said its change reflected consumers’ habits as 80pc of returns were made within 10 days of Christmas.
While there are retailers that will allow returns for the whole of January, some offer a very small window. Next gives dissatisfied gift recipients only until Jan 4, for example, while Selfridges will accept returns made in store only until Jan 2.
Another common complaint is that retailers can make it very hard to return an item. Mr James cited the case of an 82-year-old woman who waited 45 minutes to return some shoes that had fallen apart, only to be told there was nothing wrong with them. He said: “Firms will often put lots of barriers in your way. We have looked before at how many times you need to click to make a complaint and lots of companies make it difficult.”
Fraud is another problem. Research from payments operator Shieldpay suggests that one in five shoppers has been targeted by scammers over the festive period. Tom Clementson from the firm said he had fallen victim himself in the past when a digital camera he had bought online arrived and the box contained two bars of soap. He said: “It gets worse around Christmas. People are scrambling to get the best deals or rushing because they have left it too late, and that can be taken advantage of.”
If this happens, Mr Clementson said the first step would be to complain to the retailer. If this was not successful you could consider claiming the