Shop­pers: know your rights this Christ­mas

The Daily Telegraph - Your Money - - FRONT PAGE -

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

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