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Not many happy returns for Brits

17th November 2010 Print

Christmas shoppers need to check returns policies and keep receipts when buying presents, as more than seven million Brits have experienced problems returning unwanted gifts, finds new research from consumer champion Which? Legal Service.

Experts from the legal telephone advice line found that 9.9 million consumers have tried to return an unwanted gift in the last two years, and 82 per cent of those had difficulty getting a refund.

Around half of those who were refused a refund were told it was because they didn't have the receipt, while 16 per cent couldn't get their money back as the shop didn't allow refunds for unwanted goods.

When it came to knowing their rights, just 47 per cent of people were aware that they have no legal right to return something to a high street store simply because they've changed their mind. Only 18 per cent always check returns policies before making purchases in shops.

People are more likely to check the returns policy when shopping online, with a third (34 per cent) always doing so, but they were often unaware which items you can and can't return. One in ten mistakenly thought they could get a refund on flowers if they simply changed their mind about them, and three in ten wrongly believed they could return CDs or DVDs that have been unwrapped.

Which? chief executive Peter Vicary-Smith says: "Our independent research shows that many people don't know what their rights are when shopping on the high street or online.  But just knowing some of the basics could mean you won't be stuck with unwanted gifts you can't return."

80 per cent of online shoppers also didn't know how long they legally have to tell a website they want to return an item, while a fifth (19 per cent) of those who had bought gifts for a birthday or Christmas failed to receive them in time.

Which? Legal Service offers the following advice to people who are hitting the high street or shopping online for Christmas gifts:

1. Check the returns policy: Any returns policy in a store can be as strict as the store wishes so it should be read carefully.  Many shops will refund, exchange or give credit notes as a gesture of goodwill. Ask whether the policy is extended for Christmas purchases.

2. Keep the receipt: It's always best to keep the receipt, but you can still try to return goods using any proof of purchase, including a bank statement or credit card bill.

3. Check who pays for P&P: When shopping online, the website's terms and conditions should say who is responsible for paying postage to return unwanted goods.  If they don't say, they pay!

4. Not all goods are refundable: Many items such as CDs, DVDs and computer games for example can be refused a refund if they are no longer sealed.

5. Know your online rights: Most purchases made online, by post or by phone benefit from a ‘cooling-off period', starting the minute you place the order and ending 7 working days the day after receiving the goods, during which time you are free to cancel.

Lawyers from Which? will be taking part in a live Q&A from 12pm on 17th November at