’Tis the season to return unwanted gifts: everything you need to know about the process

The celebrity memoir you’ll never read, the tartan pyjamas made with a scratchy silver thread and the cartoon socks that are an affront to your good taste — they’re all frankly just taking up space now.

ow that tis no longer the season to be jolly, you may be thinking about more mercenary matters such as how to convert unwanted Christmas presents into something more desirable.

Here are some things you should be aware of as you embark on the returns process.


As we all know, you can’t just turn up to a retailer with the item and demand your money back — or rather, the money spent by your friend or relative. And the process can be a bit more fraught when the item has been bought online.

However, if your giver has been organised enough to provide a gift receipt and the item was bought in a physical store, you can take it and the item back — provided the item is still in box fresh condition and request an exchange or gift card.

But be aware that you might have a limited time in which to do so (see below).

Without a gift receipt, you’re pretty much stuck with the item. Consider giving it to a charity shop or regifting next year just not to the person who gave it to you in the first place!


Bear in mind that your right to a gift card or exchange isn’t absolute, and that in contract law, the relevant transaction is the one that took place between the buyer and the retail business, not the transaction which took place when you were given the item by the friend or relative.

The Consumer Council of Northern Ireland points out that, under The Consumer Rights Act 2015, the retailer can refuse to offer a refund, replacement, credit note or gift card if there is nothing wrong with the item, or if the consumer changes their mind.

You might feel that you deserve to be able to exchange the item, but offering a replacement, credit note or gift card is a gesture of goodwill by the retailer and at their discretion.


But what about my statutory rights? And what does that phrase even mean?

Even though you aren’t automatically entitled to an exchange or gift receipt when there’s nothing wrong with the item, your ‘statutory rights’ mean you can get a full refund if an item is faulty and it’s brought back within 30 days of purchase. However, the original giver would need to be the person to return the item.

After 30 days, the retailer is entitled to one chance at repairing or replacing the faulty item before a consumer can ask for a partial or full refund.

That rule protects you for up to six years, depending on the type of item and the price paid.


I know that my friend who gave me the present is pretty strapped for cash and bought me an extravagant gift on impulse. Can I give it back to my friend to return so that they automatically get their money back?

It’s very selfless to want to give back a present because the giver couldn’t afford it in the first place.

But holding onto the gift, or even giving it to charity, may be the best thing to do as you might find that even the giver can’t get a refund themselves. Some big stores, such as House of Fraser, no longer offer refunds to customers and you can only get a gift card or exchange.

However, House of Fraser will provide a refund if an item is faulty though proof of purchase is required.

The Consumer Council’s top tip is to ask about a store’s refund policy before you buy, especially if it’s a gift.


Today is January 8. Do I still have time to chance my arm at returning the pyjamas and getting a gift receipt instead?

Some high street retailers will often extend their return and refund policy over the Christmas period but this is at the retailer’s own discretion.

For example, Marks and Spencer says that its Christmas returns policy means that items could be returned up until January 9 if they were bought between October 4 and December 4. But if bought after December 4, its usual return policy period of 35 days applies. That means that the more last-minute your giver was at doing their Christmas shopping in M&S, the longer you have to return the item. If it was bought on Christmas Eve, in theory you’ll have until January 28 to return it.


My brother gave me a hideous but expensive gift which he bought online. Can I exchange it for something else without telling him?

The beauty of receiving gifts which were bought in bricks and mortar stores where you’ve been provided with a gift receipt is that you can return them without the giver’s knowledge.

You might need a bit more chutzpah if you want to get a gift card as an alternative to a present online, unless you’re dealing with a very big retailer, such as Next.

Many retailers, such as Next, will allow consumers to return items in store after they were bought online. But this is at the retailer’s discretion.

If the giver opened the package they were sent by the online retailer, before wrapping your present separately and giving it to you, you will need to tell the giver that you want to return the gift.

For the majority of online retailers, returns need to be processed in the retailer’s packaging and using the pre-printed label for returns provided, or downloading a label from the company’s website.

But it’s a bit more straightforward if the item was marked as a gift by the online retailer and sent directly to you.

Amazon, the biggest online retailer of them all, has a special returns centre for processing returns, with its own section for confidential gift returns.

That allows you to return items marked as a gift at the time of purchase. The type of refund or credit you receive depends on how the gift was purchased and how it’s returned.

But gift recipients won’t be eligible for exchanges or instant refunds. Amazon says that for the 2021 holiday season, most of the items purchased between November 1 and December 31 can be returned until January 31.

It’s best if you have the Amazon order number given to your giver. But you could either ask the gift giver for the order number or contact Amazon customer service.

Amazon also says the email address of the gift giver, package tracking ID or the giver’s phone number would also help it track down the order.

You’ll need to set up an Amazon account in order to process the return online and obtain a returns label.

Once the returned item is received, the amount paid for the gift will be restored to you in the form of an Amazon gift certificate.


Will I be charged for sending the item back?

Amazon says that if the return isn’t the result of an error by Amazon, or if you’re returning an item other than shoes, clothing, jewellery, or watches that were sold or dispatched by Amazon, it will deduct the return costs from your refunded gift certificate.

If you’re returning a gift bought in Next’s online store, you will be charged £2 for the return if it’s processed through courier Hermes or via Royal Mail. But you can avoid the charge by returning it to a Next store.

Belfast Telegraph