/ Shopping

Have you had a returns nightmare after Christmas?

Have you ever had issues returning an unwanted Christmas present? I’m looking for shoppers to help out with our research.

We’ve all been guilty of a bit of last-minute Christmas shopping but, as it turns out, it could actually work to your advantage.

An acceptable time to start discussing Christmas is always up for debate, but as we head towards November we know that many of you are getting your shopping started or, in some cases, finished!

However, how many people have considered that getting your Christmas shopping sorted as early as September and October, as a small number of people said they had in our survey, could potentially lead to issues when it comes to returning faulty or unwanted goods?

Returns policies

Many retailers will often extend their returns period over Christmas to account for unwanted gifts, but sometimes it’s only for a week or two.

While online retailers have to give you 14 days for a full refund or exchange, you’ll need to check with each individual shop if you’re buying in-store.

Anything you buy will be covered by the Consumer Rights Act 2015, which gives you six months to return faulty items fot a refund, exchange or credit note.

However, that does mean that if you were especially well-organised and bought the unknowingly faulty gift before June, you’ll be outside of that window around Christmas Day.

Your experiences

Have you ever run into problems when returning a gift after Christmas? If so, how did the retailer deal with the problem? Did they accept the return?

I’m looking for shoppers who’d be willing to speak with Which? about their experiences to potentially feature in a future issue of Which? Magazine, and here on Which? Conversation.

If you’ve got a Christmas returns story to tell, let me know in the comments and I’ll get back to you!


Hi Lauren

I’m glad you mentioned the Consumer Rights Act

The Act was put together by Jo Swinson MP, who is now the Liberal Democrats leader

Could you please ask her to make a guest conversation here about improving the Consumer Rights Act, like what Stephen Kerr MP has done recently with his Scambusters conversation?

And could you also ask her to come back back later to read and reply to anything said?

I personally think there should be huge improvements to the Act. And I’m sure others do too

I doubt this was a personal act (or was it?), as Jo was then the minister responsible for the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills, a department whose job it was to deal with such matters. “The Act replaces the Sale of Goods Act, Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations 1999 and the Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982,[5] making some changes to rights to return faulty goods for refund, replacement or repair, and adding new rights on the purchase of digital content.“. I’m not sure that it revolutionised consumers rights, rather updated them as technology changed, and took note of EU regulations.

I hope I’m not being unkind. Not my intent.

The dept. has now morphed into the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, Current role holder:The Rt Hon Andrea Leadsom MP. I’d suggest it is they (she) who could be asked to respond.

As Lauren says I doubt whether Jo, Andrea or anyone, has any appetite for doing work on this given all they are probably thinking about is frustrating the will of the people and seeking power (Lauren didn’t say the last part 🙂 ).

What I would like to see is proper use being made of the Act to pursue consumers’ rights. It is, of necessity, general in its scope. We need, for example, work done to establish how long products should last – reasonable “Durability” – so that consumers who find they have early-failure products but out of warranty have firmer grounds to pursue claims for redress against the trader/retailer and, if necessary, in court. We also need to see action taken against traders who deny consumers their rights, or mislead them.

So, I’d suggest using the provisions of the Act is a priority to establish its aims and wake up traders to their legal responsibilities.

Malcolm, I agree that the current act seems to set out legal principles that ought to be followed up around issues like durability. I am not aware of any legal shortcomings here, but there do seem to be obviously failing with implementation and enforcement.

The Consumer Rights Act and its offshoots were part of the Coalition government’s justification for abandoning a lot of other consumer protection legislation and emasculating the local trading standards function which had been our bulwark against delinquent retailers. Unsurprisingly, implementation and enforcement of the CRA is now ineffectual. Restoring trading standards to its rightful place in the consumer’s protective shield would be one of my priorities as a good use for any post-Brexit dividend.

I agree with Malcolm. Jo Swinson just happened to be the bag carrier when the legislation was being put through Parliament. I don’t think she or others from her Party were distinguished by their achievements during the Coalition government in terms of support and safeguards for consumers.

The Consumer Rights Act was developed from the previous Sale of Goods Act, with some important additions, for example relating to digital rights.

Historically, protection was largely needed to ensure that consumers had protection against local traders, over matters such as weights and measures and problems and unsatisfactory goods and services. It made sense that these matters were dealt with locally by local Trading Standards offices, as one of the responsibilities of councils.

While complaints about local tradesmen still merit being dealt with locally, I think it would be better that problems with national and international companies are dealt with by a single office. National Trading Standards works with companies through their ‘primary authority’ scheme, whereby one local TS office is assigned to deal with the company in question. NTS does not deal with any complaints from the public and when I contacted them I received a curt reply to say that they were a company and did not deal with the public. I had hopes that the Office of Public Safety and Standards would have teeth but so far it seems somewhat edentulous.

Hi all. The specifics and strengthening of the CRA is indeed an interesting discussion, however let’s try to stay on the topic, which is returning products around Christmas.

If anyone knows anyone who’s run into issues, do put them in touch with Lauren!

I try and find out exactly what is wanted as a gift or give money. It might not be an imaginative solution but no-one has complained, and it avoids the hassle of exchanges.

Hi Lauren:

I have had a frustrating experience trying to return an unwanted computer game to Game.co.uk. I purchased a digital download of a game as a gift for my brother shortly before Christmas. Game.co.uk sent me a code to use to download the game. When I presented it to my brother he let me know that he already had the game in question. I thought this would be fine since we obviously hadn’t used the code and hadn’t downloaded the game, nor would we.

When I got in touch with Game.co.uk to ask them to cancel the order and refund what I’d paid for it, based on their 14 day right to return policy. When I wrote to them to ask about this I was told that the 14 day policy does not work for “digital content” and that once digital content has been delivered it can longer be refunded. I questioned this since the content I thought I had purchased was the computer game and it hadn’t yet been delivered (we had not downloaded it). Game.co.uk then said the the code itself is the digital content that I had purchased and that since it had been delivered by email they could not refund it.

They claim that this does not violate my statutory rights and that “it is the case that the 14 day period to return an order under the Consumer Rights Act does not include digital orders”.

In my case the loss is not significant, but I wonder how many people are effected by this apparent loophole in the law.

This is what Amazon say:
About Returning Digital Games & Software Purchases
You cannot cancel your purchase of a game or software download once delivery has started.

Games and software downloads ordered on Amazon are not returnable.

Perhaps Which? could explain why these are not included in the right to cancel. Is it because they might be used fraudulently?

If there is a fault in the product the CRA would apply as to any other product.

Hi Alex – There is some relevant legislation in the Consumer Contracts Regulations, according to this page on the Which? website: https://www.which.co.uk/consumer-rights/regulation/consumer-contracts-regulations

Cancelling digital downloads

The Consumer Contracts Regulations contain specific provisions for digital content.

Retailers mustn’t supply digital content, such as music or software downloads, within the 14 day cancellation period, unless the consumer has given their express consent to this happening.

The consumer must also acknowledge that once the download starts they will lose their right to cancel.

If a consumer doesn’t give their consent, they have to wait until the cancellation period has ended before they can download the digital content.

This is to ensure the digital content is what you want before downloading it.

I’ve highlighted a relevant provision. It would be interesting to see what Amazon have to say, but hopefully they will provide a refund. Please could you let us know the outcome.

Well spotted wavechange. I hope Which? might comment on the Amazon condition; presumably the Consumer Contracts… legislation cannot be overridden by someone’s terms and conditions.

It’s always good to have confirmation from Which? but for me the priority is that Amazon and other companies that run marketplaces should be made responsible for taking what measures are necessary to make sure that dangerous and counterfeit products are not offered for sale by their traders. Which? could push for a change in legislation so that this happens.

We’ve been asking for this for some time. As I understand it the services offered in facilitating the sale of goods determine whether a “market place” assumes responsibility or not. I believe EU legislation is in prospect to clarify (?) this. Perhaps Which? could tell us what the current legislation allows and what might be changing. @jon-stricklin-coutinho– Jon, can you find out please?

Hi Lauren – sorry for the delay in getting back to you – I would be very pleased to answer and questions and would really appreciate your follow up on this. I also have a Resolver case file with all the correspondence in it. What would be the best way for us to be in touch? Alex

Hi Alex, I’ve just sent you an email now to put you in touch with Lauren.