/ Shopping

What products do you return most often?

January is a pretty popular month for returning unwanted purchases picked up in the sales. So what are all these items that we’re returning?

Christmas has been and gone and in an act as traditional as carol singing with a steaming mug of mulled wine – I hit the sales.

Already some of my purchases will have to be returned. And it doesn’t look like I’m alone either, our research has revealed that six in ten of us have returned something we purchased in the last year.

The top two reasons for returns were that that the products were faulty or the incorrect product or size had been ordered.

We found that more than half of people returning faulty goods last year were returning electrical items like mobile phones, laptops and dishwashers. This was followed by clothing and shoes, then furnishing and home wares. Thinking about my own purchases, this sounds about right.

Using the new faulty goods tool

With our new faulty goods tool we’ve helped more than 1,000 people try to get a refund, repair or replacement for faulty items worth up to £1,188,073 over the Christmas period using our faulty goods tool.

The median average price of a product claimed for by users of the tool is £213, with claims ranging from £4.99 for a faulty nutritional supplement shaker, right up to £58,000 for an unsatisfactory static caravan.

Faulty goods: the post- 6 month problem

But what we found in the same survey was that just 13% of people knew that six months after purchasing a product the onus is on you to prove the fault was present at the time of purchase.

Inspired by comments on our previous conversation we decided to ask people how they would prove a fault was present at the point of purchase. We specifically asked what they would do to prove a fridge-freezer they had owned for 15 months stopped working due to a fault – and 68% said they wouldn’t know how.

Unfortunately, the truth is that the law doesn’t detail how shoppers can prove a fault was present at purchase, which can make it problematic when you’re asked to do so.

Guidance has tended to focus on getting an independent report from a repair shop or expert, but this advice dates back to a time when they were common on high-streets. I suspect you’ll be hard pressed to find one now.

What should you do?

Here are a few suggestions:

1. If you can find a repair shop or expert to undertake an independent report, it’s worth doing so as long as the cost isn’t out of proportion with the value of the product. It’s also worth checking that the retailer will accept the validity of the report.

2. Are people on social media complaining of the same type of fault as you? Or any reviewers or journalists? The more evidence you can collect to show that the fault is a problem which is affecting lots of people, the stronger your case.

3. If the retailer fobs you off, you could consider taking your case to the Consumer Ombudsman.

4. Do you have a guarantee or warranty? If so, check the terms of use. If you’re getting nowhere with the retailer, or if the retailer no longer exists, you may want to go straight to the manufacturer and make a claim.

Returning faulty goods can be a bit of a minefield so we hope that the new tool and these tips will help you out.

But we’d like to hear some of your experiences with returning items. So, what items have you found yourself having to return? Have you had prove a fault with any older purchases? And if so how did you get on?


” With our new faulty goods tool we’ve helped more than 1,000 people try to get a refund, repair or replacement for faulty items worth up to £1,188,073 over the Christmas period using our faulty goods tool.”

I am really pleased to see Which? becoming active in assisting subscribers [or is it all consumers?] in obtaining refunds I do have some concerns that which is overplaying what it is doing. The tool is essentially a template for a letter. Similar to that which could be downloaded from several sites such as the Citizens Advice.

The unstated agenda may be that Which? is obtaining an email address in return , and also statistics on returns. I have previously stated that I think it very useful if Which? did obtain rates of returns from its subscriber base but I would be open and transparent about this and the potential value this might provide if the information is aggregated.

Also not clear is if there is set up a report back function to reveal the success rate of these letters.


Hi @dieseltaylor the tool is intended to offer greater utility than a template letter you have to edit yourself – as technology continues its relentless march forward more and more people are using their mobile phones or tablets – and we want to be able to offer them a straightforward means of putting a letter together. I for one have bear paws for hands and find editing a document on my phone quite a taxing experience.

You’re correct in that we do collect email addresses and some stats on returns – but we only contact those who opt in to further communication from which? As far as a report back function is concerned – it’s definitely something we’d like to add to the tool further down the line, but as yet no work has started on that particular project.


I am puzzled by your numbers. If the average price of a product claimed for was £213, and around 1000 people claimed, that is about £213 000 isn’t it. Where does £1 188 073 come from please?,

You advise people that after 6 months the onus is on them to prove there was a pre-existing fault. Which? seems to totally ignore a key requirement of SoGA and CRA that a product must also be “durable” (last a reasonable time without fault). This is not dependent upon a pre-existing defect – poor quality components, bad design, are examples of deficiencies that would cause unreasonably short product life given a sensible purchase price.

Is this too difficult for Which? to address or is my interpretation of the legal requirement wrong?


Hi @malcolm-r our crack team of statisticians advised that we calculate the average using the median average. This was because some of the largest value claims heavily skewed the mean average. As we’re using the median we also included the data range of £4.99 – £58,000.

With regards to durability – this quite a tough nut to crack. This is in part because expected durability can vary so much from product to product, brand to brand and at different price points. But our advice is always evolving and I’m happy to take ideas on board.


Thanks Adam.
Surely Which? should be about “cracking tough nuts” – more able to do it than the individual members that subscribe to your work? 🙂
I have continually asked Which? to pursue this over the last 3 or 4 years but it seems to have totally avoided trying to even begin to deal with it. It can start with a single group of products, and work with other consumer groups through BEUC. If you never start you’ll never get anywhere. As they say – how do you eat an elephant? A little bit at a time. (Sorry animal lovers – just a turn of phrase 🙁 )


Adam, “average” is a total divided by the number of pieces of data. “Median” is the middle number of a data set. I am not aware of what “median average” means. Perhaps your crack statisticians would explain exactly how they arrived at their numbers, and what they mean (not in the arithmetic sense) by “median average”?.


Unless otherwise specified, the term ‘average’ should refer to the arithmetic mean, which is the only term that most people can relate to. Without seeing the data set, I’m not sure how I would present it, but please don’t use average for anything other than the arithmetic mean.


Given Which?’s surprising survey on the public’s innumeracy I would have hoped this article would have been amended to make obvious to any reader what the figures mean without having to read the comments section.