/ Shopping

Refund policies – what a difference a year makes

A woman holding multiple shopping bags

Our latest research into returns policies has found there can be vast differences between different retailers. So if you’re prone to making impulse buys you might regret later, make sure you know your rights.

I’m a hideously indecisive shopper. Considering I also have a penchant for clothing and possess poor organisational skills, I spend a fair bit of time and effort negotiating refunds from uninterested shop assistants.

As such, it’s important for me to know where I stand with returns.

The gulf between refund policies

Our investigation into the refund policies of more than 30 retailers found a difference of 358 days between the shortest and the longest refund period. For example, you get a whole year to take your purchases back to Mama’s and Papa’s, but only a week at Harvey Nichols. Good news for parents, bad news for big spenders.

While I’m neither of those, I am a regular sale shopper. It was interesting to find out that 34% of stores have a shorter time frame in which to return sales items compared to their full price goods, while 12% had a different timeframe for online and in-store returns. Of all the stores we look at, Lakeland was the only one to generously offer an unlimited refund policy both online and in-store.

I should also admit that I lose my receipts quite a lot. Fortunately, all of the shops we contacted were happy to find a workaround in this situation. Most offered to exchange the item for another of the same value, accept bank statements as proof of postage, or even trace the card transaction on their system.

Consumer rights get an update

But what are your rights when you want to return something that’s just not up to scratch?

If your item is faulty, you’re protected by the Sale of Goods Act. If items aren’t as described, of satisfactory quality or fit for purpose, you’re entitled to a repair or replacement as long as it’s ‘within a reasonable time’, which currently isn’t fixed.

The new draft Consumer Rights Bill will lead to a change in the rules around the return of faulty goods. Once the Bill is made law, all consumers will be given a fixed 30 days in which to claim a full refund. After this point, you will still be entitled to one repair or replacement, and then a refund after this point if the item is still faulty. However, we don’t expect this law to kick in for a long time yet.

Still, the new rules won’t affect your refund rights if you happen to change your mind about a purchase. Retailers aren’t obliged to issue a refund but, as we found in our investigation, most stores do have a goodwill refund policy. However, these policies vary across the board, so make sure you check the store’s refund policy before you buy (especially if you’re prone to indecision like me).

wev says:
20 June 2013

Wasn’t there a massive topic about faulty Kindles breaking down just after the end of their one year warranty?

What happened with that? Was it ever established that Kindles should legally last for years? Paper books do.

There has been an active Conversation about faults with Kindles. It is difficult to be sure whether this is because there is a genuine problem or if it is just because Amazon sell so many of them. What is very wrong is that the best that Amazon will normally offer is a discount on a new Kindle. Some are happy with this, but I bet that Amazon still makes a profit on the discounted price. I keep asking Which? to push for manufacturers’ warranties to be extended. If Kindles were guaranteed for five years, Amazon would have to ensure that they are reasonably reliable or it would cost them a fortune in providing free repairs.

I am disappointed to see that Amazon has been shortlisted for a Which? award for customer care:
I certainly do not think Amazon deserves this, and I am not even thinking about Kindles.

wev says:
21 June 2013

When people receive the replacement Kindle, is that legally supposed to come with a new warranty period, or is it without warranty?

And do they have to be new, or can Amazon send them refurbished Kindles?

My understanding of replacement/repair is your warranty continues as if you still had the original product. Of course there is that wonderful legislation called the Sale of Goods Act that could in theory help if problems continue, but I have not heard of many who have succeeded in making claims, even with original purchases.

Companies can supply repaired or new goods as replacements, and this will be in the terms and conditions of the warranty. With expensive goods such as laptops, a refurbished product is likely but for cheaper products it seems common to provide a new replacement. I do not know Amazon’s policy regarding defective Kindles.

From the introduction: “After this point [after the refund period has expired], you will still be entitled to one repair or replacement, and then a refund after this point if the item is still faulty.”

This is a great step forward. Many of us have bought a faulty item and had it ‘repaired’ or replaced, only to find the same problem. At this stage, most people would welcome replacement.

It would be interesting to know if this applies to cars. With such an expensive and complex products I think companies should be entitled to a couple of attempts to sort out problems.

wev says:
21 June 2013

I’d like to know if this applies to televisions and computers.

I bought some iPhones from Apple during their Christmas extended returns policy which allowed refunds until 7th January 2013, well beyond my statutory rights but their returns policy gave me a contractual right. Apple refused after many attempts to honour the extended policy. I therefore did a chargeback through American Express using Section 75. American Express were extremely efficient and helpful and I got my refund very quickly. A month later, Apple contacted me to collect the iPhones, which they subsequently did. The moral of this story is always buy with a credit card, particularly when the price is between £100 and £30,000.

richard says:
21 June 2013

So far – every time I’ve wanted an exchange or refund for an item I’ve bought – I have had virtually instant satisfaction. But I’ve always returned item – with receipt to supplier. and always been very polite when dealing with all members of the staff – It ranges from a grapefruit – to expensive electronics – I always pay by Credit card.

kindles waste of time says:
24 June 2013

I received one for xmas I must say My heart sank but it was a present so I smiled. I have only had one book on it I ended up with two sentences of the book left but the worst part is the customer service is appalling. They cannot speak English how does that work. WE’re a literary nation how can it be that a person working at amazon book dept cannot make themselves understood about books?
Oh give me an old fashioned bookshop anytime of the day at least I will have more than two sentences in it made me laugh sooo hard though It reminded me of the Tony Hancock sketch where the last page of the book is missing and Hancock couldn’t find the end of the plot I think that book was called lady don’t fall backwards. I don’t think I will be reading the rime of the Ancient mariner anytime soon lord knows what will happen to him if his ship goes missing. And what about the Lady of Shallot and her curse? will we ever find out what happened?
“a curse has come upon me” cried the lady of shallot
Wodehouses gorgeous prose Will the sun finally set upon Blandings?
Dickens Great expectations won’t be upto much on a kindle we’ll never know what happened with just two sentences left.Our literary giants will become pygmys with the help of kindle support.

Sag111 says:
24 July 2013

I need some advice

I bought some toilet water and parfum from a department store’s website. Most of it didn’t smell of anything, or just a horrible smell. It’s probably old stock they should have thrown away instead of selling.

They’ve refused to refund me because I took it out of the plastic wrapper. It’s still in its cardboard box, but they say it’s not saleable now, even though there’s something wrong with it.

Their website didn’t say anything about these kinds of things being unrefundable.

What does the Sale of Goods Act say? Can I get a refund?

Hello Sag, yes you can turn to the Sale of Goods Act and argue that the product was not of satisfactory quality, reject the item and ask for a refund. The fact it’s been taken out of the wrapper doesn’t take away any of those rights. You couldn’t have known whether it was fit for purpose without taking it out of its packaging!

Here are some of our consumer rights guides to help you:




I bought a coat online using a promotional code and returned the item within 7 days of receiving it. The company are now saying I am not entitled to a refund, only online store credit. Reading the Consumer Regulations I don’t think they can do this. Am I actually entitled to a refund?

Ashley, on the face of what you say you are entitled to a refund, including the delivery cost (if any) in sending it to you, but not the return cost.

A summary of an explanation to traders says:
10. 14 day right to cancel for goods bought at a distance or off-premises
If you sell goods to a consumer at a distance or off-premises…then the consumer has a 14 calendar day period in which they may change their mind and cancel the contract…….
The consumer may use this 14 day cooling off period to cancel without giving a reason, if goods were bought off-premises or at a distance.
The 14 day period starts the day after the consumer, or someone selected by the consumer, receives the goods……
Once the consumer has notified you that they wish to cancel the contract, they must return the goods to you without delay and within 14 days after that notification, unless you have offered to collect them or the contract was off-premises and the goods were delivered to the consumer’s home and could not normally be returned by post due to their nature.
You should refund all monies received. This includes the outbound delivery cost, unless the consumer chose to have the goods delivered by more expensive means than the cheapest standard delivery option offered…….You must repay the consumer without undue delay, and no later than 14 days starting the day after you receive the goods back. If the consumer provides proof of return before you receive the goods back, you should refund without undue delay and no later than 14 days starting the day after you receive that proof.
You do not have to pay the cost of returning the goods to you, provided you told the consumer before the contract was made that they would be liable for such costs.
You have a right to deduct monies from refunds where goods show signs of use or unreasonable handling leading to diminished value. ….”