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Unwanted gifts: goodwill or good riddance?

unwanted gift

No matter how well you know someone, at some stage you’ll receive – or gift them – a Christmas present that doesn’t fit, isn’t quite right or just isn’t liked. So what do you do about them?

It can be socially awkward to explain to a friend or family member that green and purple aren’t your colours or you don’t want to use the hackable smart toy they gave you for obvious reasons. So what do we do with those gifts that fail to hit the mark?

We surveyed over 2,000 people about their shopping and gifting habits last Christmas. The research revealed that almost one in three had received at least one unwanted Christmas present last year.

Only 4% of recipients plucked up the courage to speak to the giver and ask for a receipt to get either a replacement or a refund, and the same small percentage tried to return their unwanted gift to the retailer for store credit.

Ungratefully received

As Christmas is the season of good cheer and a time for being grateful, it’s understandable that not all of us would want to pipe up if we unwrap something we like less than the wrapping paper.

Instead of trying to return or exchange gifts, our research revealed that the most common solutions, adopted by just over a third of recipients, were either regifting or donating the item to charity.

One in five went on to sell their unwanted gift on an online marketplace, such as eBay or Gumtree, and almost the same number decided to simply accept the gift and do nothing.

A small number of people took the somewhat drastic step of simply throwing their unwanted present in the bin.

Is there a gift you would be vocal about giving back? What do you do with gifts you don’t really need or want?


I think giving people soap – however nice – might be misinterpreted.

For family gifts we have no problem in getting them exchanged; the giver will usually say “if you don’t like it, or it doesn’t fit, I’ve got the receipt and you can change it.” If it is from someone else, treat a gift as a show of goodwill and don’t possibly offend the giver – grin and bear it.

Struggling to find the right presents for other adults who seem to have everything they need, and almost everything they want that is in the right price range, has become difficult. Books are a good option but good ones are getting very expensive nowadays. At least for the next generation down we have a good idea of their wants, tastes and sizes, and for grandchildren one can always ask their parents.

We all like surprises but there is a limit to how many more accessories we need. Sometimes there is a hidden meaning along the lines of “it’s about time you stopped wearing that old/worn out/baggy/hideous (insert appropriate garment)”.

As you say, books are expensive so we tend to buy secondhand books through Abebooks; much cheaper.

This year, for the reasons you touch on, we did not give adult family members presents. Well, that was the idea, but “stockings” increased in size and when we visited, or were visited, a small gift was presented.

It has been suggested we try a “Secret Santa” next year with a limit to the cost of the present. Each of us lists, perhaps, three things we would like and the lists are taken at random by each family member. The gift then is chosen and given anonymously. I’ve suggested only giving stuff from a charity shop, but was outvoted (I was the only one in favour).

I like Abebooks – it is a good way of tracking down rare books when you want them.

A few years ago I bought a couple of second-hand books on line to complete a set that was no longer in print. They both came with public library bookplates [different libraries] and one still had the table of issue dates stuck on the first leaf and rubber stamp impressions across the top and bottom edges of the pages. Both books were in good condition and had their dust jackets intact which was important for me. I was not bothered by the other inclusions although they might have been unwelcome if given as a present! I later sold the set at auction and obtained a decent price.

Amazon is owner of Abebooks if anyone was unaware of this. I have bought some books direct from the dealer rather than have them pay commissions to Abe.

It is useful to know what people do with unwanted gifts.

I hope my family and friends would tell me if I got them something they didn’t like, or couldn’t use. I put a lot of effort in to my gift-giving so I would hope I got it right first time, but if I did get it wrong then I’d like the chance to correct it. On the other hand, I would never tell someone if I didn’t like a gift – so perhaps I’m asking too much from others.

I think What Happens Next depends on whether the present was opened in the presence of the giver. If they’re a house guest staying for a few days then one is obliged by the immutable laws of etiquette to make an attempt at wearing it, watching or listening to it, playing with it, taking it for a walk, or spraying it all over your torso. And once you’ve done that no shop will take it back for a refund or exchange. Be careful who you invite to stay.

Good point, John! I got my sister a jumper, which I ordered online, and I have spent since mid-November worrying it wouldn’t fit. When she opened it I said, “Is it the right size?” to which she replied “definitely!” and then put it on to prove it. Luckily, she was right.

It depends on how well you know the giftee. The clue is in Alex’s gift and her relationship with her sister. If you don’t know the giftee well, it could be a bit hit and miss if you have chosen something you like based on the premise that you think they may like it instead so as to alleviate guilt feelings of being branded a Scrooge, it could end up one of Melissa’s unwanted, ungratefully received gifts.

Thank goodness Christmas only comes once a year!

Alison says:
29 December 2017

As a child and teenager, I used to think my father was a bit of a grouch when he said “Just because it is Christmas, don’t think you have GOT to give me a present”. These days, waging constant war on clutter, I tend to agree with him and I try to limit what I give to things which can be consumed.

Some things, like those fancy boxes of soaps, handcreams and the like, are made solely for the purpose of being given as presents, especially “duty” presents in workplaces where there is an expectation that you give a gift to everyone in your department. The only sensible thing to do if you receive a load of them is to swap your hoard with a friend in the same situation (and different workplace) and put them away in the cupboard to give to each other’s colleagues next year.

Anyone else recollect the first chapter of The Lord of the Rings in which Bilbo on his birthday (hobbits give presents to their friends on their own birthdays) unusually bought all new presents? Hobbits regularly re-gifted old presents and there were some items, known as “mathoms”, which had been doing the rounds for decades.

Love it, as a hoarder in training… and no kids we gave/received very few pressies this year, and the one I got from a friend I didn’t need I gave to another friend who will appreciate it, even if she passes it on to someone else as a present, even working people have money problems these days and giving unwanted presents is a waste of time. My partner is so fussy with clothing and stuff I ‘got’ him a donation to a Third World charity, no clutter there,all done via email and people who really need something get helped.

I bought rugs for horses online in the sale the order went through said sizes i wanted instock paid with paypal. 2 days later got email saying system error and refunded my money so i phoned company said they should send rugs like the ones i ordered to get told management said cansel all orders for rugs and refund money. Can they do this if they have made mistake with there prices

You need to check their terms and conditions. It may be the Ts&Cs will say the order is not accepted until it has been despatched, in which case they can cancel. Technically if this istated, if your payment has been received (in their bank say) and acceptance of order is on receipt of confirmed payment then they should not be able to cancel – but you might have a job getting anywhere.

They said on phone that usally they would send another rug best match but they dont have any at that price as it was a system error

I returned a gift to Argos with out a receipt, they said they would refund £4.99 on a gift card! The item was being sold for £11.99!!
Good business!!

It had probably been on offer at the lower price, so without a receipt they had no way of knowing how much you paid for it (and presumably you have no way of knowing how much the gift giver paid!).

Refunding the lowest price it has been for sale at (in the absence of a receipt) is pretty standard, M&S do the same and I’m sure others do as well.

Bob L Hosey says:
19 September 2019

Shoulda kept the reciept there Mr Hosey.

I ordered a ski costume on an UK sport’ site, when the merchandise was delivered, in the delivery bag was only the ski jacket, even though on the list appeared the jacket and pants but in reality, the second item was missing.
I complained to the site customer service but they won’t initiate an investigation unless I send them a picture of the bag in which the jacket was delivered.
I thrown the bag away cause I did not know this requirement from the beginning.
What are my options?