Did your Christmas presents not arrive in time? You won't be able to make up for the disappointment, but you may be able to get your money back, or keep the item and claim compensation.

However, your rights depend on how you ordered them, as our guide below explains. (For further information, check our Consumer Rights guide.)

I ordered online, by phone or mail

Crucially, you're often protected by the Distance Selling Regulations. These mean you're entitled to a refund within seven days, no matter what the reason, if the buyer doesn't want the present.

You'll also get back the delivery costs you paid to get the item in the first place, but not necessarily the cost to return it, if it's arrived.

However, there are exceptions where this guarantee won't apply. These apply to:

  • Fresh food and flowers
  • Personalised goods
  • Accommodation/transport/leisure services purchased for a particular timeframe
  • Newspapers and magazines
  • Software that has been opened
  • A service that has already started, such as a mobile phone contract.

I still want the item, but want compensation too. You may still have rights — see below.

I'm not protected by distance selling. (Exceptions above and in-store orders.)

  • It was meant to arrive by Christmas, but didn't. If you ordered by the store's stated last delivery date, or you have proof the store agreed to deliver in time (such as a note it wrote on your receipt), it has broken its contract with you.

    As long as you have proof, you are entitled to your money back if you don't want the item. If you still want it, you might be entitled to some money off the price, such as the delivery cost.

  • I paid for a premium delivery service but it was late. If you want to keep the goods, most retailers should refund the delivery fee, or at least the difference between its standard and premium delivery fee, even if you want to keep the goods.

    For example, Amazon will refund the fee if your guaranteed delivery is late. If you don't want the item, ask for a refund as the store may have broken its contract with you.

  • What if the retailer's policy allows refunds for unwanted gifts? If you don't want the item, return it and make a claim.

  • None of the above apply. Technically, like your Christmas turkey, you're stuffed. But there's no harm in asking for compensation or a refund if you return the goods, as a kind-hearted store may agree.

How do I get a refund?

Contact the retailer to find out the best way to return the item, cancel the order or claim compensation.

Any returned goods must be in a reasonable condition. It is not essential they are returned in original packaging, but it helps.

You may be required to pay for return delivery, depending on the terms and conditions. Nevertheless, ask for all costs back. If you don't ask, you probably won't get.

If the retailer puts up a fight, you can ask for advice from the Citizens Advice Consumer Helpline (08454 04 05 06). It may mean going to court to get your money back.

'Don't be afraid to ask'

MoneySavingExpert.com campaigns coordinator Wendy Alcock says: "Although you usually have the legal right to cancel an order if delivery was late, if you decide to keep the item, let the store know you're unhappy with its service.

"If you had extra expense, such as paying a higher fee to guarantee Christmas delivery, or the late delivery caused you distress and inconvenience, don't be afraid to ask for money back.

"You might not get it without a fight. But with our sometimes rotten delivery culture, consumer power is the way to help improve standards."