Returning unwanted Christmas gifts

Returning unwanted Christmas gifts

Whether it's a Christmas jumper that doesn't fit or a gadget you'll never use, chances are at some point you've received a present you don't want. But there's no need to let an unwanted gift go to waste – this guide explains how to return it, sell it, regift it or just give it away.

I've been given a present I'll never wear (eg, a garish woolly scarf) that was bought in a store – can I just return it? Legally, neither you nor the buyer have any automatic right to return items bought in stores, unless they're faulty – see more on faulty goods return rights below.

Many shops do have their own return policies, which means the buyer may be able to return the present and get a refund, exchange or credit note. But if that's the case, this is a voluntary goodwill gesture offered at the shop's discretion, not a legal right – and it doesn't necessarily extend to you as the recipient, unless you have a gift receipt.

That said, many shops do allow the recipient to return gifts even if they only have the sales receipt (rather than a gift receipt). Again it's a voluntary goodwill gesture, and it's much more likely you'll get an exchange or credit note than a refund, but it's usually offered if you ask, particularly by big chains, so it's always worth trying.

I have a gift receipt for a present bought in-store which I don't want – can I return it? Return rights, whether legally enforced or voluntary, generally apply only to the person who actually paid for the item, and you'll usually need a receipt to prove it.

However, if you have a gift receipt or the present-giver got the shop assistant to write both on your receipt and the store's copy of the receipt that it was a gift, eg, "bought as a gift for Bob", then having this should help you as the recipient can at least exchange the item.

While gift receipts aren't specifically covered by consumer rights law and aren't offered by every retailer, if a store's willing to provide a gift receipt, it generally means it's willing to help you – though unless the present is faulty, you're at the whim of the store's own returns policy.

What happens if the present was bought online and I just don't want it? If your gift was bought online, over the phone or by mail order, then the good news is the person who bought it has additional return rights under the Consumer Contracts Regulations.

Essentially, they have 14 days after they receive their order to notify the seller that they intend to return the item and get a full refund – and if they choose to do this, they then have a further 14 days after notifying the seller to actually return the item. So even if there's nothing wrong with the item and you just want to get something else, unless it's something perishable or personalised, you can ask the person who gave you it to return it.

If you have a gift receipt, while you don't have the same legal rights, most stores will allow you to exchange, even if they won't offer a refund. For example, Marks & Spencer says if you have a gift receipt for an item bought online, you can return it to one of its stores and you'll receive a credit note. If you return it via the post, the refund will go to the original payment card.

Without a gift receipt, even if a retailer does let someone other than the buyer return an item, you'll still probably have to go via the buyer, as any refund would go to the original payment card and any exchange would likely be delivered to the same address.

What are my rights for faulty items? If you're returning an item that's faulty, the buyer can get a full refund if they return it within 30 days, though it's safest to do it ASAP. After 30 days, the store's obliged to provide a repair or replacement item in the first instance – though of course it may choose to offer you a refund if you ask. See our Consumer Rights guide for more info.

If you didn't buy the item but have a gift receipt, effectively the same rights should be transferred to you, though as above this isn't specifically stated in consumer law. 

Drat – I don't have a receipt. Do I absolutely need it? If you weren't given a gift receipt and the item you're returning isn't faulty, it's definitely worth trying to get the original receipt from the person who bought the present – some shops may allow you to return items without one, but it depends on the individual store's returns policy.

If the gift is faulty, you don't need a receipt – you simply need to show 'proof of purchase', eg, a bank statement or credit card statement.

Do I need the same credit or debit card an item was bought with? Not necessarily – but if you don't have it, you may find it difficult because some shops will only process refunds via the same payment method. So, if your Nan bought that scarf on her debit or credit card, it won't be possible to give you cash for it. You may have to settle on exchanging the item or getting a credit note.

Check the store's own policies, as they may be more generous. Set out formally, your legal rights may seem limited, but as explained above, the reality is that in practice most shops are more lenient if you're only asking for an exchange. In fact, after Christmas many retailers actually extend these policies to allow more time for people to return gifts in January.

It varies between stores, so it's worth checking. For example, Debenhams' standard refund policy allows customers to return items and get a refund within 28 days. However, over the Christmas period it extends its policy, so this year customers buying goods between 24 October and 24 December have until 31 January 2020 to return them.

While Marks & Spencer normally operates a 'goodwill' returns policy, which gives customers 35 days to return or exchange an item with a receipt, for items bought online from 10 October onwards it has an additional Christmas returns policy, which means if the 35 days has expired you can still return items bought online until 11 January 2020.

This all sounds like a hassle – can't I just regift my present to a niece/friend/great-auntie-once-removed? Absolutely. This is probably the easiest and most cost-effective way of disposing of an unwanted gift.

It might be a good idea to keep a drawer or cardboard box in your wardrobe for such gifts and make it your first port of call before you buy anything new. Just make sure you don't give it back to the person who gave it to you in the first place. Putting a tag on it when you receive it will help prevent any future regifting embarrassments.

If I can't get a refund, exchange or credit note, what are my options? Can I sell it? Yes, this is an excellent option. Flogging your unwanted presents is a good way of converting them into cash without offending anyone.

You can try selling items on eBay, local Facebook selling groups and other sites such as Gumtree – but bear in mind that in January lots of people will be doing the same, so prices can dip. See our 40+ eBay selling tips and Facebook Selling guides for more.

For CDs, DVDs or books, there are specialist trade-in sites which make selling quick and easy, though again you may not always get the best price.

It's too much effort to sell it – what's the best way to give it away? Charity shops are crying out for unwanted or duplicate gifts, and you'll get a warm, fuzzy feeling for doing something good. Alternatively, you could always list the item on Freecycle or other giving sites – see our Freecycle & Freegle guide for more details.