Money is tight for everyone this year, so make sure you’ve set your face to ‘grateful’ when you unwrap your prezzies and share a bit of the love.

However, not all gifts are going to be… well… your thing. You may also own the gift already but pointing that out feels a bit awkward. So here’s my guide to returning items or getting some cash for the things you don’t want or need. I promise not to tell on you.

Check the wrapping

When you’re unwrapping your gifts, take your time and keep an eye out for any gift receipts tucked in with the present.

A gift receipt is essential for returning gifts. No-one’s feelings get hurt, it’s a tacit way of saying ‘if you hate this gift, I don’t mind if you swap it’ and everyone wins. The receipts are pretty much the same as a normal receipt, but it doesn’t have the price on. All you need to do is pop to the shop or log in online, share the receipt and depending on the retailer’s policy, you can get a refund or (more likely) a credit note.

Damaged goods

I often mention the law when it comes to buying goods and services, but it’s worth repeating. The Consumer Rights Act allows you to return anything that’s not as advertised or damaged. If this is done within 30 days of purchase, you get a full refund. That includes if a courier company has chucked it over a fence.

If your gift falls in to the damaged goods category, then life is easier if you don’t like it.  If you don’t have a gift receipt, you’ll need to ask the purchaser to return the item and get a refund. Bear in mind though that you’ll need to ask them for the cash instead, or you could end up with the same gift, but functioning as advertised. Once 30 days have passed since the point of purchase, the retailer has one shot at a replacement or repair, before they have to give in and give back the money. So you might need to come clean about your true feelings if too much time has passed.

Online shopping

There’s another option for you if the item was bought online in the last 14 days. If the gift isn’t opened or used, then the purchaser could get a full refund for you.

This is because if you buy online, the Consumer Contract Regulations 2013 give you 14 days to return an item if it’s not for you. There doesn’t have to be anything wrong with it, though you will have to come up with an excuse to give to the person who bought you the gift. I would never suggest misleading your friends or relatives, but I would point out that there are lots of duplicate gifts given at this time of year, which is a popular reason for returning items…

What if I just don’t like it?

If you want to return something that you don’t like or it just isn’t your thing then the rules are a bit different.

Some stores do allow you to return items with standard or gift receipts, if something *ahem* doesn’t fit, for example. The shop is allowed to set the rules and timescales for returning items that you don’t want but they can insist on you providing the receipt so don’t lose it. The jury is out on whether a photo of a receipt counts, so speak to the store before you go in to avoid an argument over the tills.

That gift receipt I mentioned earlier is basically an additional receipt provided by the retailer with the price not included, so the person who gets the gift can return and exchange items. The traditional receipt works in a similar way though the purchaser must return the goods to get a cash refund.

You may have to settle for a credit note for these returns if that’s the store’s policy. But remember – if the goods are damaged or not as advertised, the purchaser is entitled to a full refund.

What goods can’t I return?

There are a few things you’re just going to have to live with, I’m afraid:

Perishable goods – from food to flowers, if it’s time in this world is limited, chances are you can’t return it.

Package penetrated – Refunds for goods that aren’t damaged are at the store’s discretion and most have rules around opened or damaged packaging. If something has been worn, that’s out too. And underwear or other ‘intimate’ items are usually excluded for obvious reasons.

Crafty gifts and things made for you – If the gift has been personalised with your name or initials then you can’t return the goods (so think twice before getting that expensive phone engraved). The same goes for things created for you, as these have effectively been commissioned, though the seller may consider a return if the item could be resold.

Before you attempt to return

Check the website of the store and note down its returning policy. Remember if you’re going to the high street, staff will be dealing with the sales and long queues of grumpy people, so be nice. It helps to have the returns policy to hand just in case, so why not save a screenshot on your smartphone or print one off? If you can contact the business beforehand, you could save yourself a lot of time and frustration.

Regift or sell it on

Of course, you can take matters into your own hands and sell on the item. There are literally hundreds of vintage, specialist and second-hand online and app-based marketplaces where you can sell pretty much anything. Watch out for the buyer/seller contract rules though and make sure you’ve checked the postage rules. Many a budding retailer has come unstuck when a delivery dispute is raised by the buyer.

Remember even the most hideous jumper or ornament will have someone out there who loves it. So don’t bin anything that you can’t sell, share or regift.

Martyn James is a leading consumer rights campaigner, TV and radio broadcaster and journalist.

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