Everything you need to know about returning unwanted Christmas gifts

If any of your Crimbo gifts leave you wondering whether your nearest and dearest know you AT ALL then worry not, it is possible to get what you ACTUALLY want this Christmas with minimum fuss and almost no awkwardness (we hope). Our no-nonsense guide answers all of your burning questions about returning those well-meaning but totally off-piste gifts you’d rather forget. Now where to start...  

Every year retailers get even better at catering for the super lazy, and we love this flexibility in making returning unwanted gifts much less painful than it needs to be. Normal returns periods are 14 days for online orders and 28 days for in-store buys but over Christmas, many extend. You’ll have to be quick for NEXT though, unwanted gifts can only be returned up to 10 days after Christmas Day!

Some returns policies start for gifts bought as early as October (House of FraserNew Look, PANDORA and Topshop to name but a few) and some end on mad-dash Christmas Eve buys at the likes of ASOS, Anthropologie and Oliver BonasOthers carry on through until the end of December (thank you Amazon, Dorothy Perkins and Urban Outfitters). Many of these extended timeframes give you until the end of January 2017 to give your gift back but others like Currys PC World and River Island are a little earlier on 14th January 2017.

But if we’re talking about returns generosity then it’s John Lewis all the way. With them, you have a whopping 90 days to return your unwanted gift. Similarly, Marks & Spencer’s ‘goodwill’ returns policy offers a respectable 35 days to refund or exchange online or in-store buys. 

Can I cancel an order if I change my mind?

There’s a special distance selling regulation for online orders that’s perfect for the fickle-minded. It applies to ALL brands and says you have the right to cancel your order with them and return your items within 14 calendar days from the day after the date you receive it. Handy if you find out you’ve doubled-up on a gift for someone. If your order hasn’t been dispatched yet (you’ll know by email if it has) you should get a refund quicker and you won’t have to return anything. If you just miss the dispatch you can still cancel but you’ll have to return the item for a refund as normal.

Do you always need a receipt?

Yes and no. Yes, you definitely do if you’re hoping to get back what you paid. House of Fraser are pretty strict and say they won’t do refunds or exchanges without a proof of purchase e.g. receipt, dispatch note or order confirmation. John Lewis, however, are more relaxed. If you return something to one of their stores without a receipt, they’ll give you a gift card of the amount the item costs at that time. So if the gift is cheaper now, you’ll lose out. Note to self: ALWAYS keep the receipt.  

Do I need the original packaging to return a gift?

A hundred times yes! You don’t have a hope of getting a refund if you’ve sent something back that looks used or worn. If your gift is going back, it has to be in a condition where it can be put straight back on the shelf - that means all the labels, plastic sleeves and other original packaging. Debenhams even say be careful when trying on clothes, as make-up marks or deodorant stains will seriously damage your chance of getting any moolah back. 

Generally speaking, retailers prefer you to return the item by the method it was bought, however, online purchases can be taken back to a physical store but this doesn’t work the other way around. Always check with the retailer first; a lot of them will accept returns in any store but other smaller branches can’t accept returns at all. If in doubt, go back to the store you bought it from or call customer services. Also consider your timings. At Miss Selfridge, you only get 14 days to return an online order whereas in-store purchases can be returned within 28 days, so it’s worth finding out when and how your gift was bought - even if it is a little, er, awkward.

When can’t I get a refund?

Being able to return unwanted products is usually no problem for any store, but in manically busy periods like January sales, returns might be limited. New Look and River Island for example won’t process any refunds in-store on Boxing Day.

Are delivery costs refundable too?

This really depends on the retailer. John Lewis will refund the cost of delivery if you’re returning the whole order, but not if the returned items are part of a bigger order. Anthropologie don’t refund delivery at all, Oliver Bonas offer free returns if the parcel weighs under 2kg but ASOS offer free returns on any order, all year-round. If returning an online order in-store you are very unlikely to get the delivery cost refunded back to you as well as the item cost.

What if my gift is from a concession store?

Most of the time you can’t return an item to store if it’s a concession within a department store e.g. Anthropologie in Selfridges, Topshop in Debenhams. Concession brand collections e.g. Vero Moda at Dorothy Perkins should be returned by post, not to store.

Can I get a refund if my gift was in sale?

Who can blame your mum for picking up a bargain for your stocking - if you saw the perfect gift on sale, you know you would too! However, if that gift wasn’t so perfect after all, then you don’t have long to return sale items for a refund - usually 14 days, for some stores it’s even less.

This all depends on two little words: GIFT RECEIPT. Without one, you won’t be seeing any of that money, it will go back to the gift buyer, the way they bought it. With a gift receipt you’ll often find that you’ll get a gift card or credit note for the amount of your returned gift - this is what NEXT and Marks & Spencer does. Space NK will accept exchanges in-store with gift receipts but once again it’s John Lewis flying the flag for top class customer service allowing you to choose whether you’re refunded by cash, card or gift card, but ONLY if you have a gift receipt or dispatch note.

How long will it take to get my refund?

This really varies but whatever the policy, don’t forget to check back that your refund has been paid into your account. Some retailers like Topshop and Feel Unique are really speedy saying it will take about a week (plus any extra bank transfer time), Boots are also really good with an estimate of 14 days to process refunds. Bear in mind that refunds might take longer just after Christmas so keep checking your bank balance (not our favourite thing to do in January).  

Anything I can’t return?

As a rule, you won’t get any luck trying to return the following:  

- Cosmetics/fragrances once the packaging is opened/removed

- Pierced earrings or body jewellery

- Underwear/lingerie - unless the hygiene strip is still in place

- Store gift cards or gift vouchers

- Hampers or food

- Made-to-measure or personalised items

- Hats or hair products

Can I always get an exchange?

There shouldn't be any problem with this in-store, however, not all retailers can offer exchanges by post. Some brands like ASOS, Topshop and New Look will ask you to return the unwanted item and place a new order for the thing you really want.

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