Thanks but no thanks

Published Monday, 06 January 2014
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A guide to returning unwanted gifts and purchases.

None of us wants to seem ungrateful but it's a sure bet we're stuck with one or two Christmas presents this year that we won't use and would be too embarrassed to give to someone else!

Philippa McKeown-Brown from the Consumer Council provides guidance on returning those unwanted gifts.


The law says that unless goods are faulty, don't fit the description or aren't fit for their purpose, the shop doesn't have to do anything for you. However, many stores have a 'goodwill' returns policy and will offer you an exchange, credit note or refund.

Time Limits

If you want to return unwanted gifts, you'll need to act fast because there are often time limits imposed for non-faulty goods.


There are some things you can't return; hard copies of music, films and computer games can't be refunded if they're no longer sealed. Restrictions also apply to personalised goods such as a T-shirt printed with your favourite holiday snap or perishable goods like a food hamper. Earrings, make-up, lingerie, toiletries and night-wear may also be refused for hygiene reasons, even if unused.

Proof of Purchase

By law, you don't need a receipt to return goods. If the item was bought on a debit or credit card, the statement showing the transaction can act as proof of purchase. However, having a receipt (or a gift receipt) really helps.

In reality though, many stores, especially the larger ones, are willing to use their discretion and refund people who return unwanted gifts without a receipt.


If you're at all unsure about a present you've been given, don't throw away the packaging or remove labels because it may look as if you've used the item.


It's likely you'll be offered an exchange or credit note instead of a cash refund.

Cash refunds, unlike an exchange or credit note, are normally determined by the method goods were paid for. So, if your dear old auntie bought the gift with her debit card, you'll need to admit you don't like the itchy mustard-coloured jumper she bought and have her return it to the shop so the money can be put back on her card.

Sale items

You have exactly the same consumer rights with sale items as with non-sale items. In other words, if the item is not as described; not fit for purpose or not of satisfactory quality then depending on the circumstances, you may be entitled to a repair, replacement or refund.

If you return a non-faulty gift without a receipt and the item is in the sale, it's likely you'll only be offered the item's current, cheaper value.

Bought Online

If the gift was bought online, (or by mail order catalogue, TV shopping channel, telephone or post), the Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations 2000 give you seven working days, starting the day after the item was delivered, to change your mind and ask for a full refund. You must cancel your order in writing i.e. email, fax or letter. There are some exceptions including orders for personalised and perishable goods, CDs and DVDs if they're unsealed, or tickets for events such as a concert.

To make use of these laws, you'll need to ask the gift buyer for their proof of purchase, e.g. an order confirmation and you'll also need to know when they received the item, if it wasn't delivered directly to you.

You might have to pay postage costs for returning the item, although some online retailers let you return them to a high street branch of their store.


It's possible you don't always buy the right presents either. Yes, your nephew loved Thomas the Tank Engine a few years ago but he might not thank you for the themed pyjamas now he's twelve!

Shop returns policies vary so it's worth checking when you buy whether you'll be able to return goods that aren't suitable and also get into the habit of requesting a gift receipt.


The Consumer Council has produced useful Receipt Wallets so that you can keep gift and sales receipts in a safe place and handy guides called 'Online Shopping Tips' and 'Safer Ways to Pay', which contain lots of valuable information. To request free copies, telephone 028 9067 2488 or email

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Consumer Council
Consumer Council

The Consumer Council is an independent consumer organisation, working to bring about change to benefit Northern Ireland's consumers.

They aim to make consumer voices heard and make them count.

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