It is quite likely that this Christmas we will receive at least one Christmas gift that either doesn’t fit us or we simply dislike. In such situations the first thing that comes to mind is to either exchange the gift with something else or request a credit note.
The law stipulates that sellers are obliged to accept returns of items only if the goods purchased are faulty. This means that when we want to return a product because we do not want it and not because it is faulty, shops are under no legal obligation to give us consumers a refund or to exchange the unwanted gift. In such situations, shops are only obliged to adhere to the promised return policies.
As receivers of unwanted gifts, the first thing we need to do is to check if we have been given a gift receipt. If we have such receipt then we should not have any difficulty to exchange the unwanted gift. All we need to do is make sure that we observe the terms and conditions written on the gift receipt. The timing of the return is the most important condition to look for. It is our responsibility as consumers to return the unwanted goods before the gift receipt expires.
We should also look out for other conditions, such as whether or not we need to keep the original packaging and the tags attached. There may also be additional restrictions with regard to made-to-measure or personalised goods, or if the gift is a perishable item. Even items that come into close physical contact with the body, such as earrings, make-up and certain items of clothing are often excluded from a shop’s return policies for hygiene reasons.
If we are not provided with a gift receipt and we do not know from which shop the gift was purchased, then we will need to speak with the person who gave us the gift and ask them for the original receipt or some other proof of purchase. On the other hand, if we know from where the gift was bought, we may also try to speak to the seller and ask if it is possible to change the gift without the receipt. If the seller refuses to do so, we cannot proceed legally against him.
If we receive a faulty gift we need to keep in mind that as consumers we have specific legal rights and that shops’ return policies cannot negatively affect these rights. In such situations, consumers are entitled to have the defective gift either repaired or replaced. If such solutions are not possible, we can claim a part or full refund. When we are entitled to a refund, it is not in our best interest to accept a credit note. A credit note is not the equivalent of cash as it carries with it terms and conditions that need to be observed. Moreover, once a credit note is accepted, we cannot exchange it back into cash.
With regard to gifts bought online we should remember that if these gifts were bought from an EU seller, then by law we have 14 days to change our mind and return unwanted gifts. During Christmas time some sellers allow more time to return unwanted purchases, so one should check the terms and conditions. While the law entitles us to a full refund of the money paid for the goods we intend to return, we should remember that we have to pay the cost of returning the unwanted item as long as we have been informed about these costs by the seller before the sale was concluded. If not, the return costs must be paid by the seller.
Once the seller is informed about our intention of returning the purchased items, he is obliged to refund the money paid within 14 days from the day he either receives the unwanted goods or from the day we provide evidence that the items have been returned. In situations where the seller either refuses to honour pre-sale return policies or refuses to give the remedies that consumers are entitled to, the latter may contact the Office for Consumer Affairs for assistance.
Odette Vella is director, Information, Education and Research Directorate, Office for Consumer Affairs, Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority.
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