Christmas is a time for friends and family – it is also a time when people go a bit nuts flashing the cash, or the card, while trying desperately to get the ultimate gift in time for the big day. Whether you’ve been flying through that gift list while online or during shopping trips abroad there’s a few things to remember about your EU consumer rights for Christmas shopping returns.
When can you cool off? The 14 day cooling off period
The Christmas shopping rush can get a bit crazy. There’s the mad crowds who seem to bang into you with kamikaze-like precision followed by the ultimate test of patience of battling your way home (bus and Luas survivors know the pain). If you want to avoid this carnage then being able to go online and get through that Christmas gift list from the comfort of your own home without even having to get out of your pjs is a God send.
Fuelled by copius amounts of hot chocolate, you’re ready to grab that credit card and punch in those digits. However, sometimes our enthusiasm can get the better of us and we haven’t really thought things through before hitting that purchase button. Or maybe, once we receive the goods it isn’t what we expected or we just simply change our minds? Whatever the reason the other good thing about shopping online is that consumers can avail of the right to withdraw, otherwise known as the 14 day cooling off period.
Under EU rules, when you’re shopping online from a trader based within the EU/EEA you have 14 calendar days to cancel the contract and return the purchases to the seller without having to give a reason. If you simply change your mind, that’s fine. When you buy something in a store you have the chance to pick the good up, test it, ask questions, try it on (if applicable) but when shopping online you can’t do this so the cooling off period is something that the European Commission brought in to level the playing field and give consumers a chance to decide if they really want the good(s) or not.
When does the cooling off period kick in?
This is very important to remember, particularly if it applies to a Christmas gift that you have bought for someone. When you pay for the online purchase and receive your order confirmation but then change your mind, you should really try to inform the trader as soon as you can. However, if the product has already been dispatched then don’t worry because the 14 day cooling off period will begin from the day you receive the item. Once you’ve told the trader that you wish to avail of your right to withdraw from the contract then you have another 14 days to send the product back (You might consider sending the product back by registered post so that you have proof that this has been done).
If you buy a Christmas gift online and it arrives into your thankful hands in the nick of time on Friday 22nd December but then by 4th January (13th day of the first 14 day cooling off period) the person you gave it to decides they don’t like it. Trying not to take offence, you contact the trader that very same day to let them know you want to return the product, then you’ll have until the 18th to return it safe and sound.
Please note: You may have to pay for the cost of returning the product. You should also take all necessary steps to ensure that the product is returned to the seller in good condition.
Some purchases are not covered by the 14 day cooling off period
There are some online purchases that are not covered by the cooling-off period. These include:
- Hotel bookings, car rental, travel tickets and other leisure services (contracts that apply to a specific date or period of performance);
- Goods made to your specifications or which are clearly personalised;
- Audio and visual recordings, or computer software, which has been unsealed by the consumer;
- Services that have already begun, with the consumer’s agreement, before the end of the 14 working day period;
- Goods which are liable to deteriorate or expire rapidly, for example, perishable goods;
- Gaming or lottery services.
Trader’s obligations in relation to the cooling off period
Under EU legislation, traders are obligated to provide certain information on their websites that includes providing information in relation to the the right to cancel – that it exists and how to do it. If a consumer does not receive information on the right to cancel, the cancellation period may be extended by 12 months.
Refund and exchange is not automatic right for in store purchases
Maybe you’ve been lucky enough to go on a lovely shopping trip abroad – a quick hop over to London’s Oxford Street, pick up some wonderful leather goods in Italy or especially delicious chocolates in Belgium. Or maybe you’re planning on spending Christmas in sunnier climes – anyone for turkey near a Spanish beach?
Wherever you’ve been or plan to go within the EU/EEA, if you’ve bought something from a shop under EU consumer legislation you are entitled to certain rights when things go wrong. However, you are not automatically entitled to a refund or exchange just because you changed your mind and don’t want it anymore. This also applies if you bought something from a shop down the road on the high street in Ireland.
If you bought something in person from a shop then the returns policy is really up to the trader, as long as it doesn’t adversely affect statutory consumer rights (for example, your rights when the good turns out to be faulty), but some shops may offer some form of exchange or refund as a gesture of goodwill and even have extended Christmas policies. Be warned however, this may sometimes only be a refund in the form of a credit note or gift voucher rather than money back. Many traders provide normal receipts and gift receipts that have the returns policy written on it.
For this reason, it is very important to take the time to ask a store representative what the return policy is, particularly if the item is a gift or is on sale at a reduced price.
Ask questions like: ‘What if the person I’m giving this to doesn’t like it, can he/she bring it back?’; ‘I’m buying this for a person in [county/country], can they bring it back to one of your stores there if it’s not suitable?’; ‘Do you give gift receipts?’; ‘How long do I have to return/exchange this?’; or ‘Do you still except returns if the package is opened?’. If you’ve bought the goods abroad then you need to find out how you can return it, where to send it, and what to do if it turns out to be faulty.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions and if the staff member you’re asking doesn’t know make sure to speak to someone who does. Better to be safe than sorry and ask the questions now rather than when it’s too late.
The dreaded Christmas/sales returns – your rights!
We all know the dread of receiving a Christmas present and painting that ‘oh, I love it, but not really’ look on your face before running away to the naughty corner to check the gift receipt and when you can return it (ninja-like skill may be needed to return the said present without the gift-giver noticing but at least you have a fighting chance).
If you have a gift receipt then happy days – no need for the awkward, ‘I don’t really like it, can I have the receipt please’ conversation with your soon-to-be insulted, but pretending not to be, nearest and dearest. Or maybe you’ve bought something in the January sales that has led you to seriously question your capacity to make a decent or sane purchasing decision? Whatever your reasons for wanting to return items it is important to note a few things, you know, before you go into the shop or contact the trader all guns blazing.
First of all, if you simply change your mind about something that was bought in a shop you are not automatically entitled to a refund or exchange. In fact, return policies are really up to the trader (as long as they don’t prejudice your statutory consumer rights) and may differ from store to store. So this means that the trader can establish its own policy as long as it doesn’t go against other consumer rights, for example the right that the good(s) should be in conformity with the contract of sale (Sale of Goods and Associated Guarantees Directive 99/44/EC) and your rights in relation to faulty goods or delayed or non-delivery.
Most traders do offer some sort of return, exchange, or credit note policy as a gesture of goodwill but remember, it is not an automatic right, except in relation to certain online purchases.
If you haven’t already done so, you can check the returns policy in the terms and conditions section of the website or contact the trader to enquire. When a trader does accept returns you have an obligation to keep the item safe and clean, and return it with all the original labels, tags, and packaging. If you don’t have a receipt but the purchase was made using a bank/credit card you could also use the statement as proof of purchase.
The only time you have a legal entitlement to return an unwanted product is when you buy through a distance contract (for example, online shopping) as you have the right to withdraw from the contract within a 14 day cooling-off period. This withdrawal period kicks in from the time you receive the goods. This will probably be of no good to people who received gifts bought before Christmas but those who recently bought something online, like during the January sales, may still be covered by this. However, if the trader fails to provide information on the right to cancel your cancellation period may be extended by 12 months. There are some purchases that are not covered by the cooling-off period. More information about the cooling off period and exceptions can be found here.
Remember, you have the same consumer statutory rights (product must be of merchantable quality, fit for their intended purpose and as described) shopping in the sales as you do at any other time of the year. Your rights do not change if the item being returned is faulty just because it is now on sale and you are entitled to a refund of the full price or a replacement of the same value, with proof of purchase. However, shops are within their rights to change their returns policies during sales periods so it’s always good to check the policy before making a purchase.