Your guide to returning unwanted Christmas gifts and sale items

Kya deLongchamps examines the fraught and largely misunderstood process of returning unwanted goods gifted over Christmas or snatched up at the sales.

There’s never a time of more disparate, ill-considered stuff than late January.

The post-Christmas scramble for retail prey started long before the turkey bones bounced from plate to bin. Buying — oh so easy. 

Returning things to the vendor — not plain sailing. Be it unwanted pressies or hysterical, personal purchases, it’s important to know what you’re entitled to, what you are most certainly not entitled to — and what you might ease from the good will of a retailer.

Returning gifts

Flinging back that loving fancy of Christmas may seem cold, but with receipt or gift-receipt in hand and the understanding (or veiled ignorance) of the giver — why not? 

A retailer may take unused things back honouring them for either the price, for an exchange, or as credit in-store. 

However, keep in mind, it really is at their discretion unless they have a stated no-quibble policy.

You should have some proof of purchase to have any chance at all. 

A price sticker or store bag may not be accepted, as otherwise every shop lifter in Ireland would be cheerfully recycling goods back through the front door for cash or credit. 

Packaging should be complete, intact and undamaged with tamper seals unbroken.

Beds, underwear, and pieces that come into intimate personal contact are rarely open to returns.

Returns policies for non-faulty goods where they do exist are generally bound by a 28-day limit, so don’t hang around. Get those ghastlies out this week. Made to order goods are almost impossible to return.

Sales Slips

Your consumer rights are the same for goods on sale as they are for regular purchases.

However, you do not have an automatic right to return items because you have simply recovered your marbles after the crush in Brown Thomas on December 26.

A retailer is under no obligation to take back perfect unused goods unless they boast that rare no-questions-asked mechanism, such as that feted at Argos.

If they do humour your buyers’ remorse, it is often purely an act of seasonal, corporate good sense.

Harvey Norman, for example, will take goods within 14 days in as-sold condition. If, God forbid, you don’t even have a receipt, look up a credit card statement or see if the piece is branded to that store only.

Approach the vendor with exquisite politeness, and see what they can do to solve the problem. Be patient and open minded, take the credit if offered. Sadly, in bigger outlets, the sales staffs’ hands are often bound by store policy.

Don’t rant and rave, you’re probably wasting your time and nailing the heels of the manager to the floor.

Distance selling

Online, mail and telephone order customers have the right to cancel their order for a limited time even if the goods are perfect.

This covers you for 14 days after the goods are received. This is one of the protecting quirks of distance selling.

You can further insulate yourself from fraud and web-based chicanery by using your credit card and a secured page when making the transaction.

Do check the returns policy of the site from which you buy, as you might find yourself liable for the price of return or even ‘re-stocking’ — expensive when buying goods overseas. You should otherwise receive a refund within 14 days of the goods being returned.

Together with distance, think weight. If for example you decide that suite from DFS just doesn’t suit, the company will helpfully accept pieces not made to order, back within 14 days of delivery, but may charge up to 20% of the furniture’s price to shift it back to their warehouse for you. 

Your guide to returning unwanted Christmas gifts and sale items

Smaller goods are sometimes handled by the Irish service — handy out, in league with An Post, but not free.

Faulty Goods

Buying in or out of a sales event you are entitled to a refund, replacement or repair if goods are not of merchantable quality, fit for its purpose or as described (this includes any misleading or exaggerated chat from the sales-person).

If you find something to be faulty immediately, don’t attempt to repair it yourself or allow anyone else to do so and get it back to the shop within 30 days if you expect nothing short of a refund.

Taking the back off sealed electronics voids most warranties. 

You will have to demonstrate that you did not mishandle or simply break the piece when you got home, not following instructions provided. 

European directives give protection for up to two, and even six years for certain electrical goods.

Who pays?

Despite what a retailer may claim, your contract and first point of contact is with them, not with the manufacturer.

It might sound crazy, but ensure you are in the right shop. I speak as a retailer’s wife here, as we have had multiple incidents of goods being angrily waved over the counter that were not actually bought from us at all.

Because a shop sells say, Fuji cameras — it does not make them responsible for every Fuji camera bought worldwide that breaks.

Price Wars

“Prices for goods sold in shops in Ireland are not controlled by law. This is to allow competition between traders and service providers so that you can buy at the best price for you.” — Consumer Help, Ireland.

If you find something you’ve already bought on offer elsewhere for less, there’s no God-given right of return.

Most retailers are completely honest, but there are incidents of artificially high pricing for a month before the instigation of a deliberate plunge in January, creating a false impression of the discount riding on the tag.

Actual prices, previous prices and recommended prices of goods and services must be stated truthfully, but this may be very hard for a single customer to prove.

Some areas of interiors, such as tiling, are in a perpetual state of sales-event. It’s the price of installation that makes tiles expensive, and I’m confident in saying that your tiler does not do a spring special.

If you feel you have been duped by over-charging, vote with your feet and don’t visit the shop again.

Log onto Consumer Help, the online branch of the National Consumer Association at for more information on your consumer rights or call 1890-432432.


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