How good an actor are you? How many times did you exclaim that you “absolutely love” a present this Christmas only to have it tucked away safely so you can trudge back to the store in hope of something new. Sometimes you have a gift receipt in tow, sometimes not. So if you’ve got unwanted gifts to return, where do you stand?

Unwanted gifts

Unfortunately, if you do not have a receipt, you don’t have much of a leg to stand on.

Even if you do, under European Consumer law, a store is not under any obligation to give you a refund.

That’s because when an item is bought in store, the buyer can inspect it, touch and feel it and make an informed decision on their purchase. So shops do not have to give you a refund.

However, in this pandemic world of ours, a lot of shops have become more lenient.

Grainne Griffin, director of communications at the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) explains: “Retailers know that many consumers place a lot of importance on a good returns policy. This has become even more important during the pandemic. After the lockdown, we saw many stores actually change their policies to allow for returns. This was especially relevant when changing rooms weren’t open and people had to try clothes on at home.”

Around Christmas time, you’ll also see many stores extend their returns policies to allow for that lull over the holidays. This year, it has been needed more than ever as COVID numbers have been so high, many people have been isolating.

Receipts are key though and if you have received a gift without a receipt, it’s unlikely that you’ll get a full refund.

“You may, however, find that some retailers will offer an exchange so it’s always worth asking,” says Grainne. “We would advise consumers to be polite to staff, to calmly and clearly explain the situation and ask if they could help find a resolution. Often there is a store policy that they will have to abide by but many shop assistants will be in a position to offer an exchange or credit note.”

When it comes to shopping online, you have a 14-day change-of-mind policy. “That means you have two weeks after the product is delivered to get a full refund,” Grainne says, “so we would advise consumers to do a very thorough inspection of the product as soon as it is delivered so you can avail of this window.”

Reader experiences

With the good comes the bad and Irish Country Living readers have given us feedback on their shopping experiences.

Two most notable stores to offer a very lenient refund policy are IKEA and the shoe store Schuh. Both offer refunds up to 365 days after an item is bought.

Next is also another store that is known to be very accommodating, with numerous readers saying they had very positive experiences returning items – especially after lockdowns, where exchanges were offered even without a receipt in some cases.

Consumers appreciate extended returns policies after Christmas, especially as it puts them under less pressure to get to the stores during the busy sales period. Lifestyle Sports, Marks & Spencer and Dunnes Stores all had extended returns policies this Christmas but some readers commented that without a receipt, Dunnes Stores is very slow to offer a credit note and just about allow an exchange.

Check the online method of return

When ordering online, you really need to check the terms and conditions of your exchange even though you are protected under consumer law.

One reader spoke about a situation where she bought shoes online from Ecco. When they arrived she liked the shoes but needed a bigger size.

She rang her local store and found they were in stock. Yet, while they would happily sell her the other pair of shoes, they would not accept the return, saying they had to be sent back via post as they were bought online. Not only was this inconvenient for our reader, it also added unnecessary air miles.

Ecco was asked to comment and stated: “As per our return policy, items purchased online cannot be returned to a physical ECCO shop. To make the process as convenient as possible for our consumers, we enclose a prepaid return label in the parcel for easy return of the item.”

Another reader spoke of a purchase she made online with Adidas.

She said she purchased from them many times and returned items with no issues. However, on one occasion, she went to make her return but was outside the 14-day window by just one day.

“I went to submit my return online so I could print out the label but it wouldn’t even register the request as the 14 days has passed. Now I am stuck with the top. I feel if I had bought it in the store, at least I could have gone back to the shop and spoke to a shop assistant. When buying online it’s more of a dead end.”

This small selection of examples demonstrates huge differences in store policies so it is up to you the consumer to read the small print when making a purchase.

Other options for unwanted gifts

If you do end up with an unwanted gift that you cannot get a refund or exchange for, you have a few more options than allowing it to gather dust in the garage.

There are many websites where you can sell unwanted items online such as Depop, Adverts, DoneDeal and Facebook Marketplace.

There is also the option to donate it to your local charity shop. Many charity shops are also now selling online through the website Thriftify.

It’s also worth asking around to see if there are local Freecycle groups in your area – if not then consider setting one up. Usually, they are run as local WhatsApp groups where members post pictures of unwanted items and it is then claimed by another member of the group for free. An arrangement is then made for collection.

Alternatively, get in touch with your local nursing home to see if they are accepting donations.

According to one reader: “Our local nursing home was looking for donations of unwanted gifts that they use as prizes for bingo. I received a vase over Christmas that wasn’t my style but might bring a smile to another person’s face.”