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Your rights when Christmas shopping

As the big day draws ever closer most of us will be hitting the high street or heading online to do our Christmas shopping. We outline your consumer rights if things go wrong.

The first Monday in December has become known, in marketing circles at least, as Cyber Monday.

This is the point in the year when online sales reaches their highest level and many retailers are run special offers to mark the date.

Your consumer rights

But whether buying gifts for family and friends online or in the shops, it's important to know your consumer rights in case things go wrong and purchases need to be returned.

Just knowing some of the basics could mean you won't be stuck with faulty or unwanted gifts.

Getting a refund

Many shops will offer refund, exchange or credit notes, as long as you've got a receipt.

Stores aren't legally obliged to let you return goods just because you've changed your mind, although many stores do offer a "no questions asked" refund or exchange policy.

To be on the safe side, check the policy for returns before parting with any cash.

If the goods are faulty, the key is to return them to the seller as soon as the fault is discovered to minimise the chance of any complications.

You do not need a receipt to get a refund for faulty goods, but may be required to show proof of purchase.

If you have a manufacturer's warranty, you can contact them as well as the retailer.

Buying goods on the internet

Know who you're dealing with when shopping online, and only make purchases over a secure connection, identifiable by a padlock in the corner of your browser.

Look for a name and geographical address on the site and if you're struggling to find one, think twice about ordering.

Keep a record of all purchases made online, as email receipts will be required if there is something wrong.

The seller has up to 30 days to deliver the goods unless a fixed delivery date is agreed.

If your goods don't arrive on time – within 30 days or by any pre-agreed date – you can cancel the contract and demand a refund within 30 days.

Your rights when buying online

When buying goods on the internet, you have the same rights as if you were buying on the high street. 

Plus, you have a seven-day cooling-off period from the date you receive the goods, with the right to a full refund, regardless for the reason for the return.

The seven-day cooling-off period also applies to orders made on the telephone or by post.

The trader must then refund you within 30 days, but you may have to pay postage costs.

Note that there are some exceptions, such as goods that are personalised or perishable.

Goods that are not in the same condition as when they were delivered, such as CDs, DVDs or computer games no longer being sealed in their plastic wrapping, are also excepted.

Pay by card for extra protection

A credit card on a computer keyboardAnother good way to get protection when Christmas shopping is by paying by credit card, as this gives you cover under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act.

If you are buying goods costing more than £100, your card provider may be jointly responsible with the trader for any problems, such as faulty or undelivered goods.

This also means you can claim your money back from the card provider if you are the victim of a scam or company that has taken money for goods that goes bust before they are delivered.

If you buy an item with a Visa debit card, you should be able to get protection through a scheme known as Visa Chargeback, although a time limit may apply.

Are gift vouchers worth the risk?

Gift vouchers have always been a popular Christmas present.

But recent difficulties at firms such as Comet, HMV and Jessops have resulted in vouchers being rejected, at least temporarily, leaving consumers out of pocket.

So in these difficult economic times, is it too much of a risk to buy a gift token for a specific store in the hope that it will stay in business?

One solution could be to buy a voucher that covers a number of retailers.

For example, One4all gift cards can be used in a wide range of shops, including Argos, Debenhams, Boots, House of Fraser, and TK Maxx.

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Esther Shaw

Esther Shaw

Esther Shaw is a regular contributor to and is the former deputy money editor at The Independent and Independent on Sunday. Before that, she worked as a money and City reporter on The Daily Express and Sunday Express.
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