Can I take it back?

Posted: 27th December 2011

RefundThere’s always plenty of confusion at this time of year about whether you can or you can’t take stuff back to the shops.

A lot of commentators get in a muddle by failing to make the clear distinction between goods that are faulty and those that aren’t.

The general law implies into all simple consumer contracts (e.g. shop purchases) some basic common sense requirements the most important of which is that the goods should be of satisfactory quality.

If they’re not then in most cases, provided you take them back within a few days, you’re entitled to ask for a refund or a replacement.

In such circumstances don’t be fooled by a suggestion that you have to get in touch with the manufacturer and it’s not the shop’s problem. It is. You might also have the benefit of a manufacturer’s warranty but in many cases it’s going to be more convenient to sort the problem at the shop.

The same rights apply to ‘sale’ goods sold at a discount, unless they were advertised as being ‘reduced’ because of the particular defect e.g. slightly damaged display items.

You don’t lose these rights because you can’t produce a receipt but it will make things a lot easier if you can. Don’t expect that the shop staff will remember every customer or that they have to accept your word for it that the item was bought from their store. Take some proof of purchase.

That leads us to the question of who can take the faulty goods back, particularly if it’s a present bought by someone else. If you have a receipt, it’s obviously faulty and you’re dealing with a reputable retailer it probably won’t matter.

If it’s not so straightforward then it may be easier to ask the person who bought the item to go back to the store with it. As the person who made the purchase, they have the legal rights. Sure, those rights are technically transferable but you don’t want to get lawyers involved over a few pounds!

All of the above applies where something is faulty, because of the general law that says it shouldn’t be.

So – what if there’s nothing wrong with it, objectively, but it’s not for you? You just don’t like it – can you change it or get a refund?

As far as the general law is concerned the answer is “no” so be prepared to live with that. But we all know that some stores will do more for their customers. Many have a formal returns policy. Why?

The answer is that it helps to sell goods if you say you’re willing to exchange or even refund the price even where there’s no legal obligation to do so. It helps shoppers to overcome that doubt if they know “I can always bring it back”.

If the shop has a formal returns policy then as long as you have proof of purchase there shouldn’t be a problem. Remember, this is not general law so if it’s a condition of the store’s policy that you produce the receipt that’s what you need to do.

It may also be up to the store whether you can have a refund or just a replacement. Another alternative is a credit-note which gives you some choice but means the shop still makes the sale.

In all these situations keep in mind that the shopkeeper may be doing something purely to preserve or generate goodwill and if you don’t display any, that may seem pointless!