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Shopping for Christmas gifts? Rights and responsibilities

With Christmas only a few weeks away it’s time to hit the streets and start our Christmas shopping. The purchase of gifts is undoubtedly the type of shopping which we need to be careful about, as it certainly involves an element of risk.

The person receiving our gift might not like what we chose and, if this happens, we need to have taken all the necessary precautions so that the unwanted gift could be easily exchanged or refunded.

When buying gifts, we should first ask sellers about their return policies. Since sellers are not legally obliged to exchange unwanted, non-defective goods, it is our responsibility to look out for sellers that adopt return policies for flexibility  and piece of mind. Most retailers offer the possibility to exchange unwanted gifts for something of equal value or a credit note that could be used during a specified time. Some retailers are even more generous, offering a full refund for unwanted goods.

Knowing whether or not we can return an unwanted gift is not enough. We should also gather information on the terms and conditions attached to the returns’ policies. For instance, does the person exchanging the unwanted gift need to present the original receipt/gift receipt? Or are the tags attached to the product sufficient? Is there a specific date by when the unwanted gift must be returned? Does it need to be in its original packaging?

The person receiving our gift might not like what we chose

Once we gather this information it is important that we pass it on to the person receiving the gift. Return policies may not apply on certain types of products. This is usually the case when we buy goods that are personalised or ordered made-to-measure.

Even items that come into physical contact with the body, such as earrings, make-up and certain items of clothing, are very often excluded from a shop’s returns policies and this for hygienic reasons. In this case sellers must ensure that their customers are well-informed about non-exchangeable goods before the sale is processed to avoid unnecessary complaints that may tarnish a company’s reputation.

When buying gifts we also have the responsibility to ask for a gift receipt. The main purpose of gift receipts is to allow the recipient of the gift to return the good or make a claim against the trader if something goes wrong.

While we should be aware that the law does not give us the right to exchange unwanted products, we should also know that by law we can claim a free remedy if the product purchased turns out to be defective, does not conform to the original sales agreement, is not of satisfactory quality or not fit for purpose. These legal rights are applicable to all purchases and cannot be diminished or taken away by shops that display ‘No Refunds’ or ‘No Exchanges’ signs.

Since purchasing presents is quite time consuming, it is advisable to start our Christmas shopping now so that we have enough time to shop around and search for deals that give us the best value for our money.

If we come across problems with any of our purchases we should first communicate with the seller and try to resolve the problem amicably. If we are not satisfied with the way our complaint is dealt with, we will need to contact the Office for Consumer Affairs within the Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority for information about our legal rights and any other help.

Odette Vella is director, Information, Education and Research Directorate, Office for Consumer Affairs, Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority.

odette.vella@mccaa.org.mt

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