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British shoppers to spend £355m* on unwanted Christmas gifts

12 December 2016

28% of people have encountered problems when trying to return unwanted gifts
Shoppers share their top tips for a successful return

  • 11% returned an unwanted Christmas present last year;
  • Average value of gifts returned was £60.40;
  • Research highlights problems with returning online purchases.

According to new research released today, an estimated £355m worth of unwanted Christmas gifts are set to be returned this year.  But with 28% of people saying they have encountered problems when trying to return goods, Gocompare.com Money recommends people check the retailer's returns policy before trying to return any unwanted Christmas presents.

Over a third (35%) of people have returned Christmas gifts in the past, with 11% doing so last Christmas.  On average, the value of returned presents last year was £64.40.  According to the survey, the main reasons for returning gifts include:

  • The item being the wrong size and fit (49%);
  • The item was unwanted or the recipient didn't like it (40%);
  • The recipient already owns something similar (32%). 

A small proportion of those surveyed (11%) admitted to returning Christmas gifts because they either needed or wanted the money.

The survey of over 2,000 UK shoppers**, commissioned by Gocompare.com Money, also revealed that many people hang on to well-intentioned gifts they don't like or want.  The main reasons for keeping unwanted gifts were:

  • To spare the feelings of the gift giver (40%);
  • Because returning the item is too much hassle (24%);
  • They had lost the receipt (21%);
  • A handful (6%) of people said the item was purchased online so they didn't know how to go about returning it.  

When asked about their experience of returning unwanted presents:

  • 28% said that they have been unsuccessful or encountered problems;
  • 14% said that they were told by the retailer that they couldn't get a refund or exchange without a receipt;
  • 6% said that the retailer had told them they were beyond the time limit for returns;
  • 4% said they had been told that the retailer didn't accept returns;
  • 3% said that the shop had refused the return claiming that the item had been used or was damaged.

The survey revealed particular issues with gifts bought online.  One in 10 said when they tried to return an item bought online they had to pay the return postage, while 6% said that they had kept an unwanted gift because the process of returning it was too complicated.

People participating in the survey were also asked whether they included gift receipts with presents they give.  One in 10 said they always enclose a receipt, 30% enclose a receipt with some presents while 56% said that they never pass on receipts with gifts.

Rights to return

Retailers are under no legal obligation to refund an unwanted gift - unless it is faulty, not as described or doesn't work as it's supposed to. They are also not obliged to accept items returned by someone other than the buyer.  But in practice, as a gesture of goodwill, many high-street stores operate a returns policy which allows you to exchange unwanted items, or receive a refund, credit note or gift voucher.

Retailers' returns policies typically require items to be in unused, perfect condition and sealed in their original packaging.  A time limit is usually given within which you have to return items but many shops extend this period to allow for Christmas.
When returning unwanted presents most retailers will require you to produce a receipt as proof of purchase.  But some will exchange items or offer a credit voucher without one. 

Perishable items such as food, drink, flowers and specially commissioned or personalised gifts tend not to be included in returns policies.

Details of individual retailers' returns policies are usually printed on their till receipts, in-store signs or available online. 

Any refund for unwanted gifts bought using a credit or debit card will normally have to go back on the same card.  So if you want to exchange your present for cash, you'll probably have to get the person who bought it for you to arrange a refund.

 Top tip for returning gifts 
 Research the company's policy on returns first  46%
 Be confident and firm with staff 42%
 Ask the giver of the gift if they have a receipt 39%
 Know what outcome you want before you start 38%
 Refresh your knowledge of your consumer rights 35%
 Plan your approach before you go into the shop 33%
 Escalate your query with management if you don't get a satisfactory response 29%

Commenting on the research findings Matt Sanders, head of money at Gocompare.com, said: "Most of us will have probably received a present we wished we hadn't.  Thankfully, nowadays, gift receipts make the process of returning gifts more straightforward and less awkward and many retailers operate a fairly relaxed returns policy around Christmas. However, it is still important to understand your rights and to plan your approach before you attempt to return a gift."


Notes to editors:

*£355m figure calculated as follows: The UK adult population is estimated to be 48,913,000 (source: Annual mid-year population estimates for the UK, 2014).  11% of UK adults returned Christmas gifts last year - 11% of 48,913,000 is 5,380,430 UK adults. The average value of returned goods was £64.40, therefore the total value of returned goods last year was 5,380,430 x £64.40 = £346,499,692.  Mintel predicts that total UK retail sales will increase by 2.5% in December 2016, compared to last year.  Therefore, we can assume the value of returns will increase by 2.5% too.  £346m x 2.5% = £355m

**On 1 December 2016, Bilendi conducted an online survey among 2,006 randomly selected British adults who are Maximiles UK panelists.  The margin of error-which measures sampling variability-is +/- 2.2%. The results have been statistically weighted according to the most current education, age, gender and regional data to ensure samples representative of the entire adult population of United Kingdom. Discrepancies in or between totals are due to rounding.