Christmas shopping: know your rights
It seems like only yesterday that we were taking down the Christmas decorations, signing up to the gym and promising to be a better person in 2010. But with the season of goodwill fast approaching, as well as learning some carols, we thought it was also time to brush up on some consumer law. So here are some top tips to use if your presents aren't up to scratch or if you get a dud delivery.
The first thing to remember when you get to the till is to ask whether the shop gives gift receipts. This means if something goes wrong, the person you gave it to can go back to the shop and get the refund. This tip is especially handy if you've paid by card as lots of shops would usually insist the card holder is present to receive a refund and it will save you getting snagged up in those queues again.
We asked our consumer expert, Professor Margaret Griffiths, to remind us of our basic rights.
Professor Margaret Griffiths
She said: “Your rights are the same whatever presents you buy or wherever you buy them from. You have an absolute right that the goods will match any description that's been given of them, they will be of a satisfactory quality and they're going to be fit for the purpose for which you've bought them.
“If the cash value of the product is more than a £100 and less than £30,000 then it's always a good idea to use your credit card if you've got one. That way you get extra protection against the credit card company so that if, for example, the trader goes into liquidation or ceases trading, you can still get your money back from the credit card company,” she added.
Another flexible gift is the good old fashioned gift voucher - an easy way to give to the person who already has everything. Gift vouchers are rapidly being replaced with gift cards, but one X-Ray viewer is less than impressed.
Alison Lucas, from Llantwit Major, was looking forward to buying some toys and games for her children in her local WHSmith as she'd been given £40 pounds worth of gift cards as presents.
She said: “The children received their gift cards for Christmas and for their birthdays, and every year we save them up throughout the year and then go and spend them on something in WHSmith. We were hoping to get a DVD and have a DVD night.”
But when Alison went to the WHSmith in Cardiff city centre, she was shocked to discover that the gift card couldn't be used to buy the DVDs she wanted.
“The lady from the till then came over and asked us if we were going to use our vouchers to buy the DVDs and we were told that we wouldn't be able to because they're sold by a franchise in the shop,” she explained.
It turns out that WHSmith in Cardiff was part of a trial where another company, called Big, had taken over the concession for the DVDs and games, meaning Alison's gift card couldn't be used to buy them in that particular store. She wasn’t happy as she felt the person who gave them the card would have wanted them to buy a DVD.
“The experience made me feel really cross. People think of WHSmith as a retailer that sells DVDs, CDs and computer games so they will quite rightly buy people gift cards in order to buy those item, ” she added.
WHSmith say that they do have clear signs in the five trial stores telling customers that gift cards can't be used for DVDs and games. They say it's because of a European regulation stopping companies transferring money between each other. However, they are working with the Government to try and change this.
Most vouchers will have a time limit. Every year nearly 10% of vouchers sold don't get spent - so if Santa brings you some don't leave them in the drawer...
You may prefer the convenience of the internet this year. And Professor Griffiths has some advice to make sure you know your rights before you log on.
She said: “You've got the normal rights of satisfactory quality etc. but Under the Distance Selling Regulations you get an additional right to return the goods during the short period after they arrive. This is to allow the customer to have the chance to check that the goods are as described and of satisfactory quality."
Remember if you do have to return something, make sure that you send it by recorded delivery. That way, the company can't argue that they haven't received it. And Professor Griffiths had one last handy tip:
“Always make sure you keep your receipts, so never throw your receipts away. Always make sure that you can prove where you've bought something and just check everything very thoroughly both in the shop and when you get home. Never just take it for granted that it's alright.”
More tips are available at the Consumer Direct website.