Consumer rights when shopping: returns, refunds, faulty goods and sales

Every penny counts for most households right now, so it’s worth knowing your consumer rights before you buy to save being left out of pocket.

If your new washing machine packs up within a month, you’re regretting an impulse Boxing Day/January sales buy, or ordered a new jumper that’s two sizes too big – what can you do?

It’s worth knowing your consumer rights before you buy, so you’re not fobbed off and can stand your ground. This means knowing when you can ask for a refund, or when you may have to settle for a repair or exchange, along with whether you really do need to produce a till receipt. 

It’s also worth taking the time to understand how to spot a scam, so you don’t fall victim when shopping online. Also see first-time shopper discounts and how to save on your grocery shopping for ways to save when shopping.

Here’s what you need to know when it comes to your shopping rights and how to get your money back.

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Your refund rights at a glance

If you change your mind?

  • High Street: You’ve no automatic right to return unwanted purchases. But many stores do have generous returns policies. Always check the returns policy before buying.
  • Online: You can return most online purchases for a refund. You have 14 days after delivery to let the retailer know. And you have another 14 days to return the item.

With faulty goods?

  • High Street: You can return any faulty purchase for a refund, repair or replacement.
  • Online: You can return any faulty purchase for a refund, repair or replacement.

Your return rights when shopping online

Buying online, along with phone and mail order, gives you more rights than you have on the high street.  This usually means a no-quibble refund if you want to return purchases.

In this case, under the Consumer Contracts Regulations 2013, you have 14 days to tell the retailer you’ve changed your mind. This starts from the day after delivery. You then have another 14 days to return the unwanted items.  

Some retailers may have extended returns policies, which could be up to around 60 days. Any extended returns time should be made clear on the website before buying.

There are some exclusions with online returns. This includes personalised products and perishable goods, such as food hampers. However, if there’s a fault with these products, or they arrive damaged, you are then entitled to a refund.

When it comes to who foots the bill for the return postage on unwanted goods, it’s worth checking before buying. Details of the retailer’s returns policy should be on its website.   

Many retailers may include a prepaid returns label with your delivery or you may have the option to download one online. In some cases, with unwanted items, you may need to cover the cost of the return postage yourself.

Discover how to save on grocery shopping, shopping online, using discount vouchers and supermarket loyalty cards.

Your return rights when shopping on the high street

When you shop on the high street, you don’t have an automatic right to a refund simply because you change your mind. This also applies in other bricks and mortar stores including garden centres and small independent shops.

However, many larger stores and chains do offer generous returns policies on unwanted purchases. This means they will often exchange or even refund items, up to around 30 days after purchase. 

In this case, items must be unused and in their original wrapping. And as this is a goodwill policy, some stores may ask for the original till receipt before dishing out a refund. Others may offer an exchange or gift card, providing the item has their label and branding.

When it comes to Christmas, lots of stores usually further extend any goodwill returns policies. This may mean they will even give refunds on unwanted gifts providing you have a gift receipt. 

Check out our round-up of shopping discounts to get up to 20% off on your Boxing Day/January buys. 

Your rights when returning faulty goods

If you buy something that won’t work or develops a fault, you can get your money back under the Consumer Rights Act, whether it was bought online or in a high street store.

This bit of legislation lays out your shopping rights and means items sold should be as described, fit for purpose and of satisfactory quality.  

If a fault occurs within the first 30 days, you should contact the store or online retailer with proof of purchase and ask for a refund. You can also ask for a replacement, which may be more practical in the event your new washing machine breaks down.

Beyond 30 days and up to six months, you can still ask for a refund or replacement. Some stores may offer a full refund, while others may offer a free repair or replacement. You’ll need to show proof of purchase. This could be the original till receipt or a bank or credit card statement.

Beyond this time, you have some protection up to a maximum of six years. While you can still return faulty items and ask for a repair or exchange, you’ll usually need to prove any fault was there from the start. This may mean getting an independent report from an engineer or repair agent.

Your rights when shopping in Boxing Day/January sales

When you buy in the sales, whether that’s Boxing Day or any January sales event, you still have exactly the same set of rights as if you’d paid full price.

This means what you buy must be as described, fit for purpose and of satisfactory quality.    

However, if you haggle down the price of an item because of a fault, say a jacket with a small mark, you’re unlikely to be able to use this for a refund, unless another fault occurs.

What if a store goes bust?

If a company goes bust and you don’t get your goods, you may still be able to get your money back, depending on the way you paid.

If you paid by credit card, and the item cost between £100 – £30,000, you can ask your credit card company for a refund. This protection comes under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act.

You can also ask your bank for a refund under the chargeback scheme if you paid by debit card or credit card for items up to £100.

Chargeback is a voluntary arrangement between Visa, Mastercard and American Express. It means your bank or card provider can reverse the transaction with the retailer’s bank to get your money back.

Late and missing deliveries

If an item you order doesn’t arrived as promised, you should contact the retailer for a refund or replacement order.

Don’t be fobbed off if the retailer tells you to contact the courier company. Delivery is the retailer’s responsibility. Under consumer law, as you paid them for the product, your ‘contract’ is with them. This means they should get your items to you safely and on time.  

Even if a delivery date wasn’t agreed, your items should arrive within 30 days.

If you are ordering online, always ignore the option to choose a ‘safe place’ for the courier to leave your parcel if you’re not in. If you suggest your front garden, porch or other place and the parcel is pinched, you may struggle to get a refund.

Also see the top Royal Mail scams to avoid.