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'A well-known retailer won't let me return something, what are my options?'

Consumer expert Áine Carroll on what you should know about the returns process.

Image: Shutterstock/George Rudy

KNOWING YOUR RIGHTS when shopping can be a tricky world to navigate, and when things go wrong, it’s hard to know what you’re entitled to. 

That’s why we asked Áine Carroll, the Director of Communications and Policy at the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) to weigh in on an issue one of our readers was having:

A well-known Irish retailer is refusing to let me return something I bought three weeks ago. What are my options?

Here’s what Carroll says that you should know if you’re having trouble returning an item you’ve bought in-store:

1. You have no right to return if you’ve changed your mind

One of the most common misconceptions we tend to have as consumers is to assume that if we simply don’t like an in-store purchase, we can get our money back, as Carroll explains:

If you change your mind about something you bought, under consumer law you’re not entitled to bring it back – it is completely up to store policy whether they allow you to do this or not.

This means that in practice, if you’re returning an item for any other reason than it turning out to be faulty, shops can offer exchanges or store credit or maybe nothing at all. During sales the shop may reduce its time frame for accepting returns. “It’s very important that you check a store’s return policy before you buy”, says Carroll, who reminds that it’ll also usually be listed on the receipt.

2. It’s up to the retailer what you get for your return

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However, if you are returning a faulty item, under consumer law you’re generally entitled to a replacement, repair or refund of the amount that you paid (meaning sales prices shouldn’t affect your refund). However Carroll says that what you’re entitled to “isn’t cut and dry – the law doesn’t say which of these you can get.”

What you need to do is “go back to the business and tell them what you want.” Importantly, you shouldn’t be charged for the cost of a repair, or any delivery charges if there is a cost involved in ordering you a replacement.

3. You can use statements as proof of purchase

Carroll urges consumers to remember that if there’s a fault, the contract is with the retailer not the manufacturer – so it’s up to them to fix it. But one thing you should have is proof of purchase but this doesn’t need to be a receipt, explains Carroll:

If you’re returning something faulty, you can use your debit or credit card statement, original packaging or even the fact that it’s ‘own brand’ as proof of purchase.

If you’re returning for a change of mind however, very often the shop will insist that you have your receipt, you’ve returned it within a certain timeframe with the original tags and that the item is spotless: “The retailer needs to be able to sell the item to somebody else, so everything must be intact.”

4. Your rights don’t change if it’s from a pop-up

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When it comes to pop-up shops, fortunately, “it doesn’t matter if the shop has been open for 50 years or five minutes – you still have the same rights as with a normal shop.” The most common thing that can happen here however, is that the shop ceases trading before you have a chance to return an item if it’s faulty.

In this case, you have two options – firstly if it’s part of a larger shop for a particular season or event, or attached to another retailer, you can go back to the larger retailer and return it there. If this isn’t possible, you can potentially try to contact your bank to arrange a ‘chargeback’ if you paid by debit or credit card – here’s how to do it.

5. Know the difference between guarantee and warranty

If you’re not sure of the difference between these, you’re not alone. Carroll says, “it’s very confusing as sometimes they’re used interchangeably.” Put simply, she explains that guarantees are usually free and say that the manufacturer will repair or replace the item if it breaks within a certain amount of time. Furniture and electronics often have these.

Warranties are different in that you “usually have to pay for them – they’re offered during the sale.” They are similar to an insurance policy that protects against having to pay any repairs. Generally warranties last longer and may include additional perks. However Carroll reminds that if something goes wrong, you still have consumer rights, regardless of any warranty or guarantee – these don’t replace your consumer rights.

6. The amount of time before a fault can affect your return

rawpixel-777258-unsplash Source: Unsplash

Though you’ll generally be entitled to a refund, replacement or repair for a faulty item, Carroll says that the “time you have used the product may have a bearing on what the shop is prepared to give you.”

For example, if you’ve had a washing machine for a month, you’re in a strong position to look for a replacement or a refund, but if you’ve had it for a year, you’re more likely to get a repair. “The amount of time that has passed since the purchase can have a bearing on the agreement between the retailer and you.”

7. You can’t return certain items

Although you will generally be able to return all of these if they are faulty, there are particular items that shops generally won’t accept if you change your mind, as Carroll explains:

A shop can’t accept returns on items if the hygiene strip has been removed, or if it’s something such as jewellery, underwear, swimwear or earphones that they can’t sell on.

Read more: Two-thirds of you want to return a Christmas present. So what are your options?

Need to return a Christmas gift? Here’s your chance to ask an expert about it

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