After more than a year of lockdowns and lock-ins, this Black Friday we might be “back in the shops”, but stock is limited and there’s the temptation to get what you can when you see it. This might make us less discerning and maybe even because we are out of the habit of shopping IRL, could mean we don’t check what we buy as well as we used to.

So, what are your consumer rights when shopping goes wrong?

Your Rights When It’s Faulty:

All items sold to a consumer by a retailer must:

· be “fit for purpose” – in other words do what they are supposed to

· fit the description given by the retailer

· be of “satisfactory quality”

These rights are in the Consumer Rights Act 2015. If what you buy doesn’t meet any one of these requirements, as a consumer you have 30 days to return the items and get a full refund.

For faulty items returned after 30 days, the retailer need only repair or replace them item, but if they can’t do that or if the repair doesn’t fix the problem, then you can claim a full or partial refund. Different rules apply to products where the defect only becomes apparent long after you bought the product.

Your Rights When It’s Wrong:

The world of returns can be confusing; some online shopping sites offer as much as a year to return a product and get a full refund, and other retail shops only ever provide a credit note for a change of mind.

Your right to ‘cancel a transaction’- ie. to return a product you’ve bought and get a refund- changes depending on what you’ve bought and where you bought it.

IRL shops are not required to accept returned items or offer a refund unless there is a fault with the product. If you don’t like it, don’t want it or wish you hadn’t thought you’d lose those lockdown pounds before Christmas, that’s not the retailers problem!

Most shops will however have a returns policy, which they need to display before you buy the item so you know the rules or return. When you’re queuing, don’t rifle through the ‘last chance to buy’ items, instead take a quick read of the returns policy (usually by the till) and make sure you buy what you feel most certain you want to keep.

“Just return it!” The curse of Buying Online

The law is different when buying products online simply because no matter how good the size guide/virtual try on/product images are, you don’t know what it will be like until you get the product in your hands.

When you buy online, straightaway you have a 14-day right to change your mind, so if you wish you hadn’t had that last glass of wine before you hit “buy” on Christmas cat pyjamas for the family, don’t panic! In this case, notify the retailer using their “cancellation” form as soon as possible. You may still end up with the goods being delivered, but then you can return them at the retailers’ expense.

Once you receive the goods, the law says you have a further 14 days to return it for a full refund if it’s not wanted. Some sites will offer a policy which is longer and if you are buying in advance for a birthday or Christmas make sure you check this before you buy. Some retailers offer free postage on returns, but they are not legally obliged to. Again, check the returns policy and complete the steps on their ‘returns form’ (which they are legally obliged to provide).

Be aware that you can’t wear items and then return them to be sold as new.if a retailer believes you have done this they can refuse to accept your return of deduct a charge for in effect ‘wear and tear’ from your refund, or charge you for any repairs.

“I bought in the Sale! Can I return it?”

Yes! Shoppers are as entitled to a refund for items on sale, just as you are for full price items if they are faulty or broken and the rules above apply. Sometime retailers shorten the time for returns on ‘change of mind’ on sale items, so check when you buy.

Rules differ if you bought something then change your mind or it doesn’t fit when you try it on at home. Here you have to rely on the shop’s “Returns Policy.” Make sure you take a look at it before committing to big money purchases this Black Friday – that sale item might not be such a bargain if you change your mind and can’t return it.

Is There Anything I Can’t Return?

There are some specific exceptions to the 14 day return rule, where you have no right to cancel unless the items are faulty. Examples are:

· Hygiene products; the risk of tampering or contamination is too high

· Perishable items like food; because they ‘go off’ too quickly to be returned

· Bespoke and personalised items; anything made to your specification, like a an engraved prosecco glass from NOTH, a tailored suit or a sized ring, but this doesn’t apply to ‘personalised’ stock items like buying a mug with your name on.

Buying should be a pleasure and returns should be stress-free and made easy. It helps if you understand your basic consumer rights so that you can buy with confidence and maybe add those cat pyjamas to your basket after all!

Article by Jennifer Brook, paralegal for Lionshead Law.

Further information can be found on the WHICH? website.

For help with consumer law and your rights as a retailer or consumer contact j.frears@lionsheadlaw.co.uk