When you buy something, legally, it must be as described, fit for its purpose and of satisfactory quality.

If you are arguing with a retailer about something you should be careful if your argument doesn’t fall under one of these headings because if it doesn't you are relying completely on the retailer’s good will.

If you can satisfactorily prove that the problem with the product falls into one of these buckets you are still not automatically entitled to a refund. The retailer is required to do one of the 3 R’s, which are:


  • They can Refund you if they choose to.
  • They can Repair the product (within a reasonable time frame)
  • They can Replace the product

If you successfully argue and the retailer accepts your argument that the product is not as described, fit for its purpose or of reasonable quality then you do not have to accept a credit note.

Where you do get a refund, it may be in cash or back onto to the card you bought it with.

But before one of the 3 R’s kick in you have one other hurdle. You must have proof of purchase, this does not have to be a receipt. For example, you could show your bank or credit card statement if you used plastic to pay for the product.

Buying something creates a legal contract between you and the retailer. Interestingly if you get something as a gift there is no legal contract between you and the retailer. The legal contract only exists between the retailer and the person who bought you the gift.

Be careful on this one, because if you don’t want to tell Aunty Annie that the MP3 player is not of “satisfactory quality” you will be relying on the shop’s good will.

But there is also a very interesting point here about the fact that the contract exists between you and the retailer and not you and the manufacturer. Shops often try and pawn you off and direct you back to the manufacturer. You do not have to accept this; the shop has the legal contract with the manufacturer not you. You can of course choose to deal with the manufacturer if it suits you.

Many shops go beyond what is required of them by law because they know other shops do and they must keep up. But they also know that if people feel a shop has a no quibble refund policy, people are more likely to buy more stuff than they need and not return a lot of it.

During sale times you often see signs like “no refunds” in shops. This is not the case. If the product falls into one of the three buckets we mentioned earlier you are absolutely entitled to one of the 3 R’s, which are a refund, repair or replacement.

However, if something is on sale because it was faulty or damaged and this was made clear at point of sale, you may not be entitled to anything if you try to bring it back.

You are expected to examine all products before buying them. If it is reasonable that you should have noticed the fault or the damage I am afraid you are back to relying on the shop’s good will.

Equally a retailer is expected to present the goods properly. For example, if they price it wrong and the price is actually below what it should have been you would expect you can buy it for the cheaper price?  Not so I am afraid. Technically something priced on a shelf is an offer from the retailer to sell you something at that price, but no contract exists until the sale goes through. Therefore, they can withdraw the sale before you buy. If the retailer puts the sale through at the till and then discovers their mistake, then it is tough, now a contract exists and you can have it for the cheaper price.

When you start to think about things using the 3 criteria (fit for purpose, as described and of satisfactory quality) it can really help how you approach and frame the discussion with the retailer. If you are 100% in the right, knock yourself out go into to that shop and give them hell! But if you haven’t a leg to stand on, probably best to go into a little sheepishly. Think Oliver and “please sir can I have some more” rather than A Few Good Men and “you can’t handle the truth.”

Overall retailers are quite good, often extending return periods after Christmas and being accepting of the fact many people won’t have receipts. But they do this because it makes business sense, keep the customer happy and all that.

They do also need to protect themselves from people taking advantage and sometimes they do engage in practices designed purely to make profit from people’s tardiness.

One such way is gift vouchers or gift cards. Some of these are great, you can spend the card in lots of shops in one go or in smaller amounts, but some carry very restrictive terms and conditions.

For example, you may have to spend all the money in one go or loose the balance leftover, you may be hit with a monthly maintenance charge of €3/4 per month or you could find the voucher expires completely in 6 or 12 months if you haven’t used it.

Be careful because it would be very difficult to prove your case that a gift card wasn’t

  • As described
  • Fit for its purpose
  • Of satisfactory quality

So, you won’t have a whole pile of entitlements.

One thing people often don’t realise is that you can have more protection online than you do in a shop.

For example, if you buy something in a shop and bring it home and realise it is blue and not black, or that it doesn’t fit you well then you must rely completely on the goodwill of the shop if you want to get anywhere. Not so online. When you buy online, except for things like airline tickets, you can return items within a 14-day cooling off period even it doesn’t fall into one of the buckets we mentioned.

Overall, unwanted gifts are something you can’t protect yourself against but when buying for yourself the easiest way to avoid the stress is to only buy something if you really want it or you really need it and just hope nothing goes wrong with it. But if it does you are protected!

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