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Consumer Advice

If you get a gift that does not work as it is supposed to then all you consumer rights are in place and a shop will have to offer you a repair, a refund or replacement. They decide which. Proof of purchase will be needed but that doesn't have to be a receipt. If an item was bought with a credit card or a laser card, that evidence will be sufficient.

What to do about unwanted items? These are the presents that you dislike or they could be items of clothing that you bought for yourself but didn't have time to try on.

If you've changed your mind about something, then you have very few rights. You are at the mercy of the the shop's returns policy. A lot of shops have fantastic returns policies. Some will give you a credit note, an exchange or a refund. But some shops don't take returns at all.

The easiest present to lay your hands on now is undoubtedly a voucher. These can be sourced online through major retailers such as Amazon, or in high street stores, hotels, restaurants and, if you really love the recipient, high-end spas.
While they're just a step up from cash - the one gift most people are extremely reluctant to give at Christmas time - vouchers are an ideal, if unimaginative last-minute present and one which will be greeted more warmly than some unfortunate talcum powder found gathering dust in your local pharmacy.

We asked on Twitter last week if people liked getting vouchers and what their favourites were. While there was some grumbling, more than 90 per cent of respondents said they actually liked them, with Arnotts, Brown Thomas and One4all vouchers being mentioned with great frequency.

More than 50 per cent of us will give vouchers as presents this year and the business has grown to be worth in excess of €300 million in Ireland each year.

The voucher market is not problem-free, however. Unlike cash, many vouchers have expiry dates - some last just six months - and these time limits are frequently not made clear to either giver or getter, which may explain why as many as 20 per cent of vouchers - or nearly €70 million annually - are never redeemed.

In addition to having time limits, some vouchers cannot be used during sales and retailers are under no legal obligation to offer change if a voucher is not redeemed in full. The problem of expiry dates has been joined by another, potentially greater problem which is a sign of our cash-strapped times - companies going out of business before a voucher can be redeemed.

If cash is used to buy a voucher and the company closes, then the holder becomes an unsecured creditor and has little or no chance of getting any money back. If a credit card had been used to buy the vouchers, it is possible (if not easy) for people to get a refund via the chargeback system credit card companies operate under.
The voucher world has been given a lift this year with the arrival on the scene of all manner of online deals sites, such as Groupon and LivingSocial. Rather than getting book vouchers - by far the most popular voucher in Ireland - you can pick up experiences, such as a drive in a Ferrari and trips to spas.

Groupon is making a big play for the market this year and has set up a special Christmas shop. Among the benefits, it says, are the fact that the voucher does not show the purchase price but the redeemable value so, if you get a 70 per cent discount on something cool, the recipient will only see what it is worth - not the bargain basement price you paid for it. And all vouchers are transferable. They do have expiry limits however, and in some cases these are even shorter than you would find with a regular voucher.

Sale statistics from mydealpage.ie, a site which monitors all daily deals in Ireland, indicate that more and more people are turning to online daily product specials this year to do their Christmas shopping. It has seen an increase of just over €1 million in spend in November when compared to its October figures giving a rise of 21 per cent for the month with an average of €188,900 being spent online every day.

The most popular gifts this year are breaks away in Irish hotels, lunch/dinner vouchers for restaurants and beauty treatments and electronics. Consumers are also stocking up on festive hampers in a bid to reduce the cost of food and wine bills this year.

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