It's the most wonderful time of the year, unless you get scammed by rogue traders.
With just five weeks to go until Christmas, it is important to know your consumer rights when it comes to buying presents - both in store and online.
With talk of stock shortages and shipping delays due to the pandemic and Brexit, you may be coming under increased pressure to part with your money.
But before you do, we've asked the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) how you can avoid any financial mishaps over the festive season.
If you buy an item, which turns out to be faulty, under EU consumer protection law you have the right to either: a refund, a repair, a replacement or a reduction in price, as a solution.
However, the CCPC said that consumer protection law doesn’t currently set out exactly what you are entitled to when you return a faulty item, so it is up to you to negotiate with the business.
"In all cases of faulty goods, act quickly and contact the business who sold you the item as soon as you can to seek redress," a spokesperson for the CCPC said.
If you have bought an item, but later change your mind and want to return it, your rights and entitlements are different depending on whether you bought the item online, or in-store.
If you buy something online and subsequently change your mind, under EU consumer protection law you have 14 days from the day the item arrives to cancel your order, and a further 14 days to return the items and get a full refund.
However, if you change your mind about an item you bought in-store, your rights and entitlements will depend on the store’s own returns policy, unless the item is faulty.
Most stores will offer a returns period, but the CCPC said it’s important to be aware that this is a 'goodwill gesture’ on the part of the store - not a legal obligation.
So be sure to check out the ‘change-of-mind returns’ policy before making any in-store purchases.
EU vs non-EU consumer rights
If you are planning to do some or all of your Christmas shopping online this year, your consumer rights will depend on where the business is based.
If you buy from an EU-based business, the CCPC said you have strong consumer protections which ensure that you have enough clear information, and are not mislead before you make a purchase.
"Importantly, they ensure that you have rights if something does go wrong – particularly the right to a refund," a spokesperson for the CCPC said.
Buying from a non-EU website means these rights do not automatically apply and therefore, if something does go wrong, it may be more difficult to get the issue sorted.
This is particularly important to consider if you are buying high-value items, in case any issues arise down the line.
Check the T&Cs before you buy from a non-EU website
If you are buying from a non-EU website, including a UK website, you may not automatically have the right to return a purchase, or the timeframes for returns may be different.
So, the CCPC said before you buy, always check the terms and conditions to find out what it says about returns.
A spokesperson for the CCPC advised that you search for the following information in the T&Cs:
- Can you return an item if you change your mind, and within what timeframe?
- Can you cancel an order before it is sent to you?
- Who pays for the cost of returning it - you, or the business?
The CCPC also said to check what the T&Cs say about faulty products, and if there are any limits to the business's returns or faulty goods policy.
"If so, you may consider buying from an EU-based website to ensure you have strong rights," the CCPC spokesperson said.
A '.ie’ domain is not a guarantee of an Irish-based business
When shopping online, be sure to check where the business is based before you buy.
You can check the business’s registered address in the T&Cs section of the website to find out where they are registered.
Even if the site has a ‘.ie’ or ‘.eu’ domain, this is not always a sign of where a business is registered or based.
If you cannot find these details, the CCPC said to consider buying from a different website.
If the registered address is outside of the EU, which includes the UK, then your consumer rights may be different.
If a business has more than one website with a number of different domains - such as ‘.de’ or ‘.co.uk’, make sure to check the registered address on each website before you buy from it.
EU businesses are responsible for delivery delay follow-ups
If you buy from an EU website, your purchases should be delivered within 30 days - unless you have agreed an alternative delivery date with the business.
If a business does not deliver it to you within the timeframe agreed, the CCPC said you should either agree a different date, or the company should allow you to cancel the contract and get a full refund.
"It’s important to be aware that a business is responsible for a purchase until it is delivered to you, unless you organised your own delivery," a spokesperson for the CCPC said.
This means that if a business organises a courier to deliver a purchase to you, they must ensure its delivery - and if the item is not delivered they should organise a replacement or a refund.