Is It Legal For Shops To Refuse Your Christmas Returns?

Giovanni Rufino/Getty Images

Each Boxing Day, countless Australians take part in the annual tradition of returning unwanted gifts for an exchange or refund. Usually, the retailer accepts the proffered item with no questions asked. But what would happen if they refused? Are merchants legally obligated to provide a remedy of some kind or are they allowed to send you packing?

To be perfectly frank, gift recipients aren't owed a goddamn thing - not by the giver, nor the seller. Unless your Christmas loot is defective in some way, the retailer is under zero obligation to give you an exchange or refund.

Australian consumer law is very clear on this fact: to be legally entitled to a refund, the goods in question must have been damaged prior to purchase, of unacceptably poor quality or fail to match the advertised description in some way.

These are the main rules to be aware of:

  • Goods must be of acceptable quality (taking account of their price and nature), and fit for the purpose they were designed for.
  • Goods must match any description made of them and any sample shown.
  • Spare parts and servicing must be available for products for a "reasonable time" after sale.
  • Services must be carried out with due care and skill, and achieve any result specified.

Clearly, unwanted Christmas gifts do not match the above criteria. The same goes for changing your mind, accidentally buying the wrong product or returning something "for spite".

So the next time you're queuing at customer service with an unwanted pressie tucked under your arm, remember to be polite and friendly! If they refuse to cooperate, yelling about your "consumer rights" is unlikely to help. Instead, sell it on eBay and take your future business to a retailer with a more liberal returns policy.

With that said, it's definitely worth fighting for your rights if you think you've been shafted in some way. This explainer from the ACCC breaks down the rules in greater detail along with tips on how to deal with related issues.

Did you just catch yourself wondering if something was legal or not? Let us know and we may be able to answer it in our next Is It Legal? feature.


    why would anyone in their right mind get up on boxing day, trundle down to the local shopping centre aka hell - which will be jam packed, just to return that $30 present for store credit, when you can stay at home, eat leftovers, get drunk and watch the cricket.

      Because the way the Australian team is playing, the Test will be over by lunch.

        not if the other team bat first

          Even if the other team bats second it wont be over by lunch. They might have a first innings lead though...

    Whilst they aren't obligated to do so I think every decent business should offer store credit. That way the store is still making the same amount of money and the customer gets to pick something else that they actually want. everybody wins. I refund is asking too much IMO because let's remember that this was a GIFT you got given for FREE.

      Sometimes it is easier to blanket ban, than spend the time serving a queue of customers - which has a real dollar cost to the company.

      Then you have a whole hornet's nest of "You need the receipt" and "No Ma'am we can't return it if it's opened, we are not allowed to resell by law".

      Pro Tips 1: Do not break the shrink wrap if you hope to return, make sure you have the receipt and only try to return at the original store.

      But the customers are stupid, my husband today had one lady try to return a stab mixer that she had put in the dishwasher. "It should have a way to get the water out, this is a huge fault" to later turn to "It's not written in the manual that this can't be put in the dishwasher".

      Pro Tip 2: If it has a power cord, it's not supposed to go in the dishwasher.

    I prefer shopping at places that do not allow returns for Change of Mind. The Good Guys is one. I always try to shop there, and they do price match, so if they stock it, they can't be beaten on price. The places that accept change of mind refunds, you have no idea what happened to the product when it was out of the store.

Join the discussion!