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Don’t let the shops sell you short in the hunt for January bargains


Toys that broke down, electronic gadgets that never worked and Christmas jumpers you just didn't want.

Yes, it's January! But then if you do have any spare money left you can console yourself with the January sales.

Mind you, there have been sales all year ’round in an effort to entice us to part with our limited cash reserves.

But do your consumer rights change in a sale and what about returning stuff you don't like?

At all times of the year, most good shops offer the option of returning unwanted items during a specified time period and offer a credit note, exchange or refund instead.

However, during sales many retailers reduce the time limit for unwanted returns, so always ask at the till or check your receipt, as it may be written on it. Other shops do not allow any returns on unwanted goods during sales, so bear this in mind before you buy.

These rules about returning things you don't like or don't want are entirely between the shop and you. The shop sets their terms and conditions and you agree to them when you buy in that shop.

This means you do not have a right to return the third pair of acrylic socks you received at Christmas, even if you did manage to get the receipt.

If the shop doesn't have a returns policy for change of mind, then there is nothing you can do, bar pandering to their goodwill.

On the other hand, if those socks came with a great big hole, that's a different matter entirely.

This is where your consumer rights kick in. Regardless of what the shop says, if the item is faulty or not ‘as described', you are entitled to return it. You must have proof of purchase, however, although that could be a credit card or laser statement if you don't have the receipt.

So, if the toy fell apart or if the new camera doesn't do all that was promised, head back to the store as soon as you can. You are entitled to a repair, replacement or refund, but if a defect occurred immediately or very soon after purchase choose a replacement or refund.

These statutory rights apply to items bought on sale, just as they do to full-priced items.

Having said that, if you bought something that was reduced because it had a defect, then it was your choice to purchase, defect and all.

These same rights apply to something you've bought online, but the handy thing about online shopping is that within the EU you have additional rights.

You are entitled to a sevenday ‘cooling off ' period where you can change your mind about what you bought and decide to return it.

The seven days start from the day of delivery and within that time-frame you can contact the online retailer and tell them you are sending the product back.

You may have to pay for return postage, however, but if you are sending back an online purchase because it is faulty, the return postage costs should be refunded to you.

So if you bought a present online before Christmas, it didn't arrive in time and now you don't need it, use your seven-day cooling off period to send it back and get a refund.

European distance selling law also states that delivery of online purchases should be executed within 30 days. If this hasn't happened, cancel your contract and get a refund.

Similarly, if you'd ordered a new sofa on the high street to be delivered in time for Christmas and it never turned up, check to see what agreement was in place about delivery.

If you were promised delivery on a certain date, and nothing arrived you now have two choices; either agree a new delivery date or cancel the contract.

Lastly, if you got any gift vouchers for Christmas, check the expiry date and don't let them go to waste. You might also want to use them quickly, as anyone who had Budget Travel vouchers will tell you.