Resolver’s Christmas guide to online shopping and returns

8 min read
December 12, 2023
woman doing christmas shopping online

In anticipation of this Christmas, we wanted to re-issue our complete guide to online shopping. Why? Because when it comes to retailers, we see that by far the biggest bugbear is the fact that, despite there being lots of rules to protect consumers, many businesses choose to ignore or mis-interpret them.

Complaints about retailers, both online and on the high street, are the third and fourth most complained about products and services that Resolver sees. Last year both categories resulted in 200,000 complaints – and that’s before you add in all the other problems associated with shops, like package delivery and online scams.

We’ve seen websites that mislead people about their rights to return items, delivery disputes that shift the blame onto the person missing their package, warranties and service contracts that aren’t worth the paper they’re written on, and credit agreements that hide the true cost of borrowing.

We believe that the retail industry needs a strong regulator with the power to fine firms that don’t stick to the rules. But until then, it is up to you to protect your rights by staying informed of what they are.

Our guide to shopping and returns

Where do my basic shopping rights come from?

  • The Consumer Rights Act (which came in to play on October 1st 2015) gives you the bulk of your shopping rights. For items bought before October 2015, it’s the Sale of Goods Act (1979).
  • The act covers goods and services (including digital goods) and whether they are ‘satisfactory quality’, ‘as described’ or ‘fit for purpose’. If the goods you buy fall short of these expectations you can seek a refund, replacement or repair depending on when or how things go wrong.

What are my rights if I want to return a purchase but there’s nothing wrong with it?

  • The good news is if the item was bought online or on the phone then you have 14 days to return it under the Consumer Contract Regulations 2013. In-store is different though and will depend on the shop’s policy.

When do I get the money?

  • Aside from your rights buying goods online, 14 is a useful number to remember. The retailer has 14 days to refund you from the point they receive the goods (or when you tell them if the goods are digital). That includes delivery costs for returning the item (but they only have to pay the cheapest option available, so you might end up covering the difference).

What if I bought the item in-store?

  • These rules don’t extend to items bought in store, though you have a number of rights for faulty or misrepresented items. Some stores do allow you to return items with gift receipts. A gift receipt is basically an additional receipt provided by the retailer with the price not included, so you can return and exchange items. You don’t need to be the gift-giver to redeem a gift receipt, but the retailer can set the terms if the item isn’t faulty.
  • Remember that shops can ask you to produce a receipt so hold on to it. The jury is out on whether a photo of a receipt counts, so speak to the store before you go in to avoid an argument over the tills.

What if the goods are faulty?

  • You’ve got lots of rights when it comes to goods or services that don’t work. However, there are certain time limits you need to bear in mind.
  • The rules (in this case, the Consumer Rights Act 2015) say that you have 30 days from the date the goods were purchased to return the item if it’s wonky or not as described.
  • You’re entitled to a full refund if the goods are returned within 30 days. Bear in mind it will go in to the account of the person returning it, so if the goods were purchased online, the person who bought the gift will need to organise the refund.

What if I don’t discover a fault until after 30 days?

  • If goods are faulty you have up to six months to return the items – and the burden of proof is on the retailer to prove the item wasn’t wonky or refund you. They are allowed to have one crack at a repair or replacing the item, but after that, you can ask for a refund.
  • Even over the six months, all is not lost, though you’ll need to prove why you didn’t realise the item was damaged or that the problem isn’t just down to wear and tear. Be prepared to compromise though. You could be looking at a repair or a replacement – and if the product has been upgraded since, you aren’t entitled to the upgraded version.

What about individual stores and their returns policies?

  • A retailer can’t ignore the law, but many of them offer better returns policies as part of their deal to keep you as a loyal customer. It can be really confusing keeping on top of the different dates though, so keep an eye out for Resolver’s returns calendar so you don’t miss a date – we’re working on the new one now!

What if the provider of goods or services says the item isn’t faulty?

  • The key thing here is whether the goods are ‘satisfactory quality’, ‘fit for purpose’ or ‘as described’. The latter option is pretty straightforward. Compare the item’s description with what you’ve got and if it’s misleading, go ahead and make a complaint.
  • ‘Fit for purpose’ is important to remember because you might not realise an item isn’t doing what it’s supposed to be doing until you’ve started using it, which might be some time after it was purchased. For example, if you’ve ordered blackout curtains that don’t actually black out the light, then you can argue they’re not fit for purpose.
  • ‘Satisfactory quality’ is pretty subjective. To give you an example, if you go to a restaurant and don’t like your food after eating it all you’re not going to get very far. But if you’d asked in advance for a vegetarian option but one isn’t provided when you arrive, they you clearly haven’t been given what you wanted.
  • A good starting point is asking ‘does it do what it says on the tin?’ In your complaint make sure that you take the time to clearly explain why you haven’t got what you thought you were getting.

Dodgy deliveries and knowing your rights

Christmas is always the busiest season for package deliveries. And complaints about delivery services have been increasing for some time now. Last year, we received an astonishing 35,339 complaints about delivery companies – up 203%!

Every time we write about parcel delivery, it really touches a nerve. From delivery companies that don’t attempt to deliver to items left in bins or chucked over fences, so many of us have personal experiences of being let down by couriers. Yet we often feel uncertain about who we should be chasing.

When you enter an agreement with a retailer, your contract is with them, not with any third party they use. So if items you order are not delivered, are damaged or faulty, are delivered or left in an unauthorised place or another delivery-related problem occurs, it is the responsibility of the retailer to sort out the problem.

Of course, this doesn’t let the delivery company off the hook. Loads of the complaints we see revolve around how hard it is to actually contact them to arrange a collection or redelivery. A lack of phone numbers, direct email addresses and complicated websites drive many people to distraction.

While it is the person or company who posts the item who is usually the person who needs to chase the goods if there’s a problem, this can be particularly difficult if you order goods online from abroad.

As a general rule if there’s a dispute over delivery the retailer should be able to pin down where the driver was around the time of the delivery, who signed for the item, or where it was left. Remember the onus is on them to prove that you received the item, not the other way around. You’re entitled to ask for proof of delivery if you’re being charged for an item you haven’t received.

You are entitled to expect your goods to be delivered on the agreed date that you were given when your order was placed. If no date was given or agreed, the trader must get your purchases to you within 30 days of the order being placed. If this does not happen, you are entitled to a full refund. This is stated in the Consumer Contracts Regulations 2013 (formerly the Distance Selling Regulations applied) if you fancy getting all factual with a stubborn seller! If you paid a supplement for a specified time or date of delivery, it is reasonable to ask for this back.

These rules just cover the basic rights, not the full range of scenarios that might occur. So – for example – though there  isn’t a specific rule that covers goods left with a neighbour without permission, the rules do cover the ‘delivery’. So if you’ve not received the goods directly or given instructions for them to be delivered elsewhere, you can pursue a complaint.


If you have any thoughts on this topic, or any other consumer issues you would like us to cover, feel free to get in touch with us at

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