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A consumers' Christmas - what to do with unwanted gifts?

Picking the right present is an art unto itself, and all of us have been there: we've given (or received) a poorly chosen gift, or found two identical items under the tree. What's the legal framework for returning or exchanging the wrong present, so as to save the joy and peace of Christmas?

Buying gifts over the internet is becoming ever more popular. Online shopping is not only comfortable, but also has the added benefit of a generous statutory clause under which consumers may walk away from the purchase afterwards. Specifically, under the Civil Code, consumers may withdraw from the purchase agreement within 14 days from the date of receipt of the goods, even without giving reasons. Retailers have to instruct consumers of this right; if they fail to do so, then the consumer may withdraw from the purchase agreement within 14 days from the day on which they received the notice informing them of their right of withdrawal (but in any case no later than within one year and fourteen days). Dealers are free to offer customers even more generous terms, accepting returns or replacements even after the 14-day period. Dealers will usually set out the specific terms of the return policy which they offer within the context of their general terms and conditions.

If the consumer withdraws from the agreement, the seller must promptly return the payment made (but is not obliged to do so unless and until the consumer has either handed over the goods purchased, or provided proof that they were sent back). Aside from the purchase price, retailers must also refund the postage for shipping the goods to the customer. If the customer chose a form of delivery associated with a premium shipping fee (i.e., for a price higher than the most favorable cost of shipping offered by the retailer), then the retailer will only refund the cheapest shipping fee. Quite logically, this means that if the seller offers delivery for free, they need not pay any shipping fees to a customer who walks away from the agreement.

Having said all that, the above option does not apply to several exceptions set out in the law. Specifically, consumers may not withdraw from the purchase agreement within the above-mentioned 14-day period in the case of perishable goods, digital content (software) (if the OEM packing has been breached), custom-made goods, but also e.g. the delivery of newspapers or magazines (unless the seller expressly guaranteed the option of withdrawal e.g. in their T&C).

Unfortunately, brick-and-mortar purchases are not subject to similarly favorable terms. The law stipulates no right of withdrawal from the agreement in favor of consumers who buy goods at a store. Of course, this does not mean that retailers cannot agree on a return or replacement policy with customers. Where they do, they are then bound by such policy. We nonetheless recommend to insist on written confirmation of the possibility to return or replace goods. A large number of retailers today has enshrined the option to return goods in their terms and conditions, and one may say that a reasonable return policy is standard among the majority of dealers.

Source: Act No. 89/2012 Coll., the Civil Code