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Our Christmas shopping tips

Got a lot of Christmas gifts to buy? Here are some things to keep in mind when you’re out shopping.

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Gift cards

It’s no surprise gift card sales usually surge in the lead-up to Christmas. They’re Santa’s little helper if you’ve run out of ideas. But let’s talk turkey. Gift cards have pitfalls. Most cards:

  • have an expiry date: if the card expires, the credit is lost.
  • can only be used in a specific shop or group of shops.

Our research has found 20 percent of gift cards aren’t redeemed – they’re a gift to the retailer.

Key pointers if you buy a gift card:

  • Ask about the expiry date. Most cards are valid for a year, but some are valid for longer. Some don’t expire at all.
  • Check where the card can be used and whether there are any special conditions.

If you get a card in your stocking:

  • Register it if you can. Registered cards can sometimes be replaced if you lose them.
  • Use the card before it expires or you lose it.
  • Hold on to the card even if it has expired. Retailers sometimes offer a “grace period” beyond the expiry date.

Check out our Drop the Dates campaign we've been running this year to try and put pressure on retailers to drop expiry dates from gift cards.

Exchange or return?

Not sure aunt Kate will really like that lighthouse calendar? Or worried little Luke might end up with two Wiggles boxsets? Once a sale is made, it’s final unless the product is faulty. You can’t take back something just because you changed your mind or the recipient doesn’t like it.

If you're worried the gift you're thinking of buying isn't quite right, ask for an exchange card. The store isn't obliged to give you one but many will. Including an exchange card with your gift can also take off some of the pressure of finding the perfect pressie.

If you don't have an exchange card, some retailers may let you strike a deal – the gift might be returnable provided you have the receipt (ask about returns before you buy it). Usually the price tag must still be attached, the boxes or packaging still sealed, and the item unused. There’s also often a time-limit on returns.

Some retailers have a no-questions-asked exchange policy. This means you’ll get a credit note to swap for something else from the store.

Otherwise, you can just try asking – some retailers may be willing to exchange or refund in the interests of good customer relations.

Extended warranties

There’s a chance you’ll be offered an extended warranty when you buy a gift. These warranties are supposed to give you extra cover if your gift proves faulty. They sound tempting because no one wants to give their dearly beloved a dud. But they’re not necessary. That’s because you’re already covered by the Consumer Guarantees Act. Under the Act, retailers must guarantee their products are of “acceptable quality”. If your gift fails or doesn’t last as long as you could reasonably expect, the retailer has to repair or replace it or give you a refund.

Retailers have made money selling extended warranties - often by overselling the warranty’s benefits. But this Christmas, extended warranties are on notice.

If a retailer wants to sell you an extended warranty, it must:

  • Give you information about the legal rights you already have if a product proves faulty.
  • Tell you what extra benefits the extended warranty provides.
  • If you do buy an extended warranty, you’ll have a cooling off period of five working days in which you can cancel it and get a refund.

Beware of scams

For scammers, the silly season is open season. Watch out for these scams in the lead-up to Christmas:

  • Bogus holiday packages Beware of cold-callers or brochures offering you holiday or accommodation packages. Scammers sometimes use these offers to lure people into handing over money and personal details. Before signing up, ask for the contact details of the affiliated hotels or airlines. Call these companies yourself to check the offer is legit.

  • Charity scams Many legitimate charities appeal for donations over Christmas. But some scammers also try cashing in on the festive spirit. If you’re asked to make a donation, don’t rely on the website or phone number given by the first person who contacts you. Search online for the charity’s contact details. While you’re at it, check the charity is registered on the Charities Register.

  • Dodgy gift vouchers If you’re buying a gift voucher, make sure you get it from a reputable source. Scammers have taken to advertising fake vouchers on social media sites. Web users are duped into handing over personal details in exchange for a giveaway that doesn’t exist. Our advice: don’t click on an online advert for vouchers if you’re unsure of its validity.

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