We have all been there.  We have bought an article of clothing and, on inspecting it at home have suddenly realised that it looks very different to how it appeared in the changing room at the shop.  Similar scenarios include an item that falls apart within a week of purchase or an unwanted gift.  When are you entitled to return goods that you don’t want?
  • The general rule is that you are not entitled to return goods that have nothing wrong with them.  Under English contract law, if you buy something, there is no general principle that entitles you to demand the return of something you simply don’t want.


  • If something is defective, the opposite applies.  If you have bought a dvd player and within a short space of time it ceases to function properly you should reject it as soon as possible and either demand a refund or a replacement.  If there is a problem of this kind you should not feel compelled to accept second best such as a credit note.  Failure to reject could be regarded as acceptance.


  • If the goods in question are perfectly fine but you still want to return them you may still have a contractual right to do so if the vendor makes that clear at the time of purchase.  Many shops such as Marks & Spencer and Argos operate such a policy and, as long as you adhere to their terms, you can compel them to give you a refund or an exchange.  Many online companies operate a similar policy as a matter of necessity – in particular Amazon and most mail order clothes retailers.
  • Despite all of the above and ignoring the law, what should you do if you simply want to return something you have bought even though you have no legal right to do so?  The short answer is that most stores will as a matter of discretion accept back goods for exchange or refund – unless of course their are obvious issues of prior use or hygiene.  The reason, and one should never underestimate this, is that reputable retailers want to foster goodwill with their customers.  If a particular store behaves well, word will inevitably spread that that that is a store worth dealing with.  Companies that aggressively adhere to legal rights do exist but the tend to be ones that compete on the basis of price rather than quality service.


  • On the whole therefore, if you don’t like something, the best policy is to take it back and test the water – you will generally not be disappointed.