With just weeks to go until Christmas, it is important to know your obligations as retailers and rights as consumers when it comes to buying presents – both in store and online.

With talk of stock shortages and shipping delays due to the pandemic and Brexit, it can be a worrying time for shoppers and business. With an increase in trade this time of year there are a few areas which are of particularly importance.

Gift vouchers

On 2 December 2019, the Consumer Protection (Gift Vouchers) Act 2019 (the “Act”) came into force. The Act introduces new rules for traders and enhanced protections for consumers who buy or receive gift vouchers. The Act does not apply to gift vouchers purchased before 2 December 2019.

The Act’s new terms include a minimum expiry period; a gift voucher must have an expiry date that is at least 5-years from the date the contract was entered into or, alternatively, no expiry date. Retailers should ensure that their gift vouchers clearly state the expiry date if they intend to rely on one.

The Act also provides for a ban on requiring the full value of a gift voucher to be used in one transaction and so a gift voucher contract should not contain a term which requires the full value of the gift voucher to be used in one transaction. Similarly, a gift voucher contract cannot contain a term that places a limit on the number of gift vouchers a person can use in a single transaction.

Also, where a consumer spends only part of a gift voucher and a balance of at least €1 remains on the voucher, a trader must reimburse the consumer for the remaining balance of the gift voucher in cash, by electronic transfer or by way of a further gift voucher.

It makes sense that the Act confirms that where a party (e.g., a buyer) of a gift voucher contract gives, sells or otherwise transfers a gift voucher to a third person (e.g. a recipient), the third person will be entitled to exercise all rights under the gift voucher contract on the same terms as the original party.

Faulty goods

If a purchased item turns out to be faulty, under EU consumer protection law the buyer has the right to a refund, a repair, a replacement, or a reduction in price, as a solution. The Sale of Good Act in Ireland provides that goods supplied should be free from defects and fit for purpose. If this is not the case the buyer has the right to repudiate the contract however depending on the value of the goods, suing for a refund for Breach of Contract may not be a viable option. It is often the case that the Seller does not wish to provide a cash refund and the solution is often negotiated between the parties.

Advising customers, a spokesperson for the CCPC said, “In all cases of faulty goods, act quickly and contact the business who sold you the item as soon as you can to seek redress.”

Change-of-mind returns

If you have bought an item, but later change your mind and want to return it, your rights and entitlements are different depending on whether you bought the item online, or in-store.

If you buy something online and subsequently change your mind, under EU consumer protection law you have 14 days from the day the item arrives to cancel your order, and a further 14 days to return the items and get a full refund.

However, if you change your mind about an item you bought in-store, your rights and entitlements will depend on the store’s own returns policy, unless the item is faulty.

Some stores will offer a returns period, but the CCPC said it’s important to be aware that this is a ‘goodwill gesture’ on the part of the store – not a legal obligation. So be sure to check out the ‘change-of-mind returns’ policy before making any in-store purchases.

With such a large amount of money estimated to be spent this time of year, traders should now incorporate all the new rules and enhance their consumer protections by ensuring their policies and contracts incorporate appropriate terms and conditions.

NB – This is a guide for information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. If you have an issue requiring legal advice, please contact any of the team at Nolan Farrell & Goff LLP, whose numbers can be found on our website www.nfg.ie, or email info@nfg.ie.