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Coronavirus: What are your retail rights?

Photograph of Nick Renaud-Komiy

Written by Nick Renaud-Komiya , Personal finance specialist

15 June 2020

Now that certain types of ‘non-essential’ stores are allowed to open again, what does this mean for consumers? How have your rights to return purchases changed?

A graphic illustrating the returns process between store and customer

As things change rapidly during the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis, this guide will be updated regularly to reflect changes in rules and regulations.

The government has announced that from 15 June 2020 many ‘non-essential’ stores will be allowed to re-open. 

Here we’ll take you through how shops’ policies for refunds have changed in response to the lockdown stemming from COVID-19 and what this will mean for you once their physical locations are open to the public again.   

How will high street shops reopening affect your consumer rights?  

When the government first ordered lockdown, a number of large retailers announced temporary changes to their returns policies. This was done in order to give self-isolating shoppers more time to return any items if needed. 

As many high street shops begin to reopen their doors to customers, some of these more generous returns policies are likely to be pared back to how they looked before lockdown began. 

What does the law say? 

Regardless of how individual stores change their policies about how many days they’ll give you to return items, the law is very clear. 

The Consumer Rights Act 2015 says that if you bought a product that is faulty, as a rule you have 30 days to receive a full refund. 

If there isn’t a fault with the item, but you’ve just changed your mind about your purchase, unfortunately you do not have an automatic right to get a refund. If you cannot get a refund, you may be offered credit to buy something else at the same store. 

When it comes to products you’ve bought online, there are also some handy protections available to you. 

 The Consumer Contracts Regulations allow you to cancel an online order you’ve made within 14 days and receive a full refund, regardless of your reason for wanting to do so. Once you’ve cancelled an order you have another 14 days to send the goods back.

What if you bought a product during lockdown and you want a refund?

It’s worth checking on the relevant store’s website as to how their returns policy has changed as a result of being able to re-open their physical shops again. 

 In many cases we have seen large retailers continue to offer decent time periods for returns, once stores reopen. 

 Some stores like John Lewis have said that they will give shoppers who bought products online during lockdown 30 days to return any items, from the day their physical stores reopen.

Others have said that orders placed online before a certain date will be covered by a longer ‘lockdown’ returns period policy. After that date, the firm’s regular returns policy will return.

 For example, clothing retailer New Look has said that orders placed online between 

16 March 2020 and 1 June 2020 have an extended 90-day return period. However, any items bought from 2 June 2020 are subject to the store’s ‘normal’ returns policy.

 This policy is less generous, but still offers you 28 days from the date on your receipt, or from the date when you received items ordered online, to return your purchase. 

 What if you want to return an item, but the shop is no longer trading?

Sadly, a number of high street chains have been hit particularly by the lockdown. Over the last couple of months we’ve seen brands like Laura Ashley, BrightHouse, Oasis, Warehouse, Cath Kidston go into administration.

If you bought items from one of these retailers that you wanted to return because they are faulty or you’ve changed your mind, there are a number of things you can do:

  • If you spent more than £100 on your credit card, then you’re automatically protected under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act and can speak to your credit card company about getting a refund

  • If you paid for your purchases using a debit card you can make a chargeback claim with your current account provider

  • If you have a faulty item, you might be covered by the manufacturer’s warranty if you’re covered by one and it is still in date