Unwanted Christmas present? Discreet solutions to sell, swap or give away | Hilary Osborne

Don’t waste an unwanted gift – try a refund, exchange, swap party or donate to charity – without hurting the giver’s feelings

However heavy your hints to family and friends, or instructions that they really shouldn’t get you anything this year, chances are you unwrapped at least one gift you felt you don’t know what to do with. What should you do with it? Here are some options:

Return the item to the retailer

Retailers are not obliged to give exchanges or refunds on goods that are not faulty, but many will do so – unless the item has been personalised in any way.

An increasing number offer gift receipts, particularly on items such as clothes, so you might have the paperwork you need to get an exchange or refund. The gift receipt won’t say how much it cost, but will probably stipulate the last day you can return the item for a refund or exchange.

If there is no gift receipt, you could ask the giver for it. If you are worried about hurting their feelings, you could try and get an exchange without a receipt, assuming there are labels on the items indicating where it came from.

Many retailers will offer refunds or exchanges without receipts, but only at the most recent price, so if your present is now in the sale the value of what you get back will be discounted accordingly. Marks & Spencer offers both refunds and exchanges on items with no receipt, while Debenhams offers exchanges. John Lewis states that any refund without a receipt “will be at the discretion of shop staff, and will normally be in gift vouchers”.

Send it back

It’s quite possible your gift was bought online. If it was from a retailer with a high-street presence you are likely to be able to take unwanted gifts back to a store for an exchange or refund.

Some retailers, including Debenhams and John Lewis, offer exchanges and refunds on online purchases in store; instead of a receipt you will need the despatch note or invoice as proof of purchase.

One thing to bear in mind is that the person who gave the present is unlikely to have paid in cash; the retailer could insist that a refund is given via a gift token, or on the card that was used to make the purchase.

Some retailers will offer an exchange even without proof of purchase, but it is likely to be at the most recent price.

It could be more tricky if your gift came from an internet-only retailer. If the gift was sent directly from the retailer to you there should have been order details with it. Amazon has a returns page for people in this situation and promises not to tell the person who bought it that it’s going back. However, unless there has been a mistake, it will deduct the cost of the return from the gift certificate it will give you in exchange.

But with a general gift that has no order documents proving the purchase was from a particular retailer, you could be stuck. In this case try to get the order details from the gift giver (even if that is just the email confirming purchase). Bear in mind that with many retailers you will have to pay to send back the item.

Give your gift to charity

Your unwanted present could be a welcome gift to a local charity shop. Most will be very happy to get books, CDs and games, though there are items they cannot accept for safety reasons. Oxfam will not generally take unwanted electrical goods (although a small number of its shops do), and most will decline perishable goods – so you may have to find another home for that box of orange creams.

If you don’t know where your nearest charity shop is, find it using the Charity Retail Association’s search tool.

Sell it

One person’s unwanted gift is another’s dream-present-that-nobody-picked-up-the-hints-about, and you might find someone willing to pay to take it off your hands. Many people’s first port of call is eBay. It charges to list an item, unless you opt for a starting price below 99p and give no reserve price. The site also has fee-free weekends occasionally. You will also need to work out a charge for p&p, unless you state collection only.

Gumtree offers free listings and is designed to help with local selling. You won’t be selling to as big a market as eBay and you will have to choose a price first, but you won’t have to worry about organising post and packing. Preloved is a similar proposition. Or, you could try local listings websites.

If the unwanted gift is a CD, DVD or game, an alternative option is the website Musicmagpie. It will give you an instant quote so you can check whether it’s a good option before you commit.

Hold a gift-swapping party

The perfect excuse for a gathering in January. Invite your friends round and tell them all to bring their unwanted gifts. You might fancy a new scarf, while someone else might love your surplus candle. You might want to draw up some rules first; perhaps let everyone pick one thing first, then go round the circle again, or draw lots for things that more than one person desires. Anything left could go to the charity shop.

Keep it, to give as a gift next year

Give it now, or wait, save it for a birthday or Christmas 2014. (Remember to note down who gave it to you so you don’t simply give it straight back next year.)

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