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EXPLAINED: The rules around returning Christmas gifts in Germany

Now that Christmas is over, you may be wondering how to deal with some of the not-so-perfect gifts you got - or those you bought for other people. If you need to return or exchange something, here's what you need to know about your rights in Germany.

Discarded wrapping paper after Christmas
Discarded wrapping paper lies next to a Christmas tree. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Karl-Josef Hildenbrand

Everybody loves exchanging gifts at Christmas, but even the most lovely of festive rituals can be a bit of a minefield. You may have been given some new clothes in a size too small (or at least too small for the post-Christmas dinner version of you) or even find yourself getting the same thing from two different people.

That’s why the week after Christmas is often time for yet another seasonal ritual: attempting to return or exchange unwanted gifts at the shops.

Unfortunately, trying to exercise your consumer rights isn’t always that easy – and a lot depends on the retailer having customer-friendly policies in place. 

Here are some common questions and tips for navigating the complex territory of German consumer rights.

Do I have an automatic right to exchange items? 

If the product doesn’t have any defects and comes to you as described, there’s unfortunately no automatic right to return it. In Germany, the general principle is: if you bought it, you bought it. Don’t think those jeans suit you as much as you thought they would? Not sure about the colour of your new iPhone case? According to consumer rights laws, those aren’t valid reasons for demanding a refund or exchange.

Before you give up hope or decide to go on a crash diet though, you should be aware that a lot of retailers do allow you to exchange unwanted items as a gesture of goodwill.

If they do this, they’ll generally be entitled to set their own conditions, so these will vary from vendor to vendor. In most cases, the item will have to be in perfect condition and returned within a few weeks or a month of the purchase. They may also insist on giving you store credit rather than your money back.  

Tip: Retailers normally make a note of their return policies on the receipt, so be sure to check what they are before trying to return the item. 

READ ALSO: Why a German court decision means you could be entitled to compensation from your bank

What if I bought the gift online – or from a catalogue? 

If this is the case, there’s slightly better news. If you didn’t purchase the item in person, but rather online, over the phone or from a catalogue, the purchase is categorised as a ‘distance contract’, which means you generally have two weeks to return the item. This two-week period starts from the date you receive the item, and you should get a full refund after sending it back. 

Online shopping
A woman enters her credit card details while shopping online. Products purchased on the internet can be returned for any reason up to two weeks after purchasing. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Christin Klose

It’s worth noting, however, that this law only applies to commercial vendors like Amazon or an online shop. Someone who sells something privately on an online marketplace like Ebay has no obligation to take the item back – though they may be willing to if you ask nicely!

In addition, some items like fresh food and custom, hand-made products like made-to-measure suits are exempt from ‘distance contract’ rules, so you may not be able to send these back even if they were purchased online. 

Tip: Try to keep the items you receive in mint condition if you’re planning to send them back. Some items, like DVDs, can’t be sent back if the seal on the packaging has been broken.

READ ALSO: 8 quirks that foreigners will pick up while living in Germany

Am I entitled to a refund if my item’s defective?

If something’s wrong with the item when you get it, you have a full two years to return the item. This doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get a refund, though, since vendors can opt to repair it or replace it with a non-defective item instead. 

If you leave it more than six months, things can get a little tricky, since you’ll have to prove that the item was faulty when you got it – even if the defect wasn’t obvious to start with. The good news is that, for items bought in 2022, this six-month period is set to be doubled, so you’ll have a full year to return a faulty item without having to prove that it was defective when you first received it. 

For Christmas gifts bought this year, however, the deadline is still six months. 

Tip: If you spot an issue with your gift, it’s best to return it as soon as you can. 

Who do I have to contact if I want to exchange or return something? 

Sometimes it can be hard to know whether to contact the manufacturer or the seller about an unwanted or faulty item – and vendors may try and pass you over to somebody else. If this happens, it’s important to know that the seller is almost always responsible for dealing with issues related to products they’ve sold.

Jeans shop
A man speaks to a shop assistant in a clothes shop in Baden-Württemberg. The seller should always be your first port of call if you want to return something. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Marijan Murat

The only exception is if the manufacturer may offer a separate warranty that lasts longer than the warranty offered by the seller, for example a three-year warranty on electronic goods. In this case, you may need to refer to them, but it’s probably worth contacting the seller first as they may be able to act as a go-between. 

Tip: Always contact the seller as a first port of call. 

What if the gift was reduced or in the sales? 

If you’ve decided to save a few cents by buying some gifts in the sales this year (don’t worry, we won’t tell anyone) then you’ll be pleased to know that you haven’t forfeited any of your consumer rights. In general, the same rules apply to discounted items as they do to full price items, so you’re entitled to return it anytime within two years if it’s faulty. 

As always, there are some exceptions. If the item was reduced because it had a defect, and you were made aware of the defect before you bought it, you’re unlikely to be entitled to a refund. 

Tip: When buying reduced items, always check whether the seller has indicated that it is defective before purchasing as this could affect your rights. 

And what about gift vouchers? 

Ah, gift vouchers – the ultimate ‘risk free’ option. Who doesn’t like picking a gift for themselves in the January sales, or even later in the year? And the best part is, you don’t have to deal with the rigamarole of returning anything in the New Year. 

Gift voucher
A gift voucher can be an ideal risk free gift – as long as you pay attention to the expiry date. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Swen Pförtner

If you do have some vouchers to use, however, it’s important to make sure you know how long they’re valid for. Generally, vendors can set their own expiry date, though legally it shouldn’t be less than one year. If there’s no sign of an expiry date on the voucher or any indication otherwise, most vouchers should be valid for three years, so you have plenty of time to consider what to spend it on. 

Unfortunately, there’s no obligation for a vendor to exchange the voucher for cash if you decide you don’t want to spend it at that shop, though. 

Tip: Make a note of the expiry date on any vouchers you’re given, and be sure to spend them within the allotted time.

READ ALSO: Has it just got easier to end credit agreements in Germany?

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MONEY

REVEALED: The everyday products getting less expensive in Germany

Inflation rates are soaring in Germany - but the jump in prices hasn't affected all consumer goods. Here are a few of the thing that have actually become cheaper in recent months.

REVEALED: The everyday products getting less expensive in Germany

The cost of living is rising at an alarming pace. In April, the inflation rate in Germany hit a stunning 7.4 percent – the highest it’s been in more than 40 years.

In real terms, that means that many people will be getting poorer year by year, unless they’re lucky enough to have got a stellar pay rise at work. 

When you dig down into the nitty gritty of the price rises though, the cost hikes are quite unevenly spread across different goods and services. 

The Local has reported regularly on the dizzying rise in the cost of fuel and energy, as well as the food items – like milk and fresh meat – that are getting more expensive by the week.

READ ALSO: What to know about the latest price hikes in German supermarkets

In April, energy prices rose by 35.3 percent, while prices for heating oil almost doubled. Consumers also had to pay significantly more for fuel (38.5 per cent) and natural gas (47.5 per cent).

Meanwhile, the weekly grocery shop has also gone up in price, with food costs on average 8.6 percent more expensive than in April last year. Edible fats and oils (27.3 percent) and meat products (11.8 percent) were the items that went up most steeply. 

But not everything is going up in price so dramatically, and some everyday items have even got cheaper over the past few years.

Here’s what consumers in Germany are saving money on today compared to last year.

Digital services and software

Some of the biggest drops in prices over the past year have been in the online and digital sectors, which is great news for anyone looking to pick up a new entertainment system or a new Wifi contract for their home. 

According to the Federal Office of Statistics (Destasis), computer operating systems and other types of software saw the biggest drop in price between April 2021 and April 2022. In fact, people purchasing a software subscription or operating system this spring are likely to have paid around 14.3 percent less than customers who purchased the same software last year.

Destatis also noted that Wifi and internet services have become cheaper in recent months. Since April 2021, the cost of “wireless telecommunications services” (otherwise known as Wifi) has decreased by 2.4 percent, while “access to online services has internet” is 0.8 percent cheaper.

Anyone’s who’s been saving up for a new TV, DVD players or satellite dish will also be pleased to discover that these products currently cost around one percent less than they did in April last year. 

Other electronic devices such as headphones, headsets, e-book readers and digital picture frames fell in price by 1.3 percent between March 2021 and March 2022. Renting videos or DVDs became 0.8 per cent cheaper over the same period.

READ ALSO: 

Wine and sweet treats

While it’s true that most of the weekly grocery shop has gone up in price, some surprising items are actually cheaper now than they were a year ago.

In fact, you can get a romantic dinner for two today for less than you could a year ago, since a plate of seafood is 1.6 percent cheaper and a bottle of wine is 0.8 percent cheaper. Home bakers can also enjoy things like puff pastry and baking mixes for less.

People with a sweet tooth seem to be the biggest winners this year: they can now enjoy a bar of chocolate for less, since the price of chocolate has dipped by three percent since last April, and also make savings of 2.3 percent on any artificial sweeteners they buy. 

Milk and white chocolate bars on display in Berlin.

Milk and white chocolate bars on display in Berlin. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Monika Skolimowska

The other treat that is getting cheaper is ice cream. Just in time for summer, the cost of your ice-cream sundae or Eiskugel in Waffel (ice cream in a cone) has dropped by one percent. 

OK, it may only be a few cents lower, but we still think it’s a good reason not to feel guilty about treating to yourself to an ice cream on a sunny day. 

READ ALSO: German consumers to be hit by further price hikes in supermarkets

Household appliances

Though many household expenses have gone up this year, a few common household goods are currently bucking the trend. 

For soup and smoothie addicts, a staple appliance has decreased in price over the past twelve months. In fact, buying an electric mixer, food processor or blender will set you back 2.8 percent less this year than in April 2021.

Prices for electric irons (-0.5 percent), hoovers (-0.8 percent) and “other large household appliances” (-1.2 percent), which includes water softeners, sewing machines and safes, have also gone down.

READ ALSO: The products getting more expensive and harder to find in Germany

Home and contents insurance

At a time when people have been spending more time at home due to Covid-19, the cost of home-related insurance has gone down.

According to Destasis, the price of “insurance services connected with the dwelling”, which means home and contents insurance, has gone down by around 1.8 percent year on year. 

Glasses and contact lenses

Glasses and contact lenses can be a big expense for anyone who needs them, so people with less-than-perfect eyesight will be pleased to know that the price of both of these has gone down slightly in the past year.

As of April 2022, the price of glasses and contact lenses has gone down by around 1.8 percent on average. 

Designers sunglasses at an auction house in Cologne

Designers sunglasses at an auction house in Cologne. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Oliver Berg

Clothes and shoes have also been trending downwards over the course of this year: back in February, women’s clothes were around 3.3 percent cheaper than they were in February 2021, while men’s clothes had dropped 0.7 percent in price.

Meanwhile, shoes would have set you back around 0.7 percent less on average, with women’s shoes once again showing the steepest decrease at minus 2.9 percent.

Children were the only demographic to buck this trend. In fact, children’s clothes had gone up in price by 1.6 percent in February and children’s shoes were up by 1.4 percent. 

READ ALSO: OPINION: Why Germany’s energy relief payouts are no fix for inadequate social security

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