News, Culture & Society

People planning to take back unwanted gifts without hurting anyone’s feelings are in for a shock

Family members planning to take back unwanted gifts without hurting anyone’s feelings are in for a shock – as new rules mean retailers could be obliged to tell the original buyer

  • New data rules mean buyers could be informed if people return their gifts
  • Regulations apply to purchases made with online retailers in the European Union
  • Internet retailer Boden has told customers to warn friends in advance of returns 

It’s that time of the year when unwanted Christmas gifts are discreetly exchanged for something you actually want.

But now grandchildren, nephews and nieces planning to take back eyesore clothes without hurting anyone’s feelings must beware – for new data rules mean that retailers may be obliged to inform the original buyer.

The regulations apply to purchases made online.  

Internet retailer Boden has even advised people who wish to return items to tell the buyer in advance to avoid giving them a nasty surprise.

New regulations mean that buyers could be informed of people returning their gifts 

When the fashion firm was contacted by a father who wanted to return a child’s coat, Boden said the buyer would have to be told of a transaction on their account ‘due to data protection regulations’.

A customer service worker added: ‘You may, therefore, want to let them know that you are returning it in advance. I realise this can sometimes be a little sensitive, so I apologise if this causes any problems.’

Boden said the firm had a contract with the original buyer when the goods were purchased.

It added: ‘If the recipient wishes to exchange the items or obtain a refund, we are obliged to inform the original buyer of any changes to our records and any refund would need to be given to the original buyer – this is for various legal and fraud prevention reasons.’

A new Data Protection Act was passed last year in response to the EU-wide General Data Protection Regulation, which demanded tougher rules among member nations to protect personal data.

Martin Lewis (pictured above) said the measures are a little bit 'over the top'

Martin Lewis (pictured above) said the measures are a little bit ‘over the top’

One consequence appears to be a degree of confusion.

The Mail on Sunday asked 30 retailers about returning unwanted gifts bought over the internet. Eleven said they would have to inform the purchaser.

Mail on Sunday consumers’ champion Tony Hetherington said: ‘I am not aware of any data protection reason for what you describe. Data protection is about privacy, but this seems the opposite of privacy.’

The UK watchdog body, the Information Commissioner’s Office, said: ‘Data protection law does not set many absolute rules. Whether and how organisations comply depends on exactly why and how they use the data and there is often more than one way to comply.’

Consumer expert Martin Lewis offered a suggestion. He said: ‘I can understand why companies are citing data protection, although it does seem to be a little over the top.

‘The solution should be to allow people to tick a box on the website, saying something is a gift. Then the person who it was for would get a gift receipt, and it would be easier to exchange something.’