Record crowds back in shops for Boxing Day bargains

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The Independent Online

Bargain hunters returned to the shops in force as the Boxing Day sales kicked off the busiest shopping week of the year.

Around 75,000 people made their way to the Bluewater shopping centre in Kent where more than 300 shops were open yesterday. The mall, one of the largest in Europe, expects more than 900,000 shoppers to visit this week.

Matt Clements, Bluewater's executive general manager, said: "Post-Christmas is usually our busiest period. We are looking at an educated customer-base who know there are bargains out there to be had."

In Birmingham, the Bull Ring centre received a record number of visitors, with hundreds waiting from 7am for the shopping centre to open.

Crowds gathered outside the Gucci section of Selfridges where handbags and shoes had up to 50 per cent off. The first item to go was a Gucci handbag, which was reduced from £690 to £369.

The Bull Ring received 1.2 million visitors in the week up to Christmas Eve and another million are expected this week.

At the Metro shopping centre in Gateshead, the largest in the country, 70,000 shoppers came through the doors, and over 120,000 were expected today.

Karen Carr, Metro's marketing manager, said: "More people do not come on Boxing Day because there is limited public transport. Retailers have done well this year, better than some people had predicted, even in the pre-Christmas period. Today will be our busiest day of the year although yesterday there were still over 300 shops open and it was very busy."

As some shoppers queued to snap up bargains, others lined up to return unwanted presents in what has come to be known by retailers as the big "Christmas reversal". Queues formed at customer-service desks across the country as the public returned a mass of unwanted and inappropriate gifts.

Shoppers demanded cash refunds for items as diverse as ill-fitting Wellington boots and iPods in the wrong colour.

By agreeing so readily to reimburse customers for their, or their benefactors' errors, shops usually go way beyond the level of service required by the law. Legally, retailers only have to refund money for goods if they are shoddy or unfit. But the large chains consider it a customer service to take back goods without asking too many questions.

A survey conducted for Travelodge, the hotel chain, estimated that spending in the post-Christmas sales would reach £1.4bn. More than 11 million people would battle through the streets, spending an average of £130 each, it concluded.

Know your product return rights

By Martin Hickman

You do not have a legal right to take back presents simply because you do not like them or the colour is wrong.

But many retailers do let you return goods for a refund or exchange as a gesture of goodwill, provided the approach is made promptly, often 28 days.

Whether or not you have to provide a receipt depends on the retailer.

However, shoppers do have legal rights if the goods are faulty. Under the Sales of Goods Act 1979, goods must be of "satisfactory quality" - that is, of a standard expected by any reasonable person.

They must also be fit for the purpose (ie they must work) and they must meet any description of them given by the shop or maker.

This protection applies to the sales, but not to goods which were reduced in price because of defects or whose faults were obvious at the time of purchase.

To obtain a refund, you must not have told the shop that you accept the goods and you must contact the shop reasonably quickly, though there is no time specified.

Compensation may be applied for to cover any repair necessary to goods. Repairs or replacement may also be demanded, but, again, they must be reasonable.

Finally, a price reduction may be sought. If the retailer refuses to help, you may have a civil case against them in the county court.