Customers returning unwanted Christmas gifts are being warned by online retailers that they will have to inform the original buyers of the returns due to changes in data protection laws.
While the pilgrimage to take back garish jumpers and superfluous socks is a new year’s tradition as familiar as taking down the Christmas tree, data rules now oblige internet retailers to tell a buyer when an item they have bought is returned – regardless of whether it was a gift.
In some cases, companies are warning customers that they should inform the gift-giver themselves that they are making the return – before the company has to let them know.
In one instant, a father returning a child’s coat to Boden was told that the original buyer would be informed ‘due to data protection regulations’.
A customer service representative 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 it was contractually bound to inform all buyers of any changes on their account.
“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,” it said in a statement.
Eleven of the 30 retailers approached by The Mail on Sunday said they would have to inform buyers if gifts they had bought were returned. Argos and Primark told The Telegraph that this did not apply to them.
It is believed the change results from confusion around the EU-wide General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) that came in last year and led to a new Data Protection Act being passed in the UK.
Consumer expert Martin Lewis said he could: “understand why companies are citing data protection, although it does seem to be a little over the top”.
However, the Information Commissioner’s Office said that retailers are not legally obliged to inform buyers when gifts they have bought are returned.
“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,” it said.