For members


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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For members


When will Germany’s fuel tax cut come into force?

As part of its package of energy relief measures, the German government is hoping to give car drivers a discount at the petrol pump. But how will it work and when will it come into force?

When will Germany's fuel tax cut come into force?

What’s going on? 

It hasn’t escaped anyone’s attention that energy prices have skyrocketed in recent months. Along with eye-wateringly high heating and electricity bills, drivers have also been feeling the pinch at the petrol pump.

Even before the Ukraine war broke out, energy supply issues were driving up prices at petrol stations – a situation that led to the absurd spectacle of Germans driving across the border to Switzerland (one of the most expensive countries in the world) to fill up their tank for less.

In the early weeks of the war, it wasn’t uncommon to pay €2.20 per litre for Super E10 petrol in Germany, while diesel could average as much as €2.29 per litre. This represents a whopping 45 cent increase on petrol prices and 65 cents on diesel prices compared to the same time last year.

To help people struggling with the price hikes, Finance Minister Christian Lindner (FDP) initially pitched the idea of a “fuel discount” that petrol station owners could offer to customers and then claim back from the state. But there was such an intense backlash to this proposal that it essentially fell at the first hurdle and never made it into the government’s package of energy relief measures.

Instead, the government is hoping to give drivers a discount another way: by reducing the energy taxes levied on each litre of fuel for three months. It’s hoping that this will also go some way to reducing petrol prices over summer. 

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: Germany’s proposals for future energy price relief

But haven’t fuel prices gone down again recently?

That’s right. But experts don’t think this amounts to a stabilisation in the long term.

Both petrol and diesel prices sunk quite significantly after the initial price shock, but are climbing up steadily again – and according to motorists’ association ADAC, both remain a little over €2 per litre

This means drivers are still paying significantly more to fill up their tanks than they were a year ago, so the upcoming tax cut will no doubt be welcome. 

How much of a discount can drivers expect?

If all of it is passed on to consumers, the cut in energy tax is expected to reduce the price of a litre of diesel by around 14 cents, while a litre of petrol will be reduced by almost 30 cents.

That’s equivalent to a saving of €15 on a 50-litre tank of E10 and €7 on a 50-litre tank of diesel. 

Of course, a lot also depends on the development of the energy market: if prices continue to go up, drivers may not feel they’re saving a great deal, but it should make a difference in the short-term.

According to ADAC, around 48 percent of the cost of a litre of fuel goes directly to the state through the CO2 tax, energy tax, value-added tax (VAT) and other fossil fuel taxes – so tax cuts can make a big difference. 

But the price of purchasing fossil fuels (which has been affected through the war and supply chain issues) and the strength of the dollar are also important factors that determine how much horror drivers experience on their visits to the petrol station. 

Fuel prices in Germany March 2022

Fuel prices at a petrol station in Cologne on March 9th, 2022. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Oliver Berg

What’s the timeline for this? 

The government is hoping to pass its entire package of energy relief measures in the Bundestag on Thursday and get approval from the Bundesrat on Friday. This will get the ball rolling for many of the measures to launch next month. 

Much like the €9 monthly travel ticket for trains and buses, the fuel tax cut is a time-limited measure, and just like the discounted ticket, it will run from the start of June to the end of August.

Since it’s up to petrol station owners to pass their savings onto consumers, however, experts predict a lag of a few days before drivers start seeing the tax cut reflected in the fuel prices. 

At that point, ADAC is predicting that drivers will go on a manic spending spree, so they’re advising people not to drive in the early days of June with a near-empty tank. If they do, they could face some long queues at the petrol station. 

Aren’t we trying to save on energy at the moment?

Well, quite. With fears growing that Russia could turn off the taps in retaliation for Germany’s support for Ukraine, the message from the government has been all about conserving energy as much as possible in the lead-up to winter.

But by reducing the price of fuel, the same government is essentially encouraging people to use their cars more often, economists say. 

“It is counterproductive to lower petrol station prices in this situation, because then people will drive more,” economist Veronika Grimm told Tagesschau. “And that is exactly the opposite of what they want to achieve.” 

READ ALSO: Russia using energy ‘as weapon’, says Berlin

An ARAL petrol station in Leipzig.

An ARAL petrol station in Leipzig. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Jan Woitas

At this point, you might expect an uproar from the Greens – who are part of the governing traffic-light coalition along with the Social Democrats (SPD) and Free Democrats (FDP). But that uprising seems to have been headed off at the pass by the €9 public transport ticket that will run alongside the fuel discount. 

In fact, Economics Minister Robert Habeck (Greens) has admitted that the tax cut “isn’t the most targeted measure” but says the continued high price of fuel will still put many people off driving.

“Many people are suffering from the high fuel prices,” says Habeck. “They’ll still suffer enough even if the fuel tax is lowered for three months. So in truth it’s not really cheap driving.” 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: What Germany’s relief package against rising prices means for you

What else are people saying? 

The other major criticism of the fuel tax cut is that it’s likely to benefit the wrong people. 

“Typically, those who drive a lot benefit from fuel rebates,” Grimm told Tagesschau. “And those are the ones who have who have multiple cars. These are typically the higher earners.” 

This has led to criticism that the €3.15 billion that the rebate will cost is essentially a redistribution of wealth to the top of society, rather than the bottom.

READ ALSO: Who benefits the most – and least – from Germany’s energy relief measures?

Obviously, the government disagrees with this assessment. They argue that cheaper fuel will help drivers foot their bills and stimulate the economy at the same time.

The motorists’ association ADAC is also concerned that the measure may lead to queues at petrol stations, but says that drivers can still opt to save fuel of their own accord over summer.

The best way to do this is to pump up the tyres, ditch the roof rack and other unnecessary weight, and drive at a slow, steady speed to avoid accelerating and braking too much, ADAC explains. 

READ ALSO: Germany’s largest car club calls on drivers to ditch their cars