Do stores have to offer a rain check if an advertised item is not available?

September 8, 2015 15:42 by Consumer Ed

Dear Consumer Ed: 

Are businesses required to offer a “rain check” for items advertised but not available within the time frame of the deal?  I understand when they say “while supplies last,” but one store in particular either conveniently runs out of a product early (sometimes the first day) or it tries to switch to either a higher-priced product or a lower-quality product. 

Consumer Ed says:  

It depends on what kind of business it is.  The Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) requires grocery stores and retailers that sell food products to have the advertised product in stock and available for you to buy during the entire time period of the deal unless the advertisement clearly states that supplies of the product are limited.  If the grocery store doesn’t have a phrase on the ad to the effect of “while supplies last”, but runs out of the advertised product, the store must either be able to prove that it originally ordered enough of the advertised item to meet the anticipated demand, or:

  • Offer you a rain check;
  • Offer you a similar product to the one that was advertised that is either comparable in value or has had its price reduced in a similar way; or
  • Offer you some other form of compensation that is equal to the value of the advertised product that is no longer stock.


If you do receive a rain check from your grocery store, make sure that it includes the following:

  •  Store’s name and address
  • Your name, address, and phone number
  • Date the rain check was issued to you
  • Description of the item you wanted to purchase
  • Quantity you are entitled to purchase
  • Advertised price

 

Once you have the rain check, the store has to provide you with the product within 60 days.  Otherwise, it must allow you to purchase another comparable in-stock item, or work with you to establish when it will have the advertised product ready for you to buy.  If the grocery store’s ad didn’t state that quantities of the advertised item were limited, and you’ve asked them to provide you with a rain check or a comparable product but they refused, the store has engaged in a deceptive or unfair practice, and has violated the Federal Trade Commission Act.  

If the business you are concerned about is not a grocery store or another kind of retailer that sells food products, the business is only required to clearly state in its advertisement that the quantities of the product are limited.  The business has no obligation to provide you with a rain check or with a comparable product, even if the advertisement does not state that supplies are limited.  However, the lack of availability of the advertised product without a disclaimer could be violation of Georgia’s Fair Business Practices Act (“FBPA”), especially if the business tries to pressure you to buy a more expensive product (or if it purposely stocked only two or three units of the merchandise advertised simply to get customers into the store to sell them something else).  According to the FBPA, it is unfair or deceptive if a store advertises goods without intending to sell them or to provide reasonable amounts of the advertised products without providing notice that supplies are limited.  The FTC also prohibits businesses from advertising items solely for the purpose of convincing you to buy more expensive ones.  

You can report any of the violations described above to the FTC at www.ftc.gov and to the Georgia Department of Law’s Consumer Protection Unit at consumer.ga.gov or 404-651-8600.

 

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Pet store sold me a sick puppy

August 20, 2015 20:02 by Consumer Ed

Dear Consumer Ed:  

My mother purchased a puppy from a pet store for $2000.  She signed the store's "no refund" policy during the check-out process without reading the paperwork.  But, during the sale of the dog, the sales clerk referenced several times the store’s 48-hour return policy, which says that they will offer an exchange within 48 hours.  However, it was not at all clear to my mom that they did not offer refunds during this time period.  My mom went back to the store within the 48-hour time period because the puppy was showing signs of illness.  The store personnel directed her to speak to a third party over the phone about what steps to take next, and only after getting home did my mother learn about the store’s no refund policy.  Is there any protection for consumers in this case?  We have since learned that the pet store in question has a very bad reputation for selling sick animals, so offering an exchange is not a great option.  

Consumer Ed says:  

Your mother is in a difficult situation. While the store is certainly obligated to provide consumers with the terms of its return/exchange policies before the consumer completes the purchase, your mother was given those policies and has acknowledged receiving them. 

There is no universal right to cancel purchases. A three-day right to cancel exists for only a limited number of consumer transactions. These transactions are limited to credit or cash transactions of $25 or more that were initiated through face-to face contact, e.g. door-to-door sales, away from the seller’s regular place of business that results in a written agreement.  Georgia does not have any law that requires a business to provide a refund or accept returns; this means that a business may set its own return policy (including setting time limits on accepting returns), and may offer consumers cash, in-store credit, exchanges, or no adjustment at all.  While a retailer isn’t generally required to post its policies, it must honor any refund or return policies it does have.  From what you’ve said about your mother’s case, the store in question actually provided her with a written return/exchange policy, which she then signed (but didn’t read).  Under these circumstances, it’s unlikely the store would be required to do more with regard to giving the appropriate advance notice of its return/exchange policies.

Nevertheless, your mother may still have some recourse.  The papers she signed may have contained written warranties about the condition of the dog, and she should review them carefully to see what they say. However, even if there were no written warranties, there may be warranties that the law will imply in the context of a sale of goods (these warranties do apply to pets). Basically, the law implies that goods must:  (i) pass without objection in the trade; and (ii) be fit for the normal and ordinary purpose for which such goods are used.  It follows that a sickly dog would generally not pass “without objection”, and by selling an animal that is unhealthy, the pet store could be said to have violated this implied warranty.  

To find out if your mother may have some recourse, you should consult an attorney who specializes in these matters.  You can also learn more about consumers’ rights in purchasing pets by visiting the Federal Trade Commission’s website at www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/and-they-called-it-puppy-love.


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Can online retailer refuse to ship item and then charge a restocking fee?

June 10, 2015 19:20 by Consumer Ed

Dear Consumer Ed: 

I recently purchased a pool cover online.  My credit card was charged immediately.  Two weeks later, without any notification, the company refunded 95% of the purchase price.  When I discovered this, they told me they kept 5% because they don’t ship to where I live. Is that legal?

Consumer Ed says: 

Likely not.  Generally, a company must sell goods as advertised, and have a reasonable supply of those goods available, subject to certain disclosures.  At the very least, a company must disclose any limitations as to the availability of its inventory (including whether it can actually be shipped to a purchaser’s location).  Even though the company selling the pool cover may not be out of stock, the fact that it cannot ship the product to you is a limitation that, had you known of it, you certainly wouldn’t have ordered or paid for the merchandise.  Therefore, this means the limitation was one the company should have disclosed before you completed your transaction.   When you purchase an item over the Internet, it is assumed that the seller will ship the item to you within a specified time, or, if no time is specified, within 30 to 50 days depending on the method of payment.  If shipment is delayed and the seller cannot ship to you within this time—or in your case, cannot ship to you at all—the seller must give you an option to cancel your order and receive a full refund.  Because you paid by credit card, you should receive your refund within one billing cycle for the full amount paid.  This means 100%, not the 95% returned to you.  Had you paid by cash, check or money order, you should have received the refund within 7 business days.

The company may tell you that the 5% it retained covers a restocking fee, or other shipping and handling costs, but you are likely protected. First, any such fees must be displayed clearly and conspicuously on the company’s website, and in a manner that ensures a shopper will see it before the purchase is completed.  If the company didn’t sufficiently disclose these fees, it may be in violation of Georgia’s Fair Business Practices Act. The same could be said if the company knew at the time of your order that it did not ship to your location, and didn’t disclose this on its website.  Even if the company could ship the item to your location, any restocking fees or shipping costs may still be unfair if there is no evidence the company actually attempted to ship the pool cover.  If the seller neither placed an order with a manufacturer, nor took affirmative steps to ship the pool cover to you, then there’s no reason for any costs to be charged to you at all (i.e., if the company’s stock never left, then there’s no reason to charge you to restock it).  For more information, you may want to view our previous Consumer Ed column regarding restocking fees.

If, going forward, you cannot resolve the problem directly with the company, there are several options available to you.  Because you paid with a credit card, you may be able to dispute the remaining charge with your credit card company.  You could also contact the Better Business Bureau to see if they can help mediate a solution between you and the company.  Finally, you can file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at ftc.gov, and/or with the Office of Consumer Protection by visiting www.consumer.ga.gov (or by calling 404-651-8600).

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