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Educational Consumer Tips

Mail Order and Catalog Shopping

Author: Rachel Gelb
Category: Retail

Many consumers opt to skip the crowded stores and lines by shopping from the convenience of their homes. Shopping by phone or mail can often be a more accommodating way to make purchases.  Use these tips as a guide when ordering merchandise by phone or mail.
Tips for Shopping by Phone or Mail:

Do Your Research.  
Before placing an order, make sure the business has a good reputation. Ask friends and family members if they have experience ordering from the business. Check out the business’s reviews and complaints on Be sure to understand the business’s return and refund policy. Be wary of businesses that offer prices that are too good to be true.  

Understand the Mail or Telephone Order Rule.  This rule covers purchases ordered by mail, phone, computer, and fax. This rule by law states that your order must be shipped within the timeframe stated in the ad or on the website. If there is no specific timeframe given, the business must ship your merchandise within 30 days of receiving the order If the business cannot ship the item within the timeframe, they must contact you to give you the option to agree to the delay or cancel your purchase. By not responding to the business, you are agreeing to the delay.

Check the Exceptions to the Rule.  The following purchases by mail order do not apply to the Mail Order Rule: magazine subscriptions, except for the first shipment, seed and growing plants, photo-finishing, Collect-On-Delivery orders, and negative option sales. If you are applying for credit to pay for the merchandise, the business has 50 days to ship your purchase once they receive the order.  

Review the Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA).  Be sure to use a credit card because your purchase will be protected under the FBCA. If you are charged for the incorrect amount, did not receive the item, or the item was not delivered as agreed, you may dispute the charges and withhold payment. Send your dispute in a timely manner because it must get to the business within 60 days after the first bill was mailed. The business must recognize the complaint within 30 days of receiving it and resolve the complaint within two billing cycles. If you are unsatisfied with your merchandise, you may dispute the charges if the purchase is $50 or more and was purchased in your home state or 100 miles from your billing address. If the seller also issued the credit card or if there is a special relationship between the seller and card issuer, the dollar amount and distance are not required for a dispute.  

Keep a Record.  After placing an order, make sure to keep a record of the name and address of the business and the date you placed the order. Always save the catalog or ad. Be sure to check if the merchandise has a cut-off date where they stop guaranteed delivery.

About the Author: Rachel Gelb is Communications and Marketing Manager for BBB serving Eastern Massachusetts, Maine, Rhode Island and Vermont. Find Rachel on Google +.

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