Consumer rights and online ordering

As more people shop more often online, on the phone or by mail, it’s important to know what to do when something goes wrong. You can’t just go to the store and complain to the manager.

online shopping

The Fair Credit Billing Act and the Mail or Telephone Order Merchandise Rule offer protections to consumers. The following recommendations are made by the Federal Trade Commission to consumers who shop by mail.

Before placing an order

Before you place an order, do a little research on the company if you’re not familiar with it. Check its physical location and contact the Better Business Bureau to see if it has had any complaints against it.

Ask about the following before placing an order:

  • The availability of the product
  • The total cost of the order, including shipping
  • The refund and return policies
  • The ship date

Keep records of everything, including the ad or catalog you ordered from, any representative you may have talked to, the company’s address and phone number, the stock number of the product, the webpage if you ordered online, your receipt and order confirmation, and your canceled check or credit card statement.

Reasonable shipping time

By law – the Mail or Telephone Order Merchandise Rule – merchants must ship your order in the time stated in its ads or, if no time is stated, within 30 days. The time starts when the merchant receives a completed order that includes shipping information and your payment.

If you are applying for credit to pay for the product, the merchant has an additional 20 days if a shipment date wasn’t promised – 50 days total.

If your order doesn’t arrive

Many credit card issuers have policies against merchants charging credit cards before an item is shipped. If your order doesn’t arrive, take the following steps:

  • Write a letter to the credit card company that issued you the card at the billing inquiries address. Include your name, address, account number and description of the product ordered.
  • Be sure the letter arrives within 60 days of the bill’s arrival. Include copies (not originals) of the receipts. Send the letter by certified mail, and keep a copy of it.

The credit card issuer must acknowledge your complaint within 30 days after receiving the letter, and resolve the dispute within two billing cycles after receiving your letter.

If you used a debit card for your purchase, the issue falls under the Electronic Fund Transfer Act. Contact the debit card issuer – the company may offer protections. But debit payments do not fall under the same protections as credit cards.

If your problem is still unresolved, contact consumer agencies in your city or state as well as the postal inspector-in-charge at your local post office. Also, contact The Direct Marketing Association at DMA Mail Order Action Line, 1111 19th St., N.W., Suite 2200, Washington, D.C. 20036-3603.