FTC (finally) issues updated shipping rules

The Federal Trade Commission recently issued an updated rule recognizing that a large number of customers actually order merchandise off that internet thing.  For the past 39 years, retailers have been required to ship purchased goods within the advertised period of time, or 30 days if no time is stated – but only if the goods were purchased by mail or phone.  The same standard will now apply to buyers on the internet.  (By the way, it only took the FTC seven years to adopt this new rule – they’re getting speedy!)

Effective December 8, 2014, the as advertised/30-day requirement will apply to (most) purchases made by telephone, internet, mail, or fax.  The newly issued Business Guide to the FTC’s Mail or Telephone Order Merchandise Rule provides useful information to shippers, including detailed information about language that must be included in various shipping notices, and how to provide refunds.

The FTC’s own summary of the new shipping rule sums it up fairly well:

What is the Mail or Telephone Order Rule?

“The Rule requires that when you advertise merchandise, you must have a reasonable basis for stating or implying that you can ship within a certain time. If you make no shipment statement, you must have a reasonable basis for believing that you can ship within 30 days. That is why direct marketers sometimes call this the “30-day Rule.”

If, after taking the customer’s order, you learn that you cannot ship within the time you stated or within 30 days, you must seek the customer’s consent to the delayed shipment. If you cannot obtain the customer’s consent to the delay — either because it is not a situation in which you are permitted to treat the customer’s silence as consent and the customer has not expressly consented to the delay, or because the customer has expressly refused to consent — you must, without being asked, promptly refund all the money the customer paid you for the unshipped merchandise.”

Will this be the end of Christmas-shipping crises?  We’ll see (next year – the effective date lets internet shippers off the hook for 2014).