December 11, 2009
The annual holiday shopping season has begun. Hordes of anxious shoppers have crammed shopping malls, outlet stores, and retail shops all across Massachusetts in search of the perfect gift. Be sure you know your rights before you buy!
Online shopping and gift certificates have become convenient options for consumers who do not want to brave the maddening mall rush during the holiday season. Whether you buy online or from a retailer, Goldman & Pease offers a few holiday hints which will help you be a wise shopper this year.
Store Return Policies
We do not always get the gifts we want. Maybe you already have a coffee maker or maybe that sweater your aunt bought you is not exactly your style. It is important to be aware of a store’s return policy before you spend your hard-earned money.
In Massachusetts, merchants can establish their own refund or exchange policy, so long as it is prominently displayed. For example, “all sales are final” or “cash refund with receipt” or “store credit only”, etc. However, a seller’s refund, return or cancellation policy must be conspicuously displayed so that a consumer has an opportunity to review it before the transaction is complete. A print out of the store’s policy on the back of a receipt is not acceptable. Usually, the store will post a sign near the cash register. Read it carefully so that you know your rights. If there is no policy posted, the retailer must give the consumer a “reasonable time” to return items.
Remember, most holiday gifts are purchased well before the holidays, so it may the case that the period for returning that particular item has passed. Technically, the store is under no obligation to refund your money or exchange the item, although most stores have an extended refund policy during the holiday season. Find out the policy before you buy! If the holiday return date is not printed on your receipt, ask the sales clerk to mark and initial the return date on the store receipt.
Any failure by a seller to clearly and conspicuously disclose its return policy before a purchase is made, any misrepresentation by the seller of its return policy, or any failure to honor its return policy is a violation of the Massachusetts Consumer Protection Statute.
See, Mass. Gen. Law Chapter 93A and 940 CMR 3.13
Gift Certificates/Gift Cards
Gift certificates and gift cards are becoming increasingly popular to give during the holiday season because of the flexibility they afford the consumer. Surveys show that gift certificates and gift cards will be the most popular gift to give this holiday season.
A gift certificate is a paper receipt redeemable by a merchant for the face value of the certificate. There are two types of stored value gift cards — store-specific gift cards and general-purpose gift cards. You can use a store-specific gift card to buy merchandise from a particular store or through a store’s website, though not all gift cards can be used for online shopping, so be sure to ask. A general-purpose gift card from the likes of Visa, MasterCard or American Express may be used almost anywhere those cards are accepted.
Under Massachusetts law, based upon a recent amendment, all gift certificates/gift cards must be valid for seven years from the date of issue. Even gift certificates/gift cards that were issued, but not redeemed as of 2003, are valid for seven years from the date of issue. The date of issuance and the date of expiration must be clearly marked on the face of the gift certificate or, if it is an electronic card with a banked dollar value, on the sales receipt or by means of an Internet site or toll-free number. If the expiration date is not on the face of the gift certificate, or for an electronic card, on the receipt or available online or through a toll-free number, the gift certificate is redeemable in perpetuity. This law does not apply to pre-paid calling cards.
Once a gift certificate has been redeemed for up to 90 % of its value, a consumer may elect between receiving the balance in cash or keeping the value on the gift certificate/gift card.
When purchasing any gift card, consumers should demand to know all the terms and conditions, including the expiration date and all the charges and fees that may be applied. Take a good look at the disclosures that accompany gift cards and make sure you know and understand all the fees that may be charged. Most, if not all fees, may be illegal under Massachusetts law.
Remember, gift cards are not credit cards. Credit cards come with automatic protections if they are lost or stolen and even though a gift card may bear a MasterCard or Visa logo, they are not credit cards. Some issuers may offer protections for lost or stolen gift cards, but read the fine print before purchasing. If your gift card does carry these protections, make sure you write the card number down and keep it in a safe place as issuers are unlikely to have your name.
See, G.L. c.93, §14S; c. 200A §§1, 5, 5D, 6B; c. 255D §1; c.266 §75C
If you feel your rights have been violated or that a merchant has broken the law, please contact us to discuss what legal remedies you may have available to you.
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