The Mail-Order Merchandise Rule

Updated April 17, 2019 | Factmonster Staff

The mail-order rule adopted by the Federal Trade Commission in October 1975 provides that when you order by mail:

  • You must receive the merchandise when the seller says you will.
  • If you are not promised delivery within a certain time period, the seller must ship the merchandise to you no later than 30 days after your order comes in.
  • If you don't receive it shortly after that 30-day period, you can cancel your order and get your money back.

How the Rule Works

The seller must notify you if the promised delivery date (or the 30-day limit) cannot be met. The seller must also tell you what the new shipping date will be and give you the option to cancel the order and receive a full refund or agree to the new shipping date. The seller must also give you a free way to send back your answer, such as a stamped envelope or a postage-paid postcard. If you don't answer, it means that you agree to the shipping delay.

The seller must tell you if the shipping delay is going to be more than 30 days. You then can agree to the delay or, if you do not agree, the seller must return your money by the end of the first 30 days of the delay.

If you cancel a prepaid order, the seller must mail you the refund within seven business days. Where there is a credit sale, the seller must adjust your account within one billing cycle.

It would be impossible, however, for one rule to apply uniformly to such a varied field as mail-order merchandising. For example, the rule does not apply to mail-order photofinishing, magazine subscriptions, and other serial deliveries (except for the initial shipment); to mail-order seeds and growing plants; to COD orders; or to credit orders where the buyer's account is not charged prior to shipment of the merchandise.


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