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Mail or Telephone Order Merchandise Rule

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Citation Edit

Federal Trade Commission, Mail or Telephone Order Merchandise Rule (MTOR), 16 CFR Part 435 (Sept. 17, 2014) (full-text).

Overview Edit

The Rule,[1] originally issued in 1975 as the "Mail Order Rule," requires that marketers who solicit buyers to order merchandise through mail or telephone must have a reasonable basis to expect that they can ship ordered merchandise within the time frame they advertise, or, if no time frame is specified, within 30 days. The Rule also requires that, when a seller cannot ship within the promised time, the seller must obtain the buyer’s consent to a delay in shipping or refund payment for the unshipped merchandise.

A second proceeding, ending in 1993, demonstrated that consumers who ordered merchandise by telephone experienced the same shipment and refund problems. Accordingly, the Commission amended the Rule to cover merchandise ordered by telephone and renamed the Rule the "Mail or Telephone Order Merchandise Rule."[2]

In 2007, the FTC sought public comment on how the Rule could be amended to address changes in technology and commercial practices.[3] Based on a review of comments received, the FTC concluded that the Rule continues to benefit consumers and will be retained. In addition, the Commission proposed the following amendments to the Rule:

  • Clarify that the Rule covers all orders placed over the Internet;
  • Revise the Rule to allow sellers to provide refunds and refund notices to buyers by any means at least as fast and reliable as first-class mail;
  • Clarify sellers’ obligations when buyers use payment methods not spelled out in the Rule, such as debit cards or prepaid gift cards;
  • Require that refunds be made within seven working days for purchases that were made using third-party credit, such as Visa or MasterCard cards. For credit sales where the seller is the creditor (such as merchants using their own store charge cards) the refund deadline would remain one billing cycle.

A final revised Rule was published in the Federal Register on September 30, 2011.[4]

An FTC publication, A Business Guide to the FTC's Mail or Telephone Order Merchandise Rule,[1] offers information about the 2011 Rule and how to comply. The Commission also published a notice announcing some technical amendments to alphabetize the definitions and move them to the beginning of the Rule.

The 2014 version of the Rule requires Internet retailers to ship customers' orders on time and promptly offer refunds for some items that are late. Online sellers will be required to ship merchandise within 30 days of purchase, or else give customers the option for a refund.

References Edit

  1. Federal Trade Commission: Part 435—Mail Order Merchandise: Promulgation of Trade Regulation Rule, 40 Fed. Reg. 49492–94 (Oct. 22, 1975); Federal Trade Commission: Part 435—Mail Order Merchandise: Promulgation of Trade Regulation Rule: Correction, 40 Fed. Reg. 51582–97 (Nov. 5, 1975) ("Promulgation of Rule: Correction"), The Commission initiated the rulemaking in 1971 under section 6(g) of the FTC Act, 15 U.S.C. §46(g), and had substantially completed the rulemaking when Congress amended the FTC Act by adopting section 18, 15 U.S.C. §57a. By operation of law, the Mail Order Rule was then treated as having been promulgated under authority of section 18. See United States v. JS&A Group, Inc., 547 F. Supp. 20, 23 (N.D. Ill. 1982); United States v. Braswell, Inc., 1981 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 15444 at *8 (N.D. Ga. 1981). The Mail Order Rule took effect February 2, 1976.
  2. Federal Trade Commission: Trade Regulation Rule; Mail or Telephone Order Merchandise: Final Trade Regulation Rule, 58 Fed. Reg. 49096, 49097 (Sept. 21, 1993).
  3. Federal Trade Commission: Mail or Telephone Order Merchandise: Request For Public Comment, 72 Fed. Reg. 51728 (Sept. 11, 2007).
  4. 76 Fed. Reg. 60715 (Sept. 30, 2011).

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