A Massachusetts Consumer Guide to Shopping Rights

Shopping is a part of everyday life. Knowing the laws that protect consumers can help you make informed decisions about your purchases.

Retailers must follow specific rules when doing business in Massachusetts. But remember, unless otherwise stated, Massachusetts consumer protection laws apply to businesses and not to private party sales.

 

Truth in Advertising and Sales

It’s illegal for a salesperson to make false or misleading statements about a product or a service or withhold any information about it in an attempt to convince you to buy it, to sell merchandise "as is", to try to pass a used product off as a new one, or for them to try to sell an item using what is referred to as a “Bait & Switch” tactic.

Bait & Switch occurs when a salesperson:

  • Refuses to sell a product they advertised and makes claims about its quality or the offer to dissuade you from wanting to buy it;
  • Claims they have sold out of the product (and did not note that supplies are limited in their advertisement);or
  • Refuses to deliver the item within a reasonable period of time.

Most of the products for sale within a retail store must be price marked. The cost of a service, such as make-up application or clothes tailoring, must be displayed or discussed before you agree to it.

Did you know?:

  • The salesperson cannot misrepresent the price or claim that it is reduced or offered for a limited time only, if it’s untrue
  • The store must honor the price in the advertisement, even if it is wrong, until they correct the misrepresentation using the same advertising medium and/or by corrective signs in the store.
  • Item pricing in retail stores is different than in grocery stores. The Massachusetts Item Pricing Law requires food and grocery stores to individually price mark most items with the actual selling price, unless an in-aisle electronic price scanner system is available or the items are located in end-aisle or freestanding displays. Certain quick-selling items, such as gallons and half-gallons of milk, eggs, vegetables and fruit, and greeting cards are exempt and don’t need to be individually priced. Items sold in a grocery store must ring up at the lowest displayed price. If an item rings up at the wrong price, it must be given to you for free or discounted by $10.00 (if it costs more than $10.00).

Refund, Return & Cancellation Policies

Contrary to popular belief, there is no set law about return policies in Massachusetts. As long as a product is not defective, a store can have any return policy they want so long as it is clearly disclosed somewhere in the store and you have a chance to read it before buying your product. Defective merchandise must be accepted for return, regardless of any policy, and you must be given the option of a repair, replacement item, or refund of the price.

  • A salesperson cannot misrepresent the store's return policy in order to convince you to buy an item or fail to honor it should you wish to return it during the disclosed return period.
  • When a store issues a merchandise credit for returned goods, you have at least seven years from the date of issue to redeem the credit.
  • “Cooling-off periods” exist only in certain, limited situations. Many consumers mistakenly believe that after they purchase a product they have a "cooling-off period" during which they can cancel the contract or return an item.

When is the cooling-off period allowed?

Door-to-Door Sales: If you make a purchase for over $25 at a place other than a merchant's usual place of business, Massachusetts and federal law allows you three days to cancel and get your money back. You must notify the seller in writing within three business days of signing the contract and must allow the seller to pick up the goods at your house, or agree to ship the items back to the seller at no cost to you. If the seller does not pick up the goods within 20 days of the notice of cancellation, then you may keep or dispose of them as you wish.

Credit Repair and Services Organizations: You may cancel a contract for credit repair and services until midnight of the third business day after signing it. Your payment will be returned within 10 days of the organization receiving your cancellation notice.

Gym or Health Club memberships: Consumers have three business days to cancel a health club contract no matter where it was signed. Cancellation must be done by written notice and your money must be refunded within 15 days. (Health spas, sports clubs, weight control centers, and martial arts schools are all considered health clubs.)

Time Shares: To cancel a time share contract, notify the seller of your intent to cancel no later than three business days after signing the contract. If you paid by check, a refund must be made immediately as long as the check was not yet deposited into the seller's account, otherwise it must be refunded within 7 days. If you paid by credit card, a credit must be made to your account immediately.

Key Terms to Know

  • Sale: For the term “sale” to be used in an ad when the actual savings are not stated, the law requires the savings to be at least 10% for items regularly priced $200 or less, and at least 5% for items over $200. If you buy an item at the regular price and it goes on sale soon after, there is no law requiring the store to refund the difference in price. However, many stores will give you a refund out of good will.
  • Rain Check: A store that has run out of an advertised special must allow you to buy the product at the advertised price when it is in stock again, unless specified in the ad that quantities may be limited or unless the demand was more than could reasonably have been anticipated. The store can also offer a comparable substitute for the out of stock item.
  • Layaway: A store must disclose its policy on layaway plans, including cancellation and return (or non-return) of payments already made. Merchants cannot change the price of merchandise by increasing payments or by substituting lower priced merchandise.
  • Warranty: In Massachusetts, all goods are covered by an implied warranty of merchantability, meaning the item must reasonably conform to an ordinary buyer’s expectation for a reasonable amount of time. A toaster that does not toast would not conform to this warranty and would be eligible for a repair, refund, or replacement. Remember, warranties don’t exist if you buy a product anywhere other than a store (For example, a computer purchased from a restaurant that does not usually sell computers will not have this implied warranty).

Item Delivery

The Federal Trade Commission Mail Order Rule governs delivery laws in Massachusetts.

  • A company must ship your order within the time period promised in its advertisements. If the company does not promise a specific time, the company must ship your order within 30 days of receiving your completed order, unless you have agreed to a delay in shipment.
  • If you pay by charge or credit card, the time period begins on the date that the seller charges the merchandise to your account. However, if you are applying for credit to pay for your purchase (either opening a line of credit or extending existing credit), the company had 50 days after receiving your order to ship the merchandise.
  • If the seller does not send your order when promised, and you have not agreed to a new shipping date, you can cancel your order and get a refund.
  • The Mail Order Rule does not apply to: photo finishing, magazine subscriptions (except for the first issue), C.O.D orders, seeds and plants, and credit orders where your account is not charged until after the goods are shipped.

Additional Resources

Billing Errors

If you find an error on your credit or charge card statement, you may dispute the charge and withhold payment on the disputed amount while the credit card company investigates.

How do you dispute a charge?

Step 1: Send a written billing error notice to the creditor. Your notice must reach the creditor within 60 days after the first bill containing the error was mailed to you. The notice should include your name and account number, the dollar amount of the billing error, and the reasons why you believe there is a mistake.

Step 2: The creditor must acknowledge your complaint in writing within 30 days after it is received, unless the problem is resolved within that period.

Step 3: Within two billing cycles (but not more than 90 days), the creditor must conduct a reasonable investigation and either correct the mistake or explain why the bill is believed to be correct.

You also may dispute charges for unsatisfactory goods or services purchased with a credit or charge card.

  • You must first attempt to resolve the dispute with the seller.
  • You must have bought the item in your home state or within 100 miles of your current mailing address, and the charge must be for more than $50.
  • These limitations do not apply if the seller is also the card issuer or if a special relationship exists between the card issuer and the seller.

Other tips

  • If you receive merchandise you didn’t order or request, it’s yours to keep, so long as it clearly isn’t a delivery error (ie: it’s your neighbor’s package). Although you are not legally obligated, you may wish to notify the sender that you intend to keep the merchandise as a gift to avoid possible problems, such as the sender trying to bill you for the merchandise.
  • Gift cards purchased in Massachusetts are good for seven years and are not subject to any fees, including dormancy fees, as long as they are not backed by a federal bank (Visa or American Express gift cards are exempt from this rule.) Once you have used 90% of the cards' value, you may spend it or choose to take the remaining value in cash.
  • Gift Certificates must be clearly marked with an expiration date and issuance date, or have the dates available online or printed on the sales receipt. If the dates are not provided, the Gift Certificate is good forever.
  • Massachusetts limits the amount of information merchants can require for check cashing and credit card purchases.
  • For credit card purchases, a merchant is not allowed to ask for your address, telephone number, or social security number.
  • For check purposes, merchants may only record your name, address, and driver's license or state ID card, and telephone number. The merchant can ask to see a credit card but cannot write down the credit card number.

Contact the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation

(617) 973-8787

(888) 283-3757

e-mail: http://www.mass.gov/ocabr/utility/contact-us-by-e-mail.html

 

Additional Resources

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