The Mail or Telephone Order Merchandise Rule (the Rule) lays out regulations including promises about shipments, refunds, and notifications about unexpected delays. The Rule is enforced by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and applies to phone, fax, or Internet orders.   

How Do I Comply with the Rule?

To comply with the Rule, there are certain things you must follow:

  • If you state that your product can be shipped in a certain time period, you must have a reasonable basis for doing so. 
  • If you do not clearly state the shipment period, there must be a reasonable basis for believing that you can ship the product within 30 days. 
  • If it is not possible for you to ship within these time periods, you must notify the consumer of the delay. You must also give the consumer a revised shipment date and also inform him of his right to cancel (and to get a refund). 
  • If you know how long the delay will be (up to 30 days), you can treat the consumer's silence as agreeing to the delay. 
  • However, if the delay is longer or indefinite, you must get the consumer's consent to the delay. Otherwise, you must refund his money. 
  • You also have the right to cancel orders that cannot be filled but you have to notify the customer and give him a refund.

What If I Have an Unexpected Demand?

If you are running late on your shipments and/or are overwhelmed with the number of orders you are receiving, you are given some leeway in the Rule:

  • If you reasonably believe that you can ship the product by a new date, you can change your shipment promises up until the customer places the order. You should also notify the customer.
  • If you cannot ship in the originally promised time, you must provide a delay option notice (by email, fax, or phone). 

Do I Need a Lawyer Experienced with the Rule?

If you run a business, a defective products lawyer would be able to tell you your rights and obligations under the Rule and how to comply with the Rule. As a consumer, a consumer protection attorney would be able to discuss your rights under the Rule and what, if anything, a company can change about its shipment promises.