Rain Checks May Extend Holiday Bargains If You Ask

In the post-holiday shopping crush, many consumers may search for bargain-priced items only to find they are sold out. In some cases, you may be able to purchase the item for the advertised price in the future, if you ask for and receive a rain check.

Grocery stores are the only retailers required to offer rain checks, unless the advertisement clearly states that "quantities are limited," or unless the store can establish that advertised items were ordered in time for delivery and were in sufficient quantities to meet the public's reasonably anticipated demand.

A rain check will allow you to purchase the desired item at a later time at the bargain price. Instead of a rain check, stores are permitted to offer a substitute item of comparable value to the sale item, at the sale price. Or the store may offer some form of compensation that is at least equal in value to the advertised item.

If you cannot find an advertised product on the merchant's shelf, ask for it. If the store has run out, you should ask for a rain check, a substitute item or other equivalent compensation. In most cases, retailers will provide you with one of these options, though non-grocery retailers can have very different policies.

Yuchan, a consumer in Boston, says she had a rain check for an item that had a rebate at her local Walgreens store. When her rain checked item finally arrived, the rebate had expired or so she was told by the clerk.

"I asked to speak with the manager, and he showed up five minutes later just to tell me what I already know, which was the rain check is still valid for rebates," she told ConsumerAffairs.com.

Keep in mind non-grocery retailers are not required to offer rain checks, but are governed by other applicable deceptive advertising laws. Debra, of Roswell, Georgia, went to her local CVS drug store for an advertised special on paper towels and toilet paper. The paper towels were available but not the toilet paper.

"There was no rain check because the store manager said the store normally does not carry the brand of toilet paper advertised. I dont think you should advertise what you do not have," Debra told ConsumerAffairs.com.

Stores do not have to provide rain checks if the ad clearly and adequately says there are limited quantities, or the items may not be available at all stores. Otherwise, they may be engaging in a "bait and switch" practice, which is illegal.

Though stores may have different rain check policies, the rain checks themselves should contain uniform information, according to the Federal Trade Commission. Consumers should check to see that any rain check they are given contains the following information:

• Suppliers name and address
• Consumers name, address, and telephone number
• Date issued
• Description of the item to be purchased including model make, and year, if applicable
• Quantity entitled to be purchased
• Advertised price

A rain check must be honored within 60 days of it being issued to a consumer, the FTC says. If the out-of-stock item is still not available, the supplier must notify the consumer holding the rain check of other options. These options may include the purchase another similar or comparable in stock item or the consumer can agree to a specific time extension in which the rain check item will be provided.

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