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Rain Check, Please!

Don't Leave Empty Handed


How many times have you spotted an item at a great price in a retailer's advertisement, jumped into your car to go get it, only to find out that they are sold out? It's a frustrating experience and one that occurs too frequently.

The following suggestions may help to avoid losing out on a great deal because the retailer has sold out.

Bring the Ad With You

Store employees are not always informed of the products which are being promoted in advertisements. Also, if several products are listed, it is unlikely even the most diligent employee will remember all items and all prices. Bringing your copy of flyers and advertisements will help avoid pricing problems at the checkout counter.

Ask for a Rain Check

Ask a store employee to help you locate the item if you are unable to find it. If the item is sold out, ask for a rain check or for a comparable item at the same sale price.

A rain check is a voucher which will allow you to purchase the item at the advertised price after the store has restocked it.

Many of us are used to asking for rain checks at the grocery store, but smart shoppers will ask for one everywhere they shop. Be aware that rain-check vouchers often contain expiration dates.

Check Other Company Stores

Ask the employee to check other stores for the advertised item. Many times national flyers will advertise an item that is not sent to all regions of the country. It is possible to have the item transferred to your local store if you request it. This usually applies to larger priced items.

Grocery Store Requirements

Grocery stores are required to provide rain checks for advertised items which have sold out unless the advertisement states that quantities are limited. The exception to this is if the store can prove that the advertised items were ordered in a timely matter and with sufficient quantities to meet the average customer demand. This allows stores to advertise seasonal and holiday items which cannot be stocked for long periods of time, such as halloween candy and parishable goods.

When Is It Deceptive Advertising?

- Grocery stores that routinely sell out of advertised specials without stating that the quantities are limited and do not offer a rain check or other equal ways to compensate the shoppers.

- Store employees that discourage you from purchasing the advertised special by questioning the quality of the item and suggesting one that is more expensive. This is commonly known as "bait & switch" and it is an illegal practice.

Taking Action

If you become dissapointed because your local store repeatedly runs out of advertised specials without stating that quantities are limited and refuses to offer a raincheck or a comparable alternative, contact:
    Correspondence Branch
    Federal Trade Commission
    Washington, DC 20580

When making contact always provide the following information for each incident of suspected abuse:

  • The name, address, and phone number of the retailer.
  • A copy of the advertisement.
  • The date that the item was sold out.
  • The name of the manager who declined to offer comparable compensation.
  • A brief description of any communication which took place between you and the retailer.

Generally speaking, most retailers practice good honest advertising. But there are exceptions and as consumers we do have the right to complain to consumer protection agencies.

Taking this route will prove to be more effective compared with getting into a verbal debate in the store. Why ruin a good day? Be smart, be savvy, and notify your local consumer protection office, State Attorney General, or your State Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services about your grievances.

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