A reader: A few weeks ago, I saw an ad in a catalog that said I would get a free gift if I ordered $50 worth of merchandise. I actually ordered over $100 worth of merchandise and I never received the free gift. I am really angry that people think they can lie to consumers and get away with it. When I called to complain, the person on the phone said they were out of free gifts by the time my order was placed and that the offer was good while supplies lasted. Can they do this?
Action Line: Thank you for enclosing the ad so I could see exactly what the offer was. It was helpful in evaluating the offer. Most people like free stuff especially if they are going to place an order anyway. I am always a champion of truth in advertising, but I have learned the hard way to read the fine print. If you read this offer carefully, it says that the free gifts were offered “one to a customer while supplies lasted.” Unfortunately, the catalog you ordered from was issued in March and you placed your order this month when the free gift supply was already exhausted. The ad states that the free gift is offered while supplies last.
This is a good example of the need to read “free” offers carefully before deciding whether or not to place an order from a company. Most companies that use “free offers” or “rewards programs” to entice shoppers make sure that the terms and conditions are in print and easy to read and understand. So, be sure to look for the fine print to make sure you understand any exclusions or quantity limitations.
If the offer has expired (you can always call customer service and ask if the free gifts are still available), wait a few weeks until the next catalog comes out and there will usually be another offer available. If you are a regular customer of the company, try contacting customer service and ask to speak with a supervisor. Explain the situation and point out that you are a loyal customer and ask if there is a substitute gift or discount that might be available with your purchase. Many companies will be willing to send you something extra to keep your business, especially in these economic times when good customer service is critical to retaining customers.
On the other hand, if you follow the guidelines and place your order promptly and you still don’t receive the extra gift as promised, contact the company immediately and explain the situation. If you don’t receive satisfaction, you can file a complaint with the BBB at bbb.org or 800-675-8118 and with the Federal Trade Commission at www.ftc.gov. You can also write a letter directly to the president of the company expressing your dissatisfaction. That option has always worked well for me.
Action Line is written by Blair Looney, president and CEO for the Better Business Bureau serving Central California. Send your consumer concerns, questions and problems to Action Line at the Better Business Bureau, 2600 W. Shaw Lane, Fresno, CA 93711 or firstname.lastname@example.org.