Are you trying to cut your food bill? Do you regularly shop for
advertised special-sale items in grocery stores? If you answer "yes,"
then you know that advertised specials sometimes can disappear
If you cannot find an advertised sale item on the grocery shelf, ask
for it. If the store has run out, you can ask about a rain check.
Unless the ad says quantities are limited, the grocer probably will
offer you some form of compensation. The Federal Trade Commission's
(FTC) "Unavailability Rule" says how, and if, you and other customers
should be compensated.
The "Unavailability Rule"
The FTC issued the Retail Food Store Advertising and Marketing
Practices Rule in 1971 and amended it in 1989. Known as the
Unavailability Rule, it helps protect consumers against food stores
that advertise bargains to attract customers but fail to have
adequate stock available.
Under the 1989 amended Rule, grocers may offer rain checks to
customers if they run out of advertised items. However, rain checks
are not required if the ad clearly and adequately says "quantities
are limited" or that products are available only at some stores. This
gives grocery stores the flexibility to advertise items that they
cannot stock in large quantities or at certain outlets. Such items
may be seasonal products, like holiday cakes, or perishables, such as
fruits and vegetables.
If a store does not disclose the limited availability of an
advertised item and runs out of that item, the "Unavailability Rule"
excuses the store only when it can show (to the FTC) that advertised
items were ordered in adequate time for delivery and in quantities to
meet reasonably anticipated demand OR it offers customers one of
* A "rain check" that allows customers to buy the item later at the
* A substitute item of comparable value to the sale item
* Some kind of compensation that is at least equal in value to the
If a store runs out of advertised specials, ask for a rain check, a
substitute, or other compensation. Chances are you will get something
because most grocers want to satisfy their customers.
If a Store Does Not Comply
If you know of a grocery store that routinely runs out of "advertised
specials," fails to say when "specials" are limited, and does not
provide you with a rain check, a substitute item, or some other
compensation, write to: Correspondence Branch, Federal Trade
Commission, Washington, D.C. 20580. Letters from shoppers can help
the FTC identify food retailers who may not be complying with the
Facts for Consumers from the Federal Trade Commission in cooperation
with the Food Marketing Institute
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