Getting a Rain Check on a Store Sale

Don't Leave Empty-Handed When Stores Sell out of Advertised Sale Items

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How many times have you spotted an item at a great price in a store's advertisement, jumped into your car to get it, only to find that they are sold out? Or worse, the store does not have the item on sale? It is a frustrating experience and one that occurs too frequently. The following suggestions can help you avoid losing out on a great deal when stores sell out of a discounted item.

Bring the Ad With You

National retail stores often create advertising that is focused on products carried regionally and not within states, cities or towns. It is not unusual to find out that product you see on sale in a store's weekly circular is not even sold at your local stores.

Furthermore, store employees do not always know which products are being promoted in the weekly advertisements. And, should several products be listed, it is unlikely that even the most diligent employee will remember all items and all prices.

Bringing a copy of the flyers or advertisements with you when you go to the store will help with any pricing issues that may occur during checkout.

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 a comparable item at the same sale price. A lot of shoppers are aware that they can ask for rain checks on grocery items, but many do not realize that many retail stores will also give rain checks, or something similar, for non-food items.

(A rain check is a voucher which will allow you to purchase the item at the advertised price after the store has restocked it, even if it is no longer on sale at that point.)

Check Other Company Stores

Many times, retail stores' national flyers advertise an item that is not sent to all regions of the country. If the employees tell you that the item has never been sold at the store, or if they are sold out of it, ask if they can transfer it in from another location at the advertised sale price and without shipping fees.

Pay in Advance

If the item being advertised is carried in the store, but sold out, and the item is on order, ask to reserve it or pre-order it, and then pay in advance to lock in the sale price. If the local store employees do not know if or when the item is being replenished, try calling the customer service 1-800 number. Many times, they will have information available that the local stores do not have.

Grocery Store Requirements

Grocers are typically 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 in sufficient quantities to meet the average customer demand. This policy allows stores to promote holiday and seasonal items which cannot be stocked for extended periods of time, such as holiday candy and other perishable goods.

Identifying Deceptive Advertising

  • A grocery store might be engaging in deceptive advertising when it routinely sells out of advertised specials without stating that the quantities are limited and when it does not offer a rain check or other way to compensate the shoppers.
  • Store employees are being deceptive if they discourage you from purchasing the advertised special by questioning the quality of the item and then suggesting the customer purchase an item that is more expensive. This practice is commonly known as "bait and switch." This practice is illegal.

Taking Action

If you become disappointed because your local store repeatedly runs out of advertised specials without stating that quantities are limited and then refuses to offer a rain check or a comparable alternative, contact the Federal Trade Commission using the following address:

Correspondence Branch
Federal Trade Commission
Washington, DC 20580

When making contact, always provide the following information for each incident:

  • 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 consumers have the right to complain to consumer protection agencies in those instances.

Making formal complaints to appropriate agencies will solve your problems more than getting into verbal debates with store personnel. 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.