Consider these points before shopping by catalog

Sylvia Porter

November 07, 1990|By Sylvia Porter

If you've already received dozens of mail order catalogs, be aware: more are to come -- your share of 13 billion mail-order catalogs being delivered to American homes in this year alone.

Most of you will order at least one item during this holiday season. Why? Although you may miss the excitement and fun of the big stores, it's convenient. If you're willing to spend extra money for rush delivery, you even can wait until the last minute to make selections and still be assured your gift will arrive on time.

But before you order a gift -- either by phone or mail -- Lisa Caugherty of the Direct Marketing Association's Information Center suggests you get answers to a few questions:

Q. Can the person receiving the gift exchange it?

A. The company's return policy should be in full view on the order sheet or on the inside cover of the catalog.

"Unconditional satisfaction" means that, whatever the reason, the gift can be returned anytime for an exchange, refund or credit.

"Satisfaction guaranteed" allows you to return merchandise for exchange, refund or credit, but you're generally limited to a time period such as 30 days.

Q. Who pays the return postage?

A. If the company makes the error, the company pays the return postage. All the gift-getter has to do is note the mistake when the product is sent back for exchange. A reputable company will issue a check for the return postage and send the correct merchandise immediately. Otherwise, the company is not responsible for return postage.

Q. How can you be certain the person receives the gift?

A. Be sure you give a complete street address. Package delivery services will not deliver to post office boxes. Many people are not at home during the day to receive deliveries. If the person receiving the gift works during the day, consider addressing it to the workplace. Or, if that is not possible, find out if the delivery service will drop the package at a neighbor's.

Q. Must the recipient send back spoiled food stuffs to be eligible for a refund or a replacement?

A. No. Tell the person to whom you're sending food to save the packing slip. If there is spoilage or breakage, the recipient should call the company immediately. Explain the problem -- even if the contents have been thrown away.

Q. Do you have to pay sales tax? How do you calculate it?

A. If the company you're ordering from has an office, distribution center, plant or store in the state where you're sending the package, you have to pay the local tax. But, when you're sending a gift to another state, chances are you don't know the sales tax rate. If you're ordering with a credit card, the company automatically will add the correct tax. If you pay by check, the company has three options. It can hold up the order and wait until you send additional money. It can fill the order and hope to collect later from you. Or, it can forget the tax. That's the company's decision.

Q. What can you do to forestall problems?

A. To ensure timely delivery, follow the deadline dates that most mail-order companies list in their catalogs. Fill out and keep a copy of the order form (even if you ordered by phone) so you have a record of the company address and phone number, the instructions you gave, and how you paid.

Q. Who do you turn to if you or the recipient are dissatisfied?

A. First, explain the situation to the company's customer service department. Rarely will you have to proceed further. But if you do, send a follow-up letter addressed to the company president stating the problem and what steps you have taken to resolve it. If you paid for the gift with a credit card, send a copy of the letter to the bank issuing your credit card and alert them that you are contesting payment.

Under the Fair Credit Billing Act, the credit card company is required to investigate the claim. If the problem can't be resolved or if you feel ethical business practices have been violated, write to the Mail Order Action Line, Direct Marketing Association, 11 West 42nd St., P.O. Box 3861, New York, N.Y. 10163-3861.

1989 Los Angeles Times Syndicate

Times Mirror Square

Los Angeles, Calif. 90053

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