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The Office recently quizzed consumers on their shopping rights, asking questions about return policies, gift cards, and terms such as “bait and switch” and “sale.”

The questions were a mix of true or false and multiple choice, with varying levels of difficulty. And ultimately, they proved rather difficult with the average score being 64%. That’s not a great score considering shopping is something that almost every person over the age of 15 does on a regular basis.

The easiest question for most respondents concerned return policies and whether a store had to accept back a defective item regardless of their return policy.

The answer is yes. Every item sold by a merchant in Massachusetts automatically comes with an implied warranty of merchantability which means the merchandise must do what it was designed to do with reasonable safety, efficiency and ease, and for at least a reasonable period of time. If an item is defective, the warranty promises that you will receive repairs, a replacement, or a refund.

With regard to returning an item in general, 75% of all respondents correctly guessed that there is no set law about return policies in Massachusetts. As long as a product is not defective, a store can have any return policy they want so long as it is clearly disclosed somewhere in the store and you have a chance to read it before buying your product.

The most difficult question had to do with gift cards and gift certificates, with only 28% of participants answering correctly.  Gift cards bought in Massachusetts must be valid for at least seven years and are not subject to fees. Gift cards that are issued by a national bank, such as Visa or American Express, are not subject to MA law.

Interestingly, the question that many consumers were split on pertained to sale items. Many consumers mistakenly believe that if you buy an item at the regular price and it goes on sale soon after, the store must refund you the difference in price. This isn’t a state law. A store has no obligation to refund you the difference, but, many do it as a good business practice provided you have the receipt! Massachusetts does, however, define the term “sale.” Did you know that in order for the term “sale” to be used in an ad when the actual savings are not stated, the law requires the savings to be at least 10% for items regularly priced $200 or less, and at least 5% for items over $200.

Also of note was that 67% of respondents guessed correctly to our question about “cooling-off” periods, which is a very common question that our hotline receives.  Cooling-off periods exist only in certain, limited situations. They do not apply to every purchase a consumer makes which is why it’s important that you be certain you want a specific item, especially expensive items, such as cars or boats.

So if you took our quiz, how do you think you’d score? If you think your score would be below or around the average score, it may be time to refresh your knowledge of your shopping rights:

Follow the Office on Facebook and Twitter, @Mass_Consumer. The Baker-Polito Administration’s Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation along with its five agencies work together to achieve two goals: to protect and empower consumers through advocacy and education, and to ensure a fair playing field for Massachusetts businesses. The Office also oversees the state’s vehicular and customized wheelchair Lemon Laws and Arbitration Programs, Data Breach reporting, Home Improvement Contractor Programs, and the MA Do Not Call Registry.

Contact the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation by calling our Consumer Hotline at (617) 973-8787, or toll-free in MA at (888) 283-3757, Monday through Friday, from 9 am-4:30 pm.

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