Manufacturer Warranties Unavailable At Online Stores

June 17, 2015
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If you want to check the manufacturer’s warranty for a product before buying it online, good luck! That’s the conclusion of a ConsumerWorld.org spot-check of 20 major online stores which revealed that they failed to post the warranty for four-out-of-five items checked.

In fact, for over half the items checked, when the warranty was not posted, no information was provided at all on how the customer could read or obtain it in advance from the seller. This is contrary to Federal Trade Commission rules that require online sellers, on or near the product description of items over $15, to either post the actual warranty or tell customers how to obtain a free copy from the seller.

“One of the most basic protections shoppers have is the product warranty, so to not disclose it right there on the website or make it hard to obtain is inexcusable,” commented Consumer World founder Edgar Dworsky.

Two-thirds of the sellers surveyed posted no warranties whatsoever for any of the items checked. And only three online stores excelled at full disclosure — Home Depot, Sears, and Kmart. They displayed the actual warranty for 80 percent of the items evaluated.

Instead of posting the actual warranty, 90 percent of sellers improperly referred shoppers to the manufacturer or provided no instructions at all on how to obtain the warranty for some or all of the items checked. Amazon, Costco, and Frys excelled at compliance for all items checked by either posting the actual warranty or disclosing how to obtain it properly. The latter two sellers, however, posted few if any actual warranties — an inconvenience for shoppers.

Only a quarter of e-tailers properly directed shoppers to call, email, or write to the seller itself to obtain a copy of the warranty if it wasn’t posted, as allowed by law.

Neither the warranty itself nor how to obtain it was disclosed on any product description pages checked at Bed, Bath & Beyond, Best Buy, BJ’s Wholesale Club, Office Depot/Office Max, Staples, Toys-R-Us, Walmart, and Wayfair. Some sellers improperly provided information on obtaining warranties in help sections not referenced on the product page.

The Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act and FTC rules require the pre-sale availability of warranties. In 2011, 36 years after the enactment of the law, the FTC undertook a review of its regulations. It published its findings last month, reaffirming its earlier interpretation that the law applied to online sellers, and not just to brick-and-mortar stores and mail order firms.
However, despite preferring that online retailers make the actual warranty available on their websites, just the way brick and mortar stores are required to have copies available on the premises for shoppers to review, the FTC declined to amend the rules to mandate it.

“The unfortunate result of the FTC’s inaction is that the vast majority of online shoppers will be forced to buy products blindly because most stores don’t provide warranties online, and few consumers are going to take the time to write or call the company and then wait a week or two to get it in the mail,” commented Dworsky. “Irrespective of the law, e-tailers should, as a customer service, simply put links to product warranties right next to each item they sell. Online space is essentially free and unlimited after all.”

The Consumer World spot-check, conducted online between June 1 – 10, checked 100 warrantied items (five per store), such as TVs, major appliances, toaster ovens, blenders, cameras, printers, etc. from 20 online retailers (Amazon, Bed, Bath & Beyond, Best Buy, BJ’s Wholesale Club, Costco, Frys, Home Depot, J.C. Penney, Kmart, Lowe’s, Macy’s, Newegg, Office Depot/OfficeMax, Sears, Staples, Target, Tiger Direct, Toys-R-Us, Walmart, and Wayfair). Note: The small sample of items checked may or may not accurately reflect a store’s actual compliance with its warranty disclosure obligations overall.

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Consumer World®, launched in 1995, is a public service consumer resource guide with over 2000 links to everything “consumer” on the Internet. Edgar Dworsky, an avid bargain hunter, is the founder of Consumer World, editor of MousePrint.org, an educational site devoted to exposing the fine print loopholes in advertising, and a former Assistant Attorney General in the Consumer Protection Division of the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office.

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