Undoubtedly aware that, because of COVID-19, millions of Americans are hunkering down in their homes and shopping with their computers rather than heading to their local malls, the FTC’s Lesley Fair has issued ‘Shipping basics for your business.” The blog post reminds sellers that they should be transparent about their shipping policies and prices, urges sellers to consider expanding their shipment locales beyond the continental US and to provide tracking and delivery confirmations to instill trustworthiness.

I’d like to add another reminder: keep the Mail Order Rule in mind too, especially since, as my partner and fellow blogger, Jeff Greenbaum, so helpfully reminded us, its violation can be a costly mistake (i.e., $43,280 per violation).

So what does the Mail Order Rule, which covers orders by mail, telephone, and online, require? Cribbing from the helpful business guidance provided by the FTC, here are the basics: when you advertise merchandise, you must have a reasonable basis for stating or implying that you can ship within a certain time. If you don’t make a shipment statement, you must have a reasonable basis for believing that you can ship within 30 days. Further, If, after taking the customer’s order, you learn that you cannot ship within the time you stated or within 30 days, you must seek the customer’s consent to the delayed shipment. And, if you cannot obtain the customer’s consent to the delay, you must promptly refund all the money the customer paid you for the unshipped merchandise. The "clock" on your obligation to ship or take other action under the Rule begins as soon as you receive a "properly completed" order and an order is considered properly completed when you received the correct full or partial (in whatever form you accept) payment, accompanied by all the information you need to fill the order.

The rule also details what the delay notices must include, when a seller can or must provide refunds, and other requirements, including that refunds can’t be provided as credit towards future purchases.

Online sellers take note. If you’re currently experiencing a flood of new orders, good for you, but be sure not to make shipping promises that you can’t keep.