Massachusetts has two new laws which actually help consumers without stripping them of their civil liberties or freedoms. The first is a “Do Not Call” telemarketing list. Under the new law to take effect in March, people who sign up now will not get telemarketing phone calls. The only exemptions are for charities, political campaigns, non-commercial pollsters, and companies that have a prior sales relationship with the consumer. Even for those who aren’t on the list, there is a ban on solicitations by fax, calling outside the hours of 8 am and 8 pm, and blocking Caller ID. Mass. residents can sign up at http://www.mass.gov/donotcall.
The other good new law goes into effect on April 1. As of that date, all gift certificates issued in Massachusetts must be good for seven years, no matter what date is listed on the certificate itself. And the law is retroactive: as of April 1, all gift certificates issued within the past seven years will be valid until seven years from their date of issuance. The law also stipulates that gift certificates without expiration dates must good forever.
That brings up another interesting point. We’ve been hearing horror stories that the past Christmas shopping season was the worst in 30 years. Sales only increased by 1.5 percent. Read that again. Sales went up. They just didn’t go up as much they’d hoped. However, as with all statistics, there’s often more to the story. Sales of gift certificates don’t count toward sales until they’re redeemed. That doesn’t seem right to me. And people are giving more gift certificates than ever: $30 billion worth this year.
When a store sells a gift certificate, they get the cash and they still have the merchandise to sell someone else. It’s like they’re getting cash for nothing but a future promise of goods. It’s better than a sale. You just know that there is some percentage of certificates that never get redeemed. And that money they get today is worth more now than it will be in the future. For example, a $20 shirt will cost $25 later. That $20 became devalued. In the time frame most certificates are redeemed the differences are infinitesimal, but when it’s $30 billion worth, every little percentage is significant.
Something to think about.