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Supermarket Rain Checks

Updated on June 25, 2010

Use rain checks to save even more money on groceries.

Are you trying to save money on groceries by using free grocery coupons? How many times have you gone to the supermarket intending to buy an advertised grocery item for an unbelievable price, and you have a coupon to get an additional price cut, only to find the item sold out and, in a huff, you walk out? Stop!

From now on, use “sold out” as one of your strategies to save even more money on your grocery bill. Next time you find an advertised item not in stock, ask the supermarket for a rain check on the item. In fact, get as many rain checks as you can - if the item is something you and your family buys and enjoy using often.

Rain checks have value: It allows you to buy an item in the future at today’s price. The rain check let you hedge against rising prices. Of course, you can also use any manufacturer coupons you may have for the item alone with your rain check, just as you would normally when you shop for your groceries. Moreover, because you have control over when to buy the item with your rain check, you have extra time to look out for higher value coupons that might come along.

Why would a supermarket give you a rain check for a sold out item?

It’s just good business sense for the supermarket or grocery store to try to keep you as a happy customers and coming back to shop with them by offering you rain checks on out of stock sales items. Nevertheless, it’s also the law.

You are protected, somewhat, by the Retail Food Store Advertising and Marketing Practices Rule first issued by the Federal Trade Commission in 1971 and amended in 1989. The law is also known as the “Unavailability Rule."

The “Unavailability Rule” was put in place to protect consumers from dishonest business practices. The rule requires grocery stores to have advertised items in their sales circulars be “in stock and readily available to customers during the effective period of the advertisement.” If a grocery stores fails to have adequate stock on hand, it is required to offer alternatives to customers to make up for the out on stock advertised items:

· the grocery store may offer rain checks to you that allows you to buy the item later at the same advertised price.

· the grocery store may offer a comparable substitute item at the advertised price.

· the grocery store may offer other compensation at least equal to the value of the advertised item.

However, the rule does provide some flexibility to the grocery stores. The stores are not required to give you rain checks on out of stock items if the advertisement or circular clearly state that quantities are limited or that that items are available only at certain store locations.

If a store does not disclose the limited supply of an advertised item and run out of that item, the "Unavailability Rule" exempts the grocery store if it can show (to the FTC investigating a complain) that the advertised item was ordered in ample time for delivery and in numbers to meet reasonably expected response to the advertisement, or that the advertised item, such as a seasonal items or perishables, cannot be stocked in large quantities or at certain store locations. In these cases, the FTC will generally decide that the store did not violate the "Unavailability Rule" and find in favor of the stores and dismiss the complain with no further action.

Take action against unscrupulous grocery stores.

Generally speaking, most grocery stores, especially the large local or national chains, run their businesses honestly. However, there are exceptions and if you truly feel that a store is routinely and deliberately out of advertised specials without specifically stating quantities limited, and does not offer you rain checks, substitutions, or any other compensations, you can report the store to the FTC by visiting its Web site at

If you prefer to send a letter, you can also write to:

Correspondence Branch

Federal Trade Commission

Washington, D.C. 20580

Strategy to getting the most out of rain checks.

To better your chance of getting a rain check on an advertised item, go to the supermarket a day or two after the start of the advertised sale. More often than not, the specials on popular items will be gone by the first day and it may take another day for the store to restock the item.

If you don’t see the item on the shelves, the first thing to do is to check with a store employee or manager before going to the customer service counter to ask for a rain check. Sometime, extra supplies of the item may be in the stock room waiting to be shelved. In most cases, the store will either bring one of the sale item to you or re-stock the shelf while you continue to shop in the store.

If a store is truly out of the advertised item, ask for a rain check. The store may offer you a comparable substitute item for the out of stock item instead of a rain check. At this point, you have to make a decision.

However, to benefit from the store running out of the sales item, you need to take advantage of the opportunity and ask for a rain check. Ask the store when they expect a new shipment of the item and then use the “window of opportunity” to stock up on rain checks.

Knowing that the item is still out-of-stock, you will have to visit the same store a few times, or as many times as the number of rain checks you want for the item, or visit different stores if you happen to live near a few of the same supermarkets and ask for another rain check each time you visit.

Some rain checks are good for a few weeks, months or up to a year, depending on the store. When the supermarket or grocery store restock the item, you can use the rain checks all at once (the supermarket probable won’t look too kindly to that) and stock pile the item at home, or your can use them as you need them. The extra rain checks lets you budget your grocery bill. You can now spread out the cost of buying a large quality of the item over several days or weeks or months. You save money on being able to buy more of the item in the future at the same lower sales price.

Keep track of you rain checks.

Just as you would with the rest of you grocery coupons, you want to keep track of your rain checks so that you get to use them before they expire and become useless. Depending on the coupons filing system you use, either keep the rain checks alphabetically with the rest of the manufacturer coupons, or keep them in a special section at the end of the coupons file, and remember to check through them when you are making out your shopping list.

If you are trying to save money on groceries using coupons for groceries, rain checks are a great way to help you save even more on your grocery bill. Get them and use them whenever the opportunity is available to you.


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