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I ordered a chair from a store here in town. Delivery estimate according to the receipt is 10-12 weeks. The receipt says if I cancel the order I have to pay a 25% restocking fee.

Twelve weeks has come and gone and the store doesn't know when the chair will arrive. Since 10-12 weeks is an estimate, I don't think I have a right to complain off the bat. But is there a reasonable, legal limit to how long I can be forced to wait before getting a full refund (or doing a charge-back and fighting in small claims court should they withhold the 25% restocking fee)? Obviously I can't be expected to wait forever (I've already paid) - how long should one be expected to wait before acting?

Update: It is 1-2 weeks past the far end of the delivery time. I called the shop and they said that COVID has caused delays and they expect 4-6 weeks more "If I need a number, but we can't really know". I asked them if they'd still charge the restocking fee if I canceled the order and they said yes, they would still charge the 25%. Not sure how this fits in with the definition of "reasonable" given in the answers; I appreciate any further comments.

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    There is, but determining what it is can be a facts and circumstances issue determined on a case by case basis as the judge interprets it. The governing law is Article 2 of the Uniform Commercial Code as well as some FTC regulations. If I have time, I'll try to provide a fuller answer.
    – ohwilleke
    Dec 8 '20 at 0:11
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    You have decent answers to which I agree (you may cancel, since they have not updated you with the fact that it is late nor a new date). I was in this situation once; and I used the fact that I could cancel to renegotiate the price. It is likely in production, and the store/chain must pay for parts of it - hence the restocking fee. It is leverage - use it wisely. ;) Dec 8 '20 at 13:22
  • If it is a "chair" you are waiting for I will tell you what you are waiting for - you are waiting for the place where you bought it from to get a discount from that furniture maker. It may be that they are waiting for a "full truck", a quantity based discount, or a discount due to being able to make it at leisure. You are waiting so the store makes more money - don't agree to buy furniture like this unless you understand this principle and willing to accept it. (I grew up in my grandmother's furniture store)
    – blankip
    Dec 9 '20 at 7:27
  • @blankip - interesting perspective. I wonder if it applies to my case though, my chair was custom ordered and had to be built at a factory in Europe, shipped to the US port, then trucked over here. I'm sure there's some shared-truck logistics going on as well, I haven't considered that. Dec 9 '20 at 18:29
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Yes there is

If no estimate is provided, the reasonable time is 30 days. Findlaw's page on Shipping Goods and the 30-Day Rule says:

If the business is unable to ship within the promised time or within 30 days, the merchant must promptly tell the customer by mail, telephone or email, and give a new shipping estimate and give the customer a chance to cancel their order and receive a full refund. This offer to cancel or accept the new shipping date must give the customer sufficient time to make a decision. In other words, you can't call to inform a customer you can't make a shipping time and then demand an immediate answer.

If the 10-12 estimate has passed, and the merchant has not notified the customer "promptly", say withing a week, the customer is entitled to demand a full refund,m with no "restocking fee" and the FTC can enforce this.

The FTC has wide ranging powers to enforce the 30-Day Rule. Businesses can be sued by the FTC for injunctive relief, damages of up to $16,000 per violation, and redress for the consumer. Additionally, state and local agencies can sue [a merchant] for violating consumer protection law

And This FTC page says:

The Rule requires that when you advertise merchandise, you must have a reasonable basis for stating or implying that you can ship within a certain time. If you make no shipment statement, you must have a reasonable basis for believing that you can ship within 30 days. That is why direct marketers sometimes call this the "30-day Rule."

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. If you cannot obtain the customer’s consent to the delay -- either because it is not a situation in which you are permitted to treat the customer’s silence as consent and the customer has not expressly consented to the delay, or because the customer has expressly refused to consent -- you must, without being asked, promptly refund all the money the customer paid you for the unshipped merchandise.

...

When you learn that you cannot ship on time, you must decide whether you will ever be able to ship the order. If you decide that you cannot, you must promptly cancel the order and make a full refund.

If you decide you can ship the order later, you must seek the customer’s consent to the delay. You may use whatever means you wish to do this -- such as the telephone, fax, mail, or email -- as long as you notify the customer of the delay reasonably quickly. The customer must have sufficient advance notification to make a meaningful decision to consent to the delay or cancel the order.

The page goes into significant further detail on a merchant's obligations.

All of this applies to "goods a customer orders from the seller by mail, telephone, fax, or on the Internet." It would not apply to goods ordered in person at the store.

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    @SafeCracker I believe that if the expected time is not "promised" then the 30 day default time would apply. At least, the business must inform the customer what their "reasonable expectation" of delivery time is. Dec 8 '20 at 18:17
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    I just called and they told me 4-6 weeks more if I "needed a number", but that they didn't really know, and that they would not cancel the order without the restocking fee. Would you consider their position reasonable? Dec 8 '20 at 21:24
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    @SafeCracker I think if you want to cancel you can insist on a full refund. If you are willing to wait, that is your choice. I have no idea if it is reasonable for the delivery to take this much extra time, but you are entitled to kmnow when you will get your order, and to withdraw if that time is significantly changed, or to accept the revised time. If you want to insist oi the refund, mention the FTC 30-day rule. Dec 8 '20 at 21:39
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    @BoppreH Yes. The seller is required to tell the buyer when the expect to ship, and by what method (express, standard, economy, or whatever). Shipping time is under the control of the shipper, who is often not the seller. The seller may also estimate delivery, but it is the shipping date that the FTC rule holds the seller respo0nsible for. Dec 8 '20 at 22:06
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    @SafeCracker: How did you pay? Assuming it's by credit/debit card, you should just be able to do a chargeback for non-delivery and let them deal with the consequences of that, and avoid paying any fee. Dec 8 '20 at 23:26
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Yes, there is

A reasonable time is ... a reasonable time. Unless a contract specifically calls out a time for something to happen then it must happen in a reasonable time.

Given that you had an estimate in the range of 10-12 weeks then several additional weeks is not unreasonable. Several additional years is unreasonable. Somewhere in the middle is where it switches from being reasonable to unreasonable. Somewhere around twice the estimate perhaps?

If you cancel the order you will have to pay the restocking fee. However, if they are in breach of the contract to such an extent that you are entitled to terminate the contract then that is not "cancelling the order". That point is not just when the time is unreasonable (because damages would be adequate compensation) but egregiously unreasonable.

However, before considering legal action, try negotiation. Explore the options: when will you get it? what if you don't? why are they jerking you around? They may offer to cancel from their end - the you aren't up for a restocking fee.

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  • I just called and they told me 4-6 weeks more if I "needed a number", but that they didn't really know, and that they would not cancel the order without the restocking fee. Is this time-frame probably reasonable, or unreasonable? Dec 8 '20 at 21:25
  • @SafeCracker ask your lawyer
    – Dale M
    Dec 8 '20 at 21:34
  • Dale - lawyers cost much more than the chair Dec 8 '20 at 21:41
  • @SafeCracker well - there’s your answer
    – Dale M
    Dec 8 '20 at 21:43
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    An alternative answer seems to be review the comments from the helpful folks above. Dec 8 '20 at 21:54

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