Online sales to be covered by Mass. Retail Advertising Regulations

Nick Rees Nov. 4, 2009, 4:28pm


BOSTON (Legal Newsline) - Amendments to Massachusetts' Retail Advertising Regulations to address online sales will become effective on Jan. 4, state Attorney General Martha Coakley has announced.

The amendments, meant to reflect the advent of Internet advertising and sales as well as some advertising practices that have been investigated recently by the Attorney General's Office, expand the scope of the current regulations.

Internet advertising will now be covered by the regulations, which will also simplify price comparison analysis for print, television and radio advertising, and delete references to catalogue price comparisons.

"The advent of Internet advertising has brought many changes to the marketplace, making it necessary for our office to take a hard look at how the old regulations could be streamlined and modernized to reflect this new advertising landscape," Coakley said.

"These amendments were designed to ensure that consumers understand what is being offered in a business transaction, while offering the business community more clarity on what is expected of them with respect to their advertising practices."

The regulations were originally issued in 1990 by the Attorney General's Office under the Consumer Protection Act. The regulations identified certain unfair or deceptive retail advertising practices and served to guide the industry in their marketing practices. The introduction of internet advertising and sales have led to proposed amendments to update the regulations to better reflect the current marketplace.

The new amendments to those regulations were filed in January and were followed by public hearings in February. Following comments from retailers, consumer advocates and the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation, the amended regulations were further revised.

Changes to the regulations by the new amendments include making it clear that the definitions of "advertisement" and of "clear and conspicuous" apply to Internet advertising as well as the current application to print, television and radio advertising. Video advertisements on the Internet must now conform to the requirements of video advertising for television, including minimum time requirements for disclosures of one second for each three words of material representation and not less than a total of five seconds.

The amendments also modify the price comparison section of the regulations to ensure that price comparisons are not made to previously offered prices. The changes also emphasize comparisons that take into account the actual price of the offered products and sets forth a series of factors to ensure that price comparisons are not made to prices that were never offered.

The amendments come as part of Gov. Deval L. Patrick and Coakley's regulatory review initiative. The joint effort, announced in Oct. 2007, is meant to review unnecessary, outdated, overly burdensome or inconsistent regulations with a goal of promoting a favorable regulatory environment to improve the state's business climate while still protecting consumers and employees.

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