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Byline: CAROL EMERT
WASHINGTON -- Sears, Roebuck & Co., Montgomery Ward & Co., and four subsidiaries of R.H. Macy & Co., have been cited by the Federal Trade Commission for violating laws requiring that warranty information be made available to consumers.
While apparel is seldom sold under warranty, Sears' KidVantage program guarantees that all children's apparel and footwear will be replaced if the article wears out before it becomes too small.
A Sears spokeswoman said she does not believe children's wear violated the warranty law, since informational brochures detailing the program are available at all children's department checkout desks.
Gerald Wright, an attorney in the commission's San Francisco office, said he is not aware of any violations involving apparel. The investigation focused on consumer electronics and major appliances, he said.
The Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act mandates that retailers either display a written warranty near the product or place signs at checkout telling shoppers that the full text of the warranty is available to look at before they buy the item.
In proposed consent agreements published in Wednesday's Federal Register, the companies agreed to abide by the law in the future; to train their employees to provide shoppers with warranty information; to give all managers copies of the consent agreement; to provide copies of the written instructions for employees to the FTC for the next five years, and to give the FTC copies of the warranties.
If FTC investigators find any of the retailers in violation in the future, they will be fined $10,000 per incident per day, Wright said. "The meter could start running pretty fast with a department store."
The FTC generally targets large companies for investigations, Wright noted, "and we look for companies where we feel there is a clear pattern of noncompliance."
The FTC investigated the stores of each retailer in at least two metropolitan markets, he said.
A Sears spokesman said his company's violation stemmed from confusion during remodeling. "For the last few years we've been undergoing a major renovation program, so our stores have been under construction and we did not have the signs replaced as quickly as we would have liked," he said.
At Macy's, FTC investigators "found some isolated instances where we did not fully comply, but we really feel like we have been in strict compliance all along," a spokeswoman said.
A statement issued by Macy's said, "We entered into this consent agreement without any admission of noncompliance or the payment of any monies to avoid the potentially heavy cost of litigation. The agreement essentially requires Macy's to continue to adhere to its established procedures."
Montgomery Ward did not return phone calls requesting comment.
Sears stores have been back in compliance with the law for several months, said a spokesman. Sears has not received any complaints about the lack of warranty information because sales associates are trained to routinely provide all such information verbally, he added.
"Really, it just comes down to having some little placard signs on our cash registers, so we were able to come to full compliance virtually immediately on this," the Sears spokesman said. "There have been no penalties; we just have to comply with the law in future, which we, of course, intend to and we intended to all along."