The Wizard’s Guide to Rebates
Ah, mail-in rebates. some people hate them, others love them.
The truth, as always, lies somewhere in between…
Those of us who like to bargain-shop for computer hardware cannot fail to notice that a lot of stores are now offering items at bargain prices… after mail-in rebates. Many of the big players, such as Best Buy, CompUSA, Office Depot and OfficeMax are moving heavily towards mail-in rebates, as are many on-line merchants and even some manufacturers who are now using the Internet to sell direct to the public.
To some, mail in rebates are a scam; to others they are a boon. To the rest of us, they are becoming a necessary evil as more and more of the industry moves towards mail-in rebates as a way of drumming up sales.
The obvious question here is “Why use mail-in rebates?”. There are several answers.
- The retailers like them because it allows them to advertise a low price while charging you a higher one; they get all the money upfront, and you have to claim the rebate yourself.
- The State Governments like them because you pay sales tax on the pre-rebate price, which means more money for them.
- The manufacturers like them because it allows them to shift more product and make more money while deferring the rebate “hit” for as long as three months. Since not every rebate is claimed, it is also a lot cheaper for them than cutting the retail price.
As you can see, everybody’s happy… except you, the consumer, who has to jump through hoops to get your money.
- Hoop #1: Sometimes the receipt or the packaging with the all-important UPC is thrown out before it is missed, then it’s goodbye rebate. Solution: Gather your stuff together ASAP.
- Hoop #2: Some people simply forget to send off for the rebate until it is too late – and most rebates have a deadline that may be as little as seven days after purchase. Solution: Don’t procrastinate – treat that rebate like cash – and get it in the mail ASAP.
- Hoop #3: It does not happen often, but some manufacturers claim that they never received your rebate or “forget” to process it. This has happened to me perhaps three times in scores of rebates, so it is not as widespread as you might think. By a curious coincidence, however, these were two of the largest rebates I have ever sent off for. On both occasions when I told them that I had copies that I could fax to them, they agreed to honor the rebate. Solution: Take copies of everything that you send off and watch for reports of unscrupulous vendors.
- Hoop #4: They sent you a check, but it did not get cashed. Some rebate checks look like junk mail (perhaps intentionally?) and get thrown away. Others get shoved in a drawer, handbag, wallet or briefcase and are soon forgotten about. Most rebate checks have expiry dates, and will not be re-issued if you forget to deposit them. Solution: Cash that check!
Because of all these hoops, small rebates (<$10) are not really worth the hassle.
The biggest problem is procrastination - we simply forget to send away the application or cash the check. The second biggest problem is disorganization - failing to take copies means that you have no recourse if the rebate check does not arrive.
Another thing to watch for is the small print. Many rebates require the original receipt – and if you have several of these on one receipt there will be trouble. Some retailers will provide duplicate receipts, and some – but not all – manufacturers will take a duplicate, so make sure.
- Check the rebate paperwork and conditions. Watch for multiple rebates that require the same original UPC or receipt.
- Also watch for “upgrade” rebates and other forms of trickery
- If there is no phone number or other mechanism for communicating with the rebate house after the rebate has been sent, do not buy.
- Is it worth it? Rebates cost you, the customer, in time, trouble and hassle. For me, rebates of less than $10 are simply not worth the hassle.
- If you would not buy at the purchase price (before rebate), do not buy.
- Don’t cut out the UPC until you have verified that the item works and you will not be returning it.
- Get your stuff together ASAP after purchasing. and be aware of the submission deadline – remember, every rebate they can deny is money in their pockets.
- Give them EXACTLY what they ask for – a lot of rebates are denied because the customer does not provide the requested information.
- Make sure that the box with that all-important UPC is not thrown away
- Copy everything you send.
- Get your stuff away in good time. As a general rule, if the rebate is for more than $25 I use Registered mail so they cannot claim that they did not receive it.
- Remember, they are looking for any excuse they can find to deny your rebate!
- File the copies of paperwork.
- Log dates sent, and make a note of the expected arrival date, and whom you are to contact if it does not arrive.
- Watch for the confirmation e-mail. Do not delete it.
- Keep track of the rebate status.
- Gather your poop in a bundle – if all of your rebate stuff is one nice tidy file this is easy.
- Denied? Don’t Panic – Some rebate houses have been known to accidentally deny correctly-submitted rebates.Of course it must be an accident, since doing it deliberately would be fraud…
- Phone – don’t e-mail. I have yet to see any example of e-mail support worth a damn…
- Be nice – you are most likely talking to a minimum-wage phone operator who is stressed out from being shouted at all day long. Treat them kindly and you will be surprised how accommodating they can be.
- If your rebate has been denied, ask why. It is amazing how often this one simple question will miraculously get your rebate approved.
- Give them an out – calling someone a liar forces them into confrontation mode. Asking them to check their files again gives them an excuse to reverse their decision while saving face.
- Resubmission? No thanks. Sometimes I am asked to re-fax or send information, and they try to call it a “resubmission”. My reply is always the same: “I will send you whatever you need, but this is not a resubmission, it is a clarification”. Why do I use this language? Because calling it a “Resubmission” gives them a lot of weasel-room to deny the rebate, which often has a “no-resubmissions-accepted” rule. This happened to me several times, but not in recent years.
- Don’t Lie - if you are caught lying it’s game over. If your rebate has been denied, however, calling their bluff is ok – you have nothing to lose. One rebate was denied because it wasn never received. I replied that it had been sent registered mail (it hadn’t). She replied “No it wasn’t“, to which I replied “Excuse me, but how would you know that?” The silence on the other end was all I needed. The rebate was speedily approved.
- Wherever possible, record the call. A speakerphone and a Digital Voice Recorder are good enough. You don’t need to tell them; it is perfectly legal to record a call as long as at least one party know about it. However, informing an awkward or obstructive operator that they are being recorded sometimes gets you a little extra leverage.
When check is received
- Cash the damned thing ASAP
Personally I have found that rebates are a boon for the canny, but are also a great way of parting fools from their money.
Bottom line: Rebates are ok… but you will have to work for the money. Read the small print, give them EXACTLY what they ask for… and make copies of everything you send. If you have to talk to CS people, be nice – they’re just doing their job. Be polite but firm. Do not back down. Remember, it’s YOUR money.
In conclusion, treat those rebates like cash; I knew someone who sat on a $50 Microsoft rebate for almost six months before I filled it out and dropped it in the mailbox for them three days before the postmark deadline. It was the only time in my life I have made $50 for fifteen minutes’ work.
Appendix: My experiences.
Not all mail-in rebates are created equal – some firms are better than others at handling rebates, while others will claim to not have received it, try to tell you that your rebate request is invalid, or give you the run around. These are my personal experiences – your mileage may vary.
- Seagate - Fast! The two Hard Disk rebates that I have submitted arrived within a few weeks.
- OfficeMax - Some have had problems, but not me.
- CompUSA, Circuit City, Buy.com/Kingston - No problems.
The bad and the ugly. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.
- TigerDirect/Soyo – Would not even talk to me until 13 weeks after final submission date… then claimed that I had never sent the rebate. When I offered to you offer to fax them the copies they changed their tune. That was in 2004 – since then TigerDirect have been smacked around in court a bit, so things might have improved.
- TigerDirect/Syntax – “Accidentally” flagged my rebate “request” as invalid. The package had two UPC codes, and the “sample” picture matched the wrong one – how strange… being naturally cautions, I had sent in both, but they had somehow not noticed this. A phone call to their rebate line sorted this out speedily, but I get the impression that this particular error occurred suspiciously often. The two Syntax rebates I claimed took 172 and 200 days to come through.
- Office Depot – Sometimes ok, but they also caused some problems. One rebate item was shown as in-stock until I ordered it… then it went out of stock… until the rebate expired. Then they canceled the original order and sent it under a new one… dated after the rebate had expired – CHEAT!!! Naturally I returned the item.
- Pep Boys – Purchased some motor oil with a coupon and a rebate. They sent me a card telling me that my rebate was invalid as I had already claimed another rebate (untrue). When I phoned up to contest this they expedited it without fuss.