Monday, November 8, 2004

George Mindling Column 11-08-2004

Rebates Won't Help Unless You Use Them


A local chain store recently offered two mail-in rebates on a PC I wanted to buy. One was from the retail store chain itself for $150, the other was from the PC manufacturer for $50. I wouldn't have purchased the PC without the rebates simply because I wanted to wait for a competitive offer from another vendor. The rebates would have expired before long, so I bought the unit.

After waiting the usual six weeks without a response from either of the offers, I went online to check the status of my rebates. Going on line to check the status of my two PC rebates was as easy as signing in to each of the web sites and following a few simple instructions. The results, however, were as different as night and day. The rebate check from the retailer was already on its way, in fact it came two days after I signed in. The PC manufacturer, however, had no record of my rebate.

I had followed instructions explicitly, making copies of everything from the instructions and the receipts and the product proof of sale tags and had carefully submitted the originals to the manufacturer. I haven't given up on that one yet, copies are still being submitted.

Many savvy shoppers carefully watch for rebates on products they purchase. Rebates can make almost any new product price affordable when compared to the actual off-the-shelf cost. Amazingly enough, according to the Federal Trade Commission, about half of all rebates are never redeemed! In addition to that astonishing fact, posted on TCA rebate fulfillment center's home page at http://www.tcarebates.com/advantage.htm, is one almost as incredible: 10 percent of all issued rebate checks are never cashed!

TCA is a leading rebate and fulfillment center service organization in New Rochelle, New York, that handles rebates for many manufacturers and retailers. They actually advertise on the same page that they rejected 800,000 fraudulent or non-compliant rebate requests. Making the rebate process complicated of course is a great help to the manufacturers. The fewer rebates submitted or approved is to their benefit.

Rebates are an interesting marketing tool. Similar to a coupon to the consumer, the differences to the manufacturers are great. With a coupon, the seller takes the price off at the register, actually reducing collected sales tax on the item. The seller then places claims against the manufacturer to reclaim the lost credit or money at the register. In a rebate, the buyer pays full sales tax on the item and the seller is usually not involved in the process, except for supplying receipts and forms. The manufacturer usually claims the financial loss of rebates against advertising or product costs.

Following the exact rebate requirements is the only way you can be sure you will get your rebate. Read the rebate carefully and make sure your purchase is actually covered by the time and conditions stated on the rebate.

One way to make money for the manufacturers seems simple enough: throw away the rebate and pretend it never got there.


George Mindling© 2004

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