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Many people love mail-in rebates, I mean who can’t resist FREE After Rebate? However, there are even more people who hate them.
So, why do some people despise this “so-called” easy, refund money?
There are many reasons why some consumers do not like mail-in rebates, and we will examine some of their reasons in this article.
A Necessary Evil?
In today’s economy, most people like to shop for bargains, especially when it comes to electronics. In the past, businesses often offered special sale prices on various items in an effort to attract customers. However, this is fast becoming an outdated practice. Today, if you want to get a bargain, you have to fill out and mail in a rebate form.
It seems as if more and more manufacturers and businesses are choosing this route as their way to offer bargains. Some stores where you will rarely find in-store sale prices anymore include OfficeMax, Office Depot, Best Buy and CompUSA. Even many online businesses are moving towards rebate programs.
Some people do not mind mail-in rebates and FREE After Rebates; however, there are many others that think they are a scam. They think that rebates are simply handy ways for businesses to get around offering discounted prices to consumers. No matter what people may think though, the fact is that mail-in rebates have become a necessary evil for consumers when they are trying to get a bargain.
Why Do Manufacturers Use Mail-In Rebates?
Many people have asked this question and wondered why manufacturers cannot simply offer reduced sale prices like they did in the past. There are many reasons for this, and they do not benefit the consumers. The following groups are those that benefit most from rebate programs and an explanation of how they benefit from them.
Stores – First of all, stores love mail-in rebates because rebates allow them to advertise a “so-called” low price; however, they still charge their customers the full price. What this means for the stores, is that they get all of their money upfront, without having to wait for the manufacturers to reimburse them. It is solely up to the consumers to try to obtain their “bargains”.
State and Local Governments – State and Local governments love mail-in rebates as well. The reason for this is because consumers have to pay sales tax on the full prices of items rather than the discounted prices, which means more money for the government.
Manufacturers – Manufacturers prefer rebates over in-store sale prices because they can continue to make money, while they defer rebates for as long as 12 weeks at a time. Additionally, since only a small percentage of rebates are actually claimed, rebates allow them to retain more money than they could if they were to offer products at reduced prices in the stores.
The Difficult Rebate Process
As anybody can clearly see, it seems as though rebate programs make everybody happy. However, as stated above, not all consumers are happy with mail-in rebate programs. For them, it seems as if manufacturers make the rebate process difficult on purpose, in hopes that few people will claim their refunds. While there are many ways that manufacturers make rebate programs difficult, the following methods are the most common.
1. Manufacturers know that most people today are quite busy; thus, it can be easy for them to be careless. Therefore, in order for people to get their rebates, many manufacturers require consumers to mail in their receipt and the UPC symbol off of the product’s packaging. If you are anything like the average person, that UPC symbol and receipt got thrown away a long time ago.
2. Manufacturers also know that consumers tend to stray away from reading any small print on rebate coupons. With that said, they put the expiration date in extremely small print on the very bottom of the form. Additionally, they often make the expiration date as early as one to two weeks after purchasing the item. As busy as most people are, by the time they get around to filling out the form, it has already expired.
3. While this does not happen often, in some cases, manufacturers say that they did not receive your rebate or it must have gotten lost during processing. Again, this does not seem to happen often, but when it does, it often seems as if it is for high-end items. So long as you do not miss the expiration date though, most manufacturers will accept photocopies of the rebate form. However, during this process, it is most likely that you will, indeed, miss the expiration date.
4. Manufacturers know that consumers are bogged down with junk mail, and in most cases, people simply throw junk mail away without another thought. As such, manufacturers most often mail rebate checks in envelopes that look like, you guessed it, junk mail. Even people who do not throw their junk mail in the trash right away often get around to reading it well after the rebate check has expired. All rebate checks have an expiration date and will not be re-issued if they expire.
Laws Regulating Rebates
There are a few states that have passed new laws to regulate how manufacturers administer and process rebates. However, most manufacturers are simply not aware of these new laws, and there is still always the problem with the states that are not regulated. Even so, consumers in certain states may have some recourse if manufacturers do not process their rebates in a timely manner.
Some of these new laws focus on dictating what kind of text manufacturers may use in their offers. For example, some states cannot mention the product’s post-rebate price unless they also mention the pre-rebate price. Further, some states cannot mention the post-rebate price at all.
Additionally, many of these laws focus on how rebates are processed. Many states require manufacturers to process rebates in the time they promise or within 30 days (for some states it is 60). If the manufacturer cannot comply with this law, they must notify the consumer by way of first-class mail. The notification should include a reason for the delay and a date as to when the consumer can expect their rebate.
Because of these new laws, a number of manufacturers have been fined or even prosecuted for rebate fraud. For example, in 2011, the Federal Trade Commission charged InPhonic and Soyo stating that many of their rebates were delivered untimely. In some cases, consumers had to wait over a year for their rebate checks!
Also in 2011, a suit was filed against AT&T for their $100 rebate program offers. While consumers did, indeed, receive their rebates as promised, they received Visa Reward cards instead of checks. These cards were subject to several restrictions, and they expired in just four months. The plaintiffs claimed they were not made aware of these terms prior to purchasing AT&T’s products.
How to Avoid the Rebate Hassle
Because of all these deterrents, many consumers simply do not mail in their rebate forms in the first place. However, there are ways to avoid these hassles and get the money you deserve. If you adhere to the following tips, you should not have any problems getting your rebate.
Do Not Procrastinate – Mail off your rebate the day of or the day after your purchase. In this way, you will not miss the deadline.
Stay Organized – Keep copies of everything you send to the manufacturer including rebate forms, UPCs and receipts.
Read the Small Print – This is essential. Read all of the small print and take note of such things as expiration dates and requirements. Additionally, take note as to if they require original documents.
For example, this was found on the bottom of a recent rebate form:
This rebate offer is available to qualifying end-user purchasers of a qualifying product. If any terms and conditions are not met the rebate will be denied. Distributors and dealers may not participate in this offer. The purchase date on your sales receipt, packing slip or invoice must be a date within the eligibility period indicated on the individual rebate application that you must print, sign and mail to the specified address obtained after registering online at http://www.4myrebate.com. The address on your rebate application must match the billing address on the receipt, packing slip or invoice. Limit One (1) rebate per qualifying rebate offer, per person, billing address, company, household and receipt/invoice/packing slip during the eligibility period, except were prohibited by law. Only one (1) rebate application per envelope. Any request postmarked or received after the eligibility period will be denied. If your rebate payment is $5.00 or greater, you will receive an American Express® Prepaid Reward Card issued by AEPCMC under license from American Express Travel Related Services Company, Inc. (the “Reward Card”). Reward cards may be used at merchants in the United States, Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands that accept American Express Cards. The Reward Card is given to you as a reward, refund, rebate or gift and no consideration, value, or money has been paid by you in exchange for the Reward Card. The Reward Card cannot be used at cruise lines, for recurring billing charges, at casinos or ATMs. The Reward Card is subject to applicable law; a $2.00 monthly service charge applies but is waived for the initial six (6) months after receipt by cardholder. See cardholder agreement for complete terms and conditions. If you prefer a check, simply call the toll free number on the back of the Reward Card upon receipt and follow the telephone prompts. If your rebate is less than $5.00, you will be paid by check. In the event your rebate check is not cashed within ninety (90) days, the rebate offer expires and is void. Timely cashing of the rebate check is a necessary condition to obtain a rebate under this offer. Checks are void if not cashed within ninety (90) days of issuance and cannot be reissued. Neither the sponsor of the rebate (“Rebate Sponsor”) nor the entity providing the rebate reward (the “Reward Vendor”) is responsible for late, lost, misdirected or postage-due mail. Incomplete or illegible applications will be denied. Photocopies of UPCs are not accepted unless indicated on the rebate form. Offer only valid in the US (including Puerto Rico). Rebate Payable in US Dollars for US Residents. Offer subject to change at any time. Void where prohibited by law. Use of fictitious names, multiple addresses and PO Boxes to obtain additional rebates may constitute fraud, violate federal or state laws and may result in prosecution, imprisonment and/or fines, including under the U.S. Mail Fraud Statutes (18 USC, Section 1341 and 1342). Rebate application status updates, approval, denial, and other notices may be sent via e-mail. You may check the status of your rebate by visiting the link provided in your e-mail or visiting http://www.4myrebate.com. Please allow 3 weeks after mailing to make any inquiries regarding your rebate. Fulfillment of this rebate is subject to final approval by the Reward Vendor. Reward Vendor is not liable for non-fulfillment of offers by the Rebate Sponsor. ® Used by American Express Travel Related Services Company, Inc. under license from American Express.
Keep the Box – Do not throw the box away until you find out if you need the UPC and if the product even works. Additionally, do not cut the UPC off until you have found out the product works. If it does not work and you need to take it back to the store, the packaging will need to be intact.
Look for a Phone Number – Reputable manufacturers will include a phone number on their rebate forms. If you cannot find their phone number, it might not be a good idea to make a purchase from them.
Use Registered Mail – If the rebate is for a significant amount, use registered mail to mail your rebate form and documents. In this way, the manufacturer cannot say they did not receive it.
Keep Your Receipt in Your Wallet – Many people throw their receipts in their bags when leaving the store. However, this is not a good practice, as they can get thrown away with the bags. Always take your receipts from the cashier and put them in your wallet or purse.
Read Your Junk Mail – Finally, if you are expecting a rebate, make a point to read your junk mail EVERY day. If you get your check, cash it immediately before it expires.
After Sending Off Your Rebate
While many people think that simply sending their rebate off in the mail is the only thing they need to do, this is far from the truth. First of all, make sure you keep all your copies in a secure place in case you need them. Mark on your calendar the date you sent your rebate off and the estimated arrival date of your rebate check.
Another thing you will want to keep on hand is the manufacturer’s phone number. In most cases, you will receive a confirmation email when the manufacturer receives your paper work. SAVE this email. Finally, keep track of your rebate’s status. Most manufacturers will allow you to do this either by calling them or creating an account on their website.
What to Do if Your Rebate is Denied
If for some reason your rebate is denied, do not panic. The best thing to do is phone the manufacturer. Keep in mind that if you act properly, the operator will be more accommodating. Thus, steer away from shouting or cussing. Ask the operator why your rebate was denied. Nine times out of ten the situation can be corrected easily.
If it seems as if your are not getting anywhere with the operator, ask them to check their files again. This gives them a chance to reverse their decision in your favor. If they ask you if you would like to re-submit your rebate, tell them no. Tell them you would rather clarify your submission. In this way, you will avoid the “no re-submission rules” if they have them.
If possible, record your phone call with the operator, and let them know that you are recording the conversation. Recording phone calls is perfectly legal, so long as the person is aware of it. Typically, if the operator thinks you are recording the conversation, they will rule in your favor.
Are Rebates Worth the Hassle?
Rebates can be great for those people who do not mind working hard for their refunds. Rebates are in a sense cash; however, if the rebate is for a couple of dollars, it may not be worth all the hassle. Rebates can cost you a lot of time and trouble, only you can decide if it’s worth it.
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