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Rebates: Savings or scam?

By Gary Gray
Posted Sunday, June 26, 2005

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We’ve all had our issues with rebates. Remember the time you purchased that “free” product from Comp USA or Circuit City who then promised you would get your money back? What an easy purchase! But, did you know that the majority of folks never redeem their rebates? If you really ever did get that check in the mail, you’re one of the few savvy consumers out there. If not, I want to let everyone in on how to ensure they’re going to be getting the savings they signed up for. Get out a pen and pencil; this may require a little work.

I’ll be honest; I’ve always had a problem with rebates. I’m a consumer aware of the price I’m paying, constantly wondering if my purchase is legitimate or there’s some hidden agenda motivating the seller. Rebates seem to fit the bill of a scam. After all, who wants to give something away for free, and how can you make money on that? While rebates can seem promising on the surface, they rarely pan out. According to Peter Kastner, executive vice president of Aberdeen Group, only 40% of consumers submit rebates they are entitled to, 40% submit the rebate and successfully get a check, and 20% have problems. You think they want you to redeem that rebate? Think again.

But despite the difficulties of rebates and the burden to redeem, they do offer an opportunity at great savings impossible to find elsewhere. A couple items of due diligence are required when using these cheap discounts. But first let’s explain some of the deception involved.

At the outset, merchants hope you won’t bother. It takes a lot of work to redeem a rebate, so be prepared. In addition, the redemption process is made to be complicated. Who owes you your rebate, the retailer or the manufacturer? And the tediousness in the process will make you so fed up you’ll forget about your savings or give up in the process, taking the loss as a learning experience.

OK, so we know rebates are difficult at best. But what if everyone turned them in and was willing to follow up on all the problems that can be involved? I’ll give you a hint, these retailers would lose money, and rebates would end. But that’s not the case: rebates grew from 1 billion to 4 billion dollars from 1999 to 2003, and they continue on today with a presence in the online discount shopping arena. Learn how to take advantage of these savings and you’ll be adding to your online shopping smarts.

1. Look at who’s issuing the rebate, the manufacturer or the retailer? Manufacturers often use rebates to remove excess inventory or to clear out products for the latest models. If it’s a retailer who’s offering the rebate, and what’s their true motivation? Why aren’t they just offering a sale? These retailers are really just playing the odds hoping you won’t redeem your savings, so be aware.

2. The paperwork: Be sure to keep receipts, UPC codes, and sometimes even a cutout of the product picture or text on the box. Read the fine print on the rebate form (don’t leave the store without this) to know exactly what to send in. Be sure to fill in every field, don’t leave your email address blank, your form could be rejected on a technicality! A hint is to set up a separate free email address at hotmail for a lot of you ‘potential’ spam mail. This address can not only be used for rebate forms but for online newsletters as well.

3. Keep good records. I’d suggest marking the deadline for the rebate on a calendar, and then the date they state the rebates will be sent out – if it’s 8 weeks after the deadline, mark that. Make copies of all receipts and UPC’s before sending in your information. Be sure to take care of all of this within a few days of purchase, many times the rebate does not depend on expiration but on a date that can be only 7 days after your purchase!

4. Don’t be afraid to call. Oftentimes I’ve found the only way to get my rebate is to call, with records in hand, to explain my situation. I NEVER leave my rebate to chance, because I know I’ll eventually forget! After all, that’s what they expect!

Nowadays, I’ve resorted to using savings I can realize at the point of purchase, and no longer rely on rebates for my bargain hunting. Since most of my shopping is done online these days, I’m resorting to online coupons and coupon codes where I can verify the savings before checkout. Am I getting the best deal? I think so; I never was one for paperwork.


Gary Gray of Coupon Chief is a bargain finder and deal hunter.

Related info:
Coupon Chief
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print Printer-friendly page
Rebates: Savings or scam?

Related info:
Coupon Chief