Wednesday, October 18th, 2017

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How to Make a Shopping Rebate Pay Off

Personally, I have always sought out rebates, especially on larger purchases. In my book, “Spend Your Way to Wealth,” (Allworth Press, 2003) I urge all consumers to use coupons, rebates and other discounts as much as possible.

In recent years, the rebate business has moved from offering a dollar or two back on purchases to much larger offers of more than $100 up to $500. It is not uncommon to see $150 rebates on items like computers and other technical equipment. Retailers and manufacturers like to use rebates to move merchandise and to create an urgency to buy. Advertising that offers big discounts like, "Save $150 This Weekend" is very attractive to consumers and gets people into stores.

The fact that there are strings attached to qualifying for a rebate offer usually is not well publicized in the ads if at all. It’s always in the fine print. And, that is where you get what they call in the industry, "breakage," or non follow through by the consumer who might have to fill out forms, make copies of receipts or cut items off of the product box, such as the barcode label, in order to qualify for the rebate. Then the items have to be put into an envelope, posted and mailed.

Though some companies have gone to Internet submission of rebate information, and I hear more and more are moving in that direction to save on fulfillment processing costs, most still require that the information be mailed into the fulfillment house, which increases the chance that the consumer will not bother following through..

The process is usually pretty simple but for a lot of people, it is too much effort. Personally, to earn $150, and, notice I say "earn" and not "save," because I see it as earning $150, I am willing to spend some time. Even if it takes you an hour or two to complete the rebate offer, you’d be earning $75 to $150 an hour. Most people don’t earn that much an hour at their jobs. If you look at it as earning money, it is easier to motivate yourself to do it. I say the same thing when it comes to finding and using coupons.

The fact is most people will not go to the trouble, as little as it is, to complete the rebate offer as required. According to some reports, only 10-30 percent of rebate offers are actually received. Some offers are more complicated than others but I’ve never seen one so daunting that I could not complete it in a few minutes.

There are many instances where people have done exactly what was required and the companies handling the rebates have dropped the ball and not sent the money back to the consumer as required. I suggest you check out rip-offreport.com and consumeraffairs.com. You will find plenty of horror stories about consumer’s battles with rebate companies. A major part of the problem when there is one is that retailers generally use fulfillment companies to process the rebates for them.

So, if the fulfillment company is not well run, the consumer may have a hard time getting what is promised, though the blame still really should lie with the retailer that offered the rebate since the fulfillment company works for them.. It’s been reported by Vanessa Richardson at msnbc.com that some fulfillment houses in the past have promised low rebate redemption rates to their corporate clients as part of their sales pitch and have gotten in trouble with government regulators for the practice.

Here are some basic guidelines for getting the promised rebate:

1. Before making a purchase make sure you are buying the product that qualifies for the rebate. Often, only a certain model will qualify but if you upgrade to a slightly different model you may lose the rebate.

2. Get all needed paperwork for the rebate before you leave the store.

3. Follow rebate directions exactly. If they tell you to submit a 3" x 3" card with your name on it in blue ink, that is what you must do. Using black ink and a 4" x 6" card will allow them to disqualify you.

4. Note the amount of time the company says it will take to process the rebate (generally they say 6-8 weeks). Set a reminder for yourself at say seven weeks.

5. If the rebate is not received within the allotted time frame, complain to both the fulfillment house and the retailer and/or manufacturer. Stay on the retailer even though they will try to palm you off to the fulfillment house. The retailer is ultimately responsible for delivering the rebate check.

6. Spend time following up in proportion to the rebate. A $1 rebate is not worth any time that you might spend to collect it. But a $150 rebate is worth some time investment.

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