What you need to
Who can resist the siren call of Sunday’s four-color
ads? “Laser Printer $99 (after rebate). CD rewritable, $39.99
(after rebate). Free!
It seems almost too good to be true, and in fact… It sometimes
A concept always difficult to really understand, rebates on
computer products have become often downright Byzantine. You buy
two products at the same time for less than either one of them
alone, and the retailer pays that, so you wind up paying sales
tax alone on stuff that actually sells for thirty or sixty or
hundreds of dollars?
This is deep into the uncharted depths of accounting as
practiced in the world of companies like AOL, who repeatedly
extends your free trial subscription so you won’t quit. And
what’s truly bothersome is that, like a well-presented pyramid
scheme (or one of those engravings from the mind of M. C.
Escher), it almost seems to make some kind of sense.
news, bad news...
Anyhow, the good news is, you’ll more than likely really get
those checks in the mail. In the vast majority of cases,
if you follow the instructions you will get your check.
The bad news is, sometimes you need those copies that the tiny
print of a typical rebate form suggests you ought to make.
Sometimes you have to call that phone number or, lately, respond
to an email.
Do it! Don’t let a corporation slide with empty promises.
Make a copy of
everything. (We scan ours into Ulead PhotoImpact (a reasonably
priced graphics program that supports object saving) and store
them on the hard drive.) If you don’t receive a check in the six
to eight weeks (or whatever time they say), don’t be shy about
it- follow up. Most will cough it up if you call them on it.
Call and ask them where it is. Fire off an email. Let them know
you expect them to keep their word.
Ulead Image/Video SW
But sometimes, you will never see a
Even so, be aware that, sometimes, you will never see a check.
Although relatively rare, there are many reasons why this is so.
Some come disguised as junk mail, some are tiny postcards that
too easily get lost among the pages of advertising circulars,
and some are simply never mailed.
Corporations can and do go bankrupt, get bought out, and even
just decide they’re not going to pay. As essentially fictional
characters, there's not much to stop them.
rebate offers, in the way they're handled, resemble an exercise
in the political concept of "plausible deniability." By
hiring an outside "fulfillment center" (which presumably,
as part of its service, takes the blame for your non-forthcoming
check), the manufacturer can claim innocence and good intent.
Regardless of the
reason, there’s not much you can do about it. When it
happens, though, suddenly that great bargain doesn’t look so
good. Keep this in mind before you load that shopping cart.
Would you buy the product anyway, if there were no rebate? If
not, you may be better off to leave it on the shelf.
Ten rules for rebates:
1. Don’t jump the gun. Test your product before you cut the UPC
code. If it is defective, the retailer may not accept the return
if the packaging is not intact.
procrastinate. There are expiration dates to deal with, and some
rebates must be sent within a few days of purchase.
3. Follow the
instructions. Exactly. Be certain you’ve included all the
materials required. Multiple rebates can be particularly tricky.
Sometimes they’re self-contradictory. In that case, call the
number on the rebate form and get it clarified. Take notes as
well as names.
4. Make sure you
get the right barcode. Some packages have several, and only one
is the product UPC. It’s usually identifiable by a 12 digit
number printed just below the vertical stripes.
everything. Both sides if appropriate. Be sure you have the
phone number or web site URL for inquiries on your copies. Even
the cheapest scanners are more than good enough for this kind of
thing. We’re currently using one that cost us $19.99 (after
6. Check your mail
carefully- some checks are suspiciously easy to overlook.
When you get a check, watch out for a "void if not cashed by"
7. Keep track of
what you receive and what you still have coming.
8. Follow up on
what you don’t receive. Again, there’s that small print to be
aware of. Many offers become void if not fully redeemed within
the specified time.
9. Don’t forget.
If you do get burned on a rebate, don’t forget who burned you.
Write the company a letter explaining why you’ll no longer buy
their products. And, of course, no longer buy their products.
10. Finally, don't
be greedy. Fraud is fraud, regardless of whether it's a
seller who doesn't pay or a consumer submitting extra claims.
It's a little, ummm, inconsistent to expect the sellers
to play by the rules if you are breaking them.
In general, we’ve never had a retailer renege on a rebate.
Manufacturers are a different story, but we’ve noticed a
consistency- the most reliable rebate offers we have dealt with
(where all parties follow through) are from Staples, Office Max,
and Best Buy.
Best Buy, to their credit, even made good on web site glitch.
And, of course,
we've always received our rebate checks from
On the other hand, we’re particularly wary of a certain
well-known seller of computers and software whose name is pretty
much a household word. If you don't know who we're talking
about, ask around.
As always is the case when dealing with marketeers, remember the
basic rule of commerce: Buyer beware! There's no call for
paranoia, but you have to stay alert.
For some types of items, the "regular prices" offered by online
vendors are comparable to local retailers' "after rebate" deals.
Especially if you're not impressed by brand names, things like
sound cards, modems, network cards, and RAM are readily
available at very low prices with no rebate hassles and the
convenience of to your door delivery.