Monday, January 22, 2007

Rebates are Designed With the Disorganized in Mind

I finally bought a new phone/pda (more on that later). Of course, there is a rebate. And of course, there are catches:
  1. The rebate only applies if you sign up for the most expensive plan associated with the phone and a long commitment.
  2. The rebate is for a Visa check card, not cash. The last time we got a phone from Cingular, this was also the case. I had forgotten. I also forgot that last time we had to jump through hoops to get the Visa card to actually work and had a couple of embarrassing moments trying to use it to pay for something and getting declined. And of course the Cingular people were no help. They claimed it was out of their hands. I don't remember exactly what we did to finally make it work, so I have that voyage of discovery to look forward to in 10-12 weeks. Just thinking about it makes my hackles raise.
  3. Getting your rebate is a very complicated process--intentionally so, I'm sure. It's interesting that the salesperson actually filled out my rebate form for me and attached the bar codes from the box as well as the receipt. I checked to make sure he stapled ALL of the necessary pieces together and filled out the information correctly (he misspelled my street address). Then, of course, he put it in the big bag with all the other stuff they give you. Since this phone requires a learning curve, I had to root through all the stuff looking for manuals and startup guides. Fortunately I found the rebate form, which I had already forgotten about, hidden amongst a lot of other paper. Despite his help (which I assume is meant to look like good customer service), there are still steps involved:
    1. Copy the form, receipt and bar codes.
    2. Mark the date I'm mailing it on the copies.
    3. File the copies under "pending".
    4. Put a reminder on my calendar to check the rebate status in 10 weeks.
    5. Address the envelope. For some, locating an envelope is difficult.
    6. Go to the post office and get a tracking number? This seems like overkill so I won't do it--I've personally never had a rebate get "lost in the mail" like many other folks.
    7. Mail it. For some, locating stamps is difficult.
  4. The deadlines for filing rebates are roomy enough that following through and sending it off seems not-so-urgent. Most people, I'd imagine, never get the rebate sent in time. And there is no flexibility on the end of the retailer. Rebates are designed to work this way. Companies would lose too much money to be flexible.
  5. It takes forever to get your money, 10-12 weeks. By then you've had to pay your credit card bill and cough up the extra $$ until the rebate "money" comes back.
  6. The "money" they send usually has a pretty short shelf life. It often expires within a few months.
Sources online say that between 15% and 40% of rebates go unclaimed. I'm really surprised the percentage is not higher. Of course, in my line of work, I find rebate paperwork that has not been completed about 98% of the time. All of these hurdles are by design. I am sure of it. And folks with organizing challenges are the biggest prey.

Companies that offer rebates should be required to post their prices in a format sort of like this: "$399*************" or "(NOT REALLY) $399". Otherwise, I think it should be considered false advertising.

Be aware, when you make the purchase, of what is really involved so you don't get victimized.


Anonymous said...

so did you get a TREO? or (dare I even ask as it will make me SO jealous) the Apple phone?

Kerry Crocker said...

I didn't get a TREO or an iPhone. I want the iPhone but can't be without a calendar for 6-12 more months--very sad. More to come on that.