Rebates 101: What You Should Know About Rebate Check Fulfillment

SALE! Model X-3000, Originally $199.99, Reduced to $129.99. With Mfr Rebate 0f $70.00�.FINAL PRICE- $59.99!

Look familiar? We’ve all seen these ads for items that we’ve had our eye on or is on our “wish-list” The ads are almost always the same too. The item is shown, with a MSRP or “Original price” (some high figure that they probably were NEVER able to actually charge) and then the real grabberâÂ?¦the FINAL PRICE- an eye-grabbing low number that is sure to entice. Somewhere in the ad, usually in smaller print, is the qualifier-“after rebate of $xxx” That doesn’t matter, though, because we see that LOW FINAL PRICE and that’s what we remember. If it’s an item you really want or need, you’re probably going to head down to that store and buy it because, in your mind, you’re really only spending the final price amount. When they ring up the full amount on your credit card, you may have a short moment of distress, but you figure if they put it in print, they will honor it, right? Well, if you are reading this article, you’ve likely found out otherwise. Welcome to the not-so-wonderful world of rebates.

Rebates are everywhere, on all kinds of products, from cold medicines to electronics, from low dollar staples to big-ticket, expensive luxury items. Some of them are downright silly, like a $0.75 rebate on a $2.00 item; you’ll spend a first class stamp ($.37) and a half hour of your time to get back 75 cents. Others will offer real substantial savings on a high-cost device and totally justify any time and money spent on exercising the rebate. No matter what the amount, though, all rebates have a fundamental requirement- they require extra effort on the part of the consumer AND they require an entity, on the sellers part, to process that paperwork and disburse funds. All things being equal. it would be far easier to simply sell the product at the final price and avoid the hassle of all the additional paperwork and bureaucracy. The consumer would save work and the seller would not have to pay workers to process rebates. Yet rebates endure and seem to be on the increase.

The simple fact that rebates are seeing ongoing use, despite the added cost to the seller of processing these rebates is the first evidence of what is behind their usage. Manufacturers and retailers are businesses, with bottom lines in the profit and loss sheets, and they generally do not engage in practices that produce a net loss, at least not on an ongoing basis, or they wouldn’t be in business for very long. It naturally follows that the rebate process must be a source of profit. You’ve probably heard some of the conventional wisdom about rebates. “Companies count on a certain percentage of people buying items with rebates and then never sending them in so it makes sense for them”. Or, “companies will do whatever they can to deny a rebate claim so they can keep the money themselves”. Those of us who continue to buy items with rebates discount the first piece of wisdom because we KNOW we will send it in. We also discount the second saying because we have eternal optimism or we figure we are different and it won’t happen to us. Yet many of us never get the money we are owed.

To understand why so many people never receive their rebates we need to look at how the rebate process works. Then I will lay out my personal method for achieving a 100% success rate at getting rebate checks. I have never had an unfulfilled rebate and I have submitted hundreds of them.

Not all rebates are the same. Some are handled , in-house, by the manufacturer of a product and you deal directly with them. In my experience, these tend to be more reliable because the manufacturer can’t “hide behind” the front of a rebate-fulfillment house. Many companies, in their rebate-ducking strategy, like to play the good-cop/bad cop game, blaming the delays or denials on the rebate center. If they are handling the promotion themselves, they can’t use this tactic and you will usually be able to get satisfaction through simple follow-up on the rebate. If there is a problem, a well-written letter or phone call to the right individual in the corporation will normally produce results. To find who to send the letter to you can ask the customer support rep at the number given for checking on your rebate (virtually all rebates will have some sort of a telephone number or website to check up on the status of your rebate-it’s usually on the rebate form itself) If there isn’t a follow-up source indicated on the rebate form the internet provides a wealth of information on all kinds of companies and manufacturers and a little research will usually provide a name and contact info for the right person.

Most of the real problems with getting rebates sent occurs when the rebate is being handled by a separate rebate fulfillment house or processing center. These are independent entities who are not as sensitive to issues like customer satisfaction. They are hired by a variety of manufacturers to provide a service and they have much less investment in you as a customer. Their efforts at avoiding payment of rebates goes beyond this detachment though. The common scenario in this sort of rebate process is for the manufacturer to allocate funds to the rebate house for disbursement to buyers in chunks. These chunks have a certain “no-response” factor calculated into the amount, for buyers who never submit their paperwork or return the product to the retailer. However, like the infamous “Factory-to-dealer incentives” you hear about in the car market, the rebate center can usually keep any excess funds that are not disbursed. Therefore it is in the rebate house’s interest to make efforts at avoiding payment. This can come through outright denial of claim, continual requests for additional paperwork or other efforts aimed at frustrating the buyer, or just not sending the check and hoping that we forget about it. I can’t say for sure but it is possible that pay in these rebate houses might even be related to this, with a certain minimum factored in, much like a waiter/waitress is given low hourly pay because tips/gratuities are assumed. In any case, we need to be aware that agents at rebate fulfillment centers are not going to be the most sympathetic to our problems at getting paid. However, there are strategies that can tip the scales back in our favor.

Rebates can be a royal pain and an endless source of frustration that can end with not receiving your check even after a lot of effort. By following a prescribed set of steps it can also be treated as a moderate challenge that we can almost always win if we just want to persevere. When I see an offer on a product with a rebate, I see the final price as the real price because I have gotten 100% of every rebate I have ever submitted. However, I do factor in the amount of additional effort I will have to put out and sometimes will pass on a product because the savings are not enough to justify the effort. This can sometimes happen when another outlet is offering the same item for a little more, but with no rebate. But if the offer is too good to pass up, then don’t. Buy it and follow these steps and you will get your money.

The typical advice you’ll see regarding rebates usually says the same things.

�Read all the paperwork thoroughly
�Submit everything asked for
�Make sure the purchase was in the proper time period and was postmarked by the due date. Also make sure it is mailed to the right address
�Keep copies of everything submitted in your package.
�Follow-up on the package if not received after 6 or 8 weeks.

This is all good advice but following it may not guarantee anything. There are some additional steps and pieces of advice that have worked every time for me. First we must eliminate any possible lame excuse they may offer.

1.It may sound silly, but some rebate houses will claim that even if they receive your paperwork, they can’t read it (like your address, for example) so they don’t know where to send the check. You can write legibly but I found a simple way to eliminate this excuse. In WordPerfect (or Word or any word processing program), I type my name, address, e-mail and phone numbers in 14-pt type and bold at the upper left of a page. I print this out so it looks like this:

Then I fill out the rebate form (legibly, of course), cut out the UPC label and take all 3 items (form, receipt and UPC label) and affix them to the page I printed. It ends up looking like this usually.

By doing this, I have eliminated their possible excuse of missing mail to address, illegible address/name, or any missing pieces, since all 3 are now in one easy to record document. I then scan a copy of this into my computer and label the file as “whatever rebate etc-date”. If/when I have to follow up, or even re-submit, everything is in one central document, in my rebates folder. When I mail it, I print everything L-A-R-G-E and I also take a red marker and write on the back “REBATE SUBMISSION”.

2.The most common reason for denial has to be the lame excuse of “We never received your paperwork”. If you believe this claim, then the Postal Service must have about a 25% success rate at delivery. Some advisors will say you should send in your rebate claims via registered mail with return receipt showing a signature. That’s great advice for a big-ticket rebate but it doesn’t make economic sense for a smaller one where you can spend half or more of the amount on postage. I have found a very effective alternative that costs me nothing and has helped on a few occasions already. I go to a local postal outlet near my home for this. I haven’t really tried it at a large central office, but at a smaller place where they are contracted to do post office duties it works great. You’ll need a digital camera for this, the resolution doesn’t matter too much. I ask the clerk to put the date stamp/cancellation on the envelope and then ask him/her if I can just have it for a minute to take a digital photo of it, (with the mailing date and address clearly visible on it) and then I will give it right back to them (or put it into the slot). I usually tell them that I have had bad experiences with rebates and am trying to record proof of submission and most of them are VERY understanding, probably having had bad ones themselves. One asked me why I just didn’t get certified mail with receipt and I told them that the rebate wasn’t enough to justify that. Anyway, my photo will look something like this:

Later on down the road, if they claim non-receipt I usually whip out a copy of this photo, and a copy of my paperwork (step 1). I then state that whether or not they received it or just lost it, here’s my resubmission with proof that I performed by the original deadline and it has worked like a charm.

The previous steps detailed what you can do to make your submission more “denial-proof” and eliminate possible excuses. Once you’ve done these things, you should plan to follow up on it. I try to see if they have a website where you can check status and check it early to see if they verify receipt of the paperwork-better companies will offer this. In any case, plan to check on it at about 6 weeks, but no later than 8 weeks. If you haven’t gotten your check in the time allotted (typically between 6 and 12 weeks) then it must be elevated to the next level.

Many rebate offers have a website where you can plug in your name, zip code and telephone number and see the status of your rebate. These are central sites that handle a wide range of rebates, They have a mixed success rate; I have found useful info on them about half the time. The other half they have either no record of me or they have supposedly “denied” my claim. Where I go from here varies but my first step is to try to find an e-mail address and/or phone number to contact. E-mail follow ups are not as good as telephone-there’s no substitute for a human rep who can look up things and can take internal steps. When they want to. Which isn’t always. Up to this point, following my plan will probably give you a high success rate (maybe 80-90%) but to achieve true 100% can take a bit more effort. The live agent may not be the answer. Asking for their supervisor may help but may not be the answer either. If I am not getting satisfaction from the live reps, I usually inform them that since they are unwilling/unable to help me then I will elevate this and take it to the manufacturer directly. They may not care about me one bit but it is the manufacturer that is hiring their company to process these rebates and this should at least get their attention. It definitely lets them know I am not just going to go away and forget about it.

I then construct a letter to the manufacturer in which I typically state that I like their products, I bought this one at this time strictly because the rebate made the price affordable, that I fulfilled every requirement for the promised rebate, and even resubmitted it and I am still being denied by their rebate center. I then urge them to please look into why this valid claim is being wrongfully denied and to inform me when I can expect to see the check I am owed, thanking them in advance. I will include a copy of my submission with this letter to prove my claim. That will provide results in many cases but not always. If they reply unacceptably, or not at all, I send a second letter, but this time expressing my disappointment in the care they give loyal customers. I then make the request again and state that if I do not receive the rebate within a specified time (10 days is usually good) I will then elevate this to the retailer at which I made the purchase. They rely on the retailer to stock their products and to market them and retailers will drop brands that have received a lot of complaints, so this statement may produce some leverage with them. I also inform them that, should it be necessary, I will notify the state Attorney General and the Federal Trade Commission; the FTC has a section on their website for taking these complaints and will launch an investigation if enough complaints are received. Like the “60 Minutes” team, most companies don’t really want to see them at their door.

I have had to take it to this level only 3 times. On 2 occasions, the retailer actually paid the rebate themselves, even though they were not technically liable for, after I explained that I made a lot of purchases there ands bought this item only due to the rebate. In the third case, the FTC must have gotten involved because I received my rebate check doubled, along with a few extra bonus items, with no further prodding. To find the FTC just do a google search for Federal trade commission and go to their complaint form page. Or click the link below:

Federal Trade Commission complaint form

I have had great success using the methods I have laid out here. Still, so much of this effort is a waste of my time. I continue to go through it because, in addition to the money involved, I really hate being lied to and treated like a sucker. I really wish that companies would just be honest or would eliminate the rebate practice and just offer the item for the price they can afford to sell it at. Of course, then there would be a whole army of rebate workers that would have to find new jobs but hey, they may have to some day anyway when their jobs are outsourced to Bangalore, India.

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