Rebate? What Rebate?

The Motley Fool has a run down of the rebate scandal, particularly as it applies to computer rebates. The article is anecdotal in nature: the author submitted 6 rebates since August and has yet to receive any them. It's an amusing read, and it provides some interesting links to other articles on the subject.

Unfortunately, the article relies more on truisms and satire than hard facts. I don't think there are many people left who still believe they are ever going to see a rebate check, but some statistics would be nice. I'm particularly interested in the number of rebates fulfilled within the allotted time frame as compared to the number of products purchased with rebates.

Nevertheless, the article has its moments. One particularly salient observation is that, more times than not, the bold, red price that leaps out at you from two stores away is the price after one or more rebates. Perhaps it's time for the FTC or the Division of Standards to step in and require that the most prominent price in any advertisement be the price you have to pay at the cash register.

Another solution would be to make the retail store responsible for the rebate. If the store advertises the rebate price, then they are responsible for getting that rebate, not the customer. However, many rebates require steps that are not easily accomplished in the store. Computer rebates in particular tend to require that you install software or produce a prior version.

Of course, as the article points out, a complicated rebate process seems to be part of the scandal. My favorite story in the article, however, is the thread in a Dell forum in which a customer asks why, after several months have passed, he has yet to receive his rebate. A Dell employee suggests that it may have been lost in the mail. The customer responds that he mailed in the rebate 5 times and faxed it, 3 times.

If this were an isolated incident, we wouldn't think that much of it. After all, there's no evidence that the customer actually sent the rebate in at all, much less 8 times. However, experience has taught us that, when it comes to rebates, the exception seems to be rule.

For the moment, the best advice seems to be that which is summed up in the last paragraph of the article:

"...don't consider rebates at all. Assume you won't receive the rebate when deciding whether to buy a product (just assume you'll pay full price), and then if you get the rebate, consider it a bonus."


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