Mail-in rebates have got to go

You’re choosing between two products at a consumer electronics store. One has a mail-in rebate that reduces the price by $50. The other has no mail-in rebate. What do you buy?

Most shoppers pick the lower-priced product. In fact, stores like to advertise the price after deducting the $50 discount. But there’s a problem with mail-in rebates: They often go astray.

That’s why Canada’s largest electronics retailer says it’s eliminating mail-in rebates. Instead, consumers will get rebates instantly at the cash register at the time of sale, much like any other price discount.

The move is to be announced next week by Best Buy Canada Inc., which operates the Best Buy chain as well as Future Shop stores. Two years ago, Best Buy promised to work with suppliers to phase out mail-in rebates because of consumer complaints.

Here’s why mail-in rebates can be frustrating. You spend time gathering the paperwork and sending in your application, only to find the cheque is not in the mail. You spend more time tracking down the rebate, only to find you forgot to include something or the deadline for redemption has passed.

Many customers don’t even bother to send in their rebate applications. Half of all rebates are never claimed, retailers say. The higher the discount relative to the product price, the more likely you are to spend time trying to get it.

What if other stores follow Best Buy and adopt instant cash rebates? Manufacturers say there will be more people getting the discounts. This means the discounts will go down. Instead of a $50 mail-in rebate, they will offer a $25 instant cash rebate.

However, Best Buy says consumers can expect to see prices remain low because the electronics industry is so competitive. It’s more likely that retailers and manufacturers will take a hit on their bottom line to get rid of this promotional tactic.

I think mail-in rebates have got to go. I prefer price discounts that everyone can get at the time of sale. So does Wal-Mart, which is becoming a big force in consumer electronics and uses an everyday low prices approach.

Say good-bye to pie in the sky and say hello to cash in the hand right away.

11 thoughts on “Mail-in rebates have got to go”

  1. I have long despised mail-in rebates, and actually refuse to buy any product that has a mail-in rebate, unless the store will agree to rebate it right there at the point of sale.

    I was victimized by Compu-Smart about 7 years ago. Went like this:

    1. Bought a printer with I think a $50 rebate. It so happened that I bought it on the last day of the program.

    2. Sent in the documentation (original receipt, UPC code, etc.) a couple of days later, only to have it rejected due the fact that the program had expired (apparently the receipt had to be dated before the expiration, AND it had to be sent in before the expiration).

    3. Went to the store to complain, and they said no problem, there is a new similar program running, so we’ll just issue you with a new receipt with today’s date, and send that in.

    4. Sent that in, only to have it rejected due to the fact that I did not include the UPC code. Well guess what, the UPC code was sent in with the first application and not returned with the first rejection.

    5. I concluded that this was a pure scam run by Compu-Smart and gave up.

    In the meantime, I and my family have purchased thousands of dollars worth of computer/printer/electronic gear, and my small business has purchased tens of thousands of dollars worth of this same stuff. I have never even entered a Compu-Smart store since this happened, and won’t EVER do business with them again.

    Now when I’m in Best Buy, or Future Shop, or Staples, or even Home Depot, if somebody brings up the mail-in rebate word, I insist that I will not do a mail-in rebate and if they won’t credit the rebate at the cash register, I am not interested in purchasing the product at all. By the way — they hardly ever credit it at the cash register because there’s always some reason why they can’t.

  2. The problems you mention with rebate redemption focused on lost or missing information, but I think that the tactics used by the supplier and rebate redemption company are actually more suspect.

    I received a card this week from Corel indicating my $100 rebate on Wordperfect software was declined as the purchase was not made in the prescribed period.

    I phoned the number on the card indicating that I had the rebate offer and the receipt in front of me, and I was puzzled as to the reason for the decline as it the purchase clearly fell in the prescribed period.

    There was a brief period while “Enid” did some “research” as she termed it, and then she returned on the line with no apology but a statement that my cheque would be sent out in the next four weeks.
    I believe that they anticipated I would not have the documentation and be unable to prove my case.

    I have observed that Canadian Tire is unique in that they pay their rebates promptly without any followup required on my part. My guess is that they manage their own rebates rather than let the manufacturer look after redemption. In the hands of the manufacturer, there’s an incentive to deny payment – less so in the hands of the retailer who later bills the manufacturer.

    I suspect that with the prospect of favorable publicity from the Star, someone at Canadian Tire will be pleased to tell you how they operate their rebate program and give you enough information on their competitors’ practices that you will have all the leads you need.

  3. It’s nice to see that Best Buy/Future Shop are finally starting to realize that LOWER overall prices are the way to go. The question still remains about the application of tax to the “IN STORE” instant rebate coupons. Why go through this whole exercise of “instant rebates”, or “in store coupons” anyway?

    At places like Wal-Mart, the tax is applied on the ACTUAL price posted, and not on some INFLATED price, before an INSTANT rebate coupon, or other such coupon scheme, is applied. A 14% combined tax applied on the value of the coupon, paid by the consumer, is still a very real disincentive, especially on high ticket items.

    Could you imagine if this applied to automobiles — where (like GM) they may possibly provide a loyalty bonus of a $1000 — and this was a coupon ???

    Now that at least some of the large players in the electronics field are on board, how about grocery coupons next?
    The discrimination in the food industry is rampant. Banning grocery coupons makes the most sense for a transparent and overall lower-priced grocery basket. Think of the trees saved with fewer coupons printed. Think of the time saved at checkout. Think of the auditing, and handling time saved by the supermarkets. Besides, people buy groceries on a VERY frequent basis (daily or weekly). How many times a year does one find oneself purchasing a BIG screen TV at Future Shop?

  4. Rebate issues are not limited to consumer electronics!

    Last July Home Depot was offering a free BBQ cover if you purchased a Weber BBQ. Home Depot could have just credited me with the cost of a cover, or better yet given me one from the in-store stock, but that would have been too simple! Instead I had to submit a rebate form and wait.

    When the cover didn’t arrive by the fall, I started to phone Home Depot’s rebate line every couple of months. Each time I was told they couldn’t give me a ship date and to call again.

    Today I call and they tell me (1)the covers shipped in January (2) they have no record of my phone calls (3)they will launch a trace but it will take weeks because they have to send it to “HQ” (4) when I asked if there was some way to escalate this given the 8 month delay they said no and brushed me off.

    So now instead of being a happy Home Depot customer, I’m an angry Home Depot customer – all over a piddling $40 cover. What sense does that make?

    Dave Ings,
    Toronto, Canada

  5. Another Home Depot complaint …

    There was a Behr paint promotion for a $7 mail rebate back in February. To Home Depot’s credit, the sales associate advised me to follow the instructions to the letter which I did. I dutifully completed the paperwork and promptly mailed it.

    Three months later, I get a rejection notice from Behr/CIL saying I didn’t send it my UPC code. I know for a fact I did – I imagine it fell on the floor when they opened the envelope or they’re just outright lying. On the reject form, there’s no name, no reference number.

    I’ll cut Home Depot some slack for advising me about these tricksters, but I’ll never buy a Behr or CIL product again – all for $7.

  6. There was a $5 mail-in rebate for Behr paint from Home Depot back in October ’08. I mailed it in and got approved and had not received it in late January, so I sent an email & got an reply that it was running a little slow.

    It’s been another 2 weeks, the rebate status still showed the same comment: processing. If Home Depot or Behr does not want to honour the deal, please do not advertise the rebate.

    I bought paint & other stuff from Lowe’s and the rebates are much faster.

  7. The Behr rebate program through Home Depot is a SCAM!!!

    I submitted everything online (correctly) and received an email a month later giving me a tracking number. When I went to check the status of my rebate it said it was INVALID, no reason was provided.

    When I called customer service, the lady said that the rebate had to be mailed in. I told her that the rebate form stated “If you submit online, you DO NOT need to mail in the offer form or receipts” and she hung up on me!!

    I will never do business with Home Depot or Behr again.

  8. Same problems with home depot and behr paint. Interesting article here, wish times had really changed in the last two years but I still see rebates all over the place.

    Honestly, I would prefer a $25 cash rebate at purchase time over a $50 mail-in rebate. I figure i’ve only gotten about 50% of the rebates i’ve mailed in, so it would really be exactly the same except it would be less hassle for me and when I buy something I know exactly how much i’m paying instead of maybe, possibly, paying $50 less for it.

Leave a Reply