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Con$umer Watch

Episode #1 Rebates: How vendors use your money for months without interest

 By Art Skopec, Contributing Editor

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All REBATES are not created equal.  Some are easy to apply for and well administered, getting you your rebate quickly.  Other rebates are misleading, with hidden penalties which actually make them too costly in the long run  to even consider. Others still, take so long you forget you’ve even sent for them.  The rules governing qualification and disqualification for rebates, (specifically if the Bill you sent is OK) varies from vendor to vendor and seems to have no rhyme or reason governing decisions.

When ever you look at an add from any store, in any publication or on any website you have to look for the “ * ” and then take what seems like eons to locate where the notes are, and hope that they weren’t smudged  (intentionally) in the printing process.  If they’re not smudged, they are in 2 or 4 point type which almost requires an Electron Microscope to read.  In many cases, once you find the “ * ” and the associated key, you have a COMPOUND REBATE that can include, an Instant Rebate, Manufactures Rebate and even an ISP rebate.

 INSTANT REBATES:  These used to be called SALES.  Remember them?  With this type of rebate you go to the register and they price is automatically deducted (in theory).  Make sure you pay attention because there’s a good chance the entry in the pricing computer hasn’t been updated to reflect the rebate (sale) price.

 MANUFACTURERS REBATES:  These all look very straight forward but you loooooose, they’re NOT! 

 If you are fortunate enough to purchase something from a store like Fry’s Electronics, they supply you with the rebate form and a certified copy of your receipt for submission.  CompUSA , BestBuy and many other nation wide merchants have huge racks with the rebate coupons you will need for the previous weeks ad sometimes with a Map of the circular showing you how to more easily find the coupon.  This is the BEST CASE SINARIO.

 NOW…..if you are like me, and buy on the Internet more times than not, there is a problem lurking in the background.  I have experience at least one instance that the manufacturer of a very popular printer (EPSON) refused my submissions twice because the Invoice I sent them did not satisfy their requirements. If you buy on the Internet, and there is a rebate on the item, be sure to contact their Customer Service division BY PHONE (in many cases e-mails are now ignored) to make sure you get a satisfactory bill so you can take advantage of the savings.

Now you’ve done everything right and they’ve held your money for 3, 6, 9 months without getting your check.  At least for me, the psychological negative from past experience with rebates, has forced me to the Internet for my bargains. On the Internet thanks to low overhead, normal prices can be so heavily discounted that you don’t have to use a Rebate in your buying decision.

Last but not least, I know people who have changed the brand names of hardware (Networking components) they purchased due to the availability of a rebate for a less reliable brand.  The rebate took for ever to get and the hardware remindedthem on a weekly basis of the mistake.




These are the most insidious of them all.  You look at the front page of a Sunday Paper insert and see a price for a killer system with all the bells and whistles for 32¢!  What a deal!  HONK!  You loose!  Usually a deal like this incorporates a low value “Instant Rebate” (sic), one or several manufacturers rebates and finally a big bucks CASH or IN STORE SHOPPING SPREE (HA!) for $300 or maybe $400.  All you have to do is to sign up for a high priced, usually inferior ISP for as little as two (2) years.  The nature of the Internet is such in 2001 AD that the only winner in this transaction is the ISP. This guarantees cash flow, no matter how bad their service gets.  If you cancel your service before the end of your commitment, you don’t pass GO and don’t receive $200!  You must PAY a sizeable penalty as if the poor service wasn’t bad enough!

 HELP WITH REBATES:  Finally, is there a rebate out there on something you are looking to buy or how about help managing and tracking your outstanding rebates?  There is help out there. The Rebate Place http://www.rebateplace.com, RebateHQ http://www.re com/clients/parago/rebates/index.jsp or MyRebates http://www.myrebates.com can be of help.  These websites let you locate rebates by Merchant as well as by Manufacturer. There is a program for PalmOS to track your rebates http://shop.store.yahoo.com/pilotgearsw/xiycominc.html . and for a Windows based program go to http://www.softpile.com/Business/Finance/Review_00040_index.html

Rebates of one form or another are as much a part of our life as the Internet is today.  They cannot be avoided completely.  If you don’t take advantage you loose.  If you don’t rigorously manage them you loose.  With the information you are now armed with, you stand a good chance of making rebates work for you.

If you have any useful resources, good or bad experiences, let me know.  I will be addressing Consumer Issues as they relate to Computers and other High Tech Gear on a regular basis.  I can be contacted at askopec@home.com .



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