Mail-in rebates

by Rob Horning

29 November 2005


Stores use mail-in rebates for exactly one reason. They are hoping you won’t follow through and redeem them. It is the company’s way of having a pretend sale where you think you are paying $29 when at the register you are shelling out $49. The hoops and forms and reciept saving and coupon clipping and so on is all there for the sole reason of making the process so cumbersome that you won’t go through with it. (In a great irony these methods are dubbed “fraud protection,” though that the main fraud that euphemism protects is the one the company perpetrates on us by that very name.) It is one of the plainest siutations where the customer’s best interest is at complete odds with the retailer in a near zero-sum game, and one that invites the most hypocritical sloganeering, as though the rebate was for your benefit. So I shouldn’t have been all that surprised or outraged—though I was—when I read in “The Great Rebate Runaround” in BusinessWeek that redemption services provider TCA Fulfillment used to make specific promises of how low they could suppress the customer’s rate of redemption—90% unfulfilled on a $10 rebate, 65 % unfulfilled on a $50 rebate toward a $200 purchase. You know how that is accomplished: the company “loses” your paperwork or mysteriously misinterprets your handwriting or strings you up over some hidden codecil in the redemption directions. Or they might simply ignore you, hoping that you’ll forget about it or be too lazy to demand it from them. These parasites, these redemption companies, suck out a profit by frustrating and misleading and stonewalling average consumers; that’s the value they add to society.

BusinessWeek call rebates a “tax on the disorganized” but that’s far too kind a description for what is really an expression of contempt for the consumer. They are more like a temp job that pays pathetically, $10 for who knows how much work and worry.

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