If you've ever requested a rebate and then never received it, you're not alone. Promotions using rebates have a long trail of dissatisfied customers who never received their check in the mail.
Bargain hunters come in two varieties: They either love rebates or loathe them, depending on how successful they've been in getting rebate checks. Those who like rebates argue that this type of promotion offers shoppers the biggest savings. Those who dislike rebates complain that they have to pay sales tax on the purchase price before the rebate is applied. They also say the rebate process can be difficult.
Either way, promotions involving rebates will likely be around for a very long time. That's because most manufacturers and retailers prefer this method of discounting products, but for reasons other than saving shoppers money.
Why Retailers and Manufactures Like Rebates
Retailers and manufacturers use rebates to promote products at lower prices in order to increase sales. However, customers do not receive the savings at the time of purchase. Usually, they are required to submit a rebate claim form, either through the mail (referred to as mail-in rebates) or online. Then customers have to wait for the claim to be processed and the rebate check to be sent out. Ideally, this process takes an average of eight to 10 weeks, but it often takes much longer.
During the rebate process, retailers and manufacturers earn interest on the money that is being held to pay the outstanding rebates. For major retailers and manufacturers, this can add up to a lot of money.
While it's not an exact science, the rate of shoppers who fail to submit rebate claim forms on qualifying purchases is 50 to 70 percent. Also, about one-fourth of all customers lose or forget they have a rebate check, although the higher the amount of the check, the less often this happens.
The Role of Fulfillment Houses
Most of the companies that promote rebates rarely manage their own rebate claims in-house. Instead, they hire fulfillment houses that specialize in rebate claims to receive the claims, handle the processing, send out denial letters, and/or send out the rebate checks. Fulfillment houses also handle some limited communication with consumers.
Because fulfillment houses work for the companies that contract them (not for consumers) they follow all the terms of the rebate. Customers who don't properly complete forms or who fail to explicitly follow the instructions for completing rebate forms will almost always be denied a rebate.
Also, while fulfillment houses are usually responsible for preparing the rebate checks and mailing them out, they only take on this responsibility if the company that hired them has supplied them with the money.
How to Master the Art of Rebates
There are several obstacles that consumers will face when claiming a rebate. How severe those obstacles are will depend on the retailer's or manufacturer's real intentions behind running a rebate promotion.
Companies that have a genuine desire to attract new customers will usually have basic, easy-to-follow instructions on how to submit the rebate claim form. Companies with the intention of tricking customers into buying products at the full retail price or add-on services that will cost the customer more money will make the rebate claim instructions difficult to follow.
The trick to mastering rebates is not to let a company off the hook if they try to deny your rebate. The following steps will help you keep companies honest and get you the rebate you deserve.
Read and Follow the Instructions on the Form
Most rebate forms are rejected because of consumer error. The error could be something as innocuous as the color of ink you used on the form or putting a staple in the upper right-hand corner instead of the upper left-hand corner.
When it comes to rebates, you must follow all the instructions on the rebate form to the letter. Rebate rejection includes such things as submitting the wrong proof-of-purchase, how the proof-of-purchase is cut and folded, whether or not you sent in the original receipt or a copy of the receipt, how you attached that receipt, and so on. If you want to get a rebate check, follow all the instructions as written and pay particular attention to the small print.
Be Sure to Check the Dates
There are different dates on rebate claim forms and all of the dates are important. First, look for the dates that reference the time frame that has been allotted for the purchase in order to qualify for the rebate. It will say something similar to, "Valid on purchases made between July 1, 20xx and July 31, 20xx". Verify that the date of your receipt falls within the rebate time frame.
Next, look for the claim form submission deadline. It will read something like, "Submissions must be postmarked by August 30, 20xx." If it is August 30 and you drop your rebate form in a mailbox that doesn't pick up until 6 a.m the following morning, the submission will be postmarked August 31 and the rebate will be rejected.
If you manage to receive a rebate check or store card, look for an expiration date. It may read something like, "Void after 90 days from the date issued." If you try to use it past the 90-day mark, your rebate will be declined.
Read the Terms of the Rebate
The terms of rebates are usually listed in small print on the rebate forms. This area is often overlooked by consumers and it is also the culprit behind most rebates being rejected. The terms always include multiple qualifiers that must be met in order to get the rebate. This is also the area that is most often used by retailers and manufacturers to trip up consumers, so watch out for instructions that are vague or confusing.
When submitting rebates, the retailer is your friend. That's because, although store employees may not have the information you need, the store's customer service department will. Call or email the customer service department and keep a record of who you spoke to and what transpired during the call or email exchange. If your rebate gets rejected, you may have recourse to fight their denial.
If it is a manufacturer's rebate, you can follow the same process, but you may not get the same results. That's because manufacturers don't have a public face like stores do and can more easily hide behind a corporate logo. Still, you should contact the manufacturer and if you reach someone, note who you spoke to and their response.
To avoid the frustrations of trying to make sense of a confusing rebate submission form, read the form before you buy the product. If it is too difficult to make sense of, chances are you won't see the rebate check and you will likely be better off not buying the product because of the after-rebate price.
Standard Terms on Rebate Forms
Terms you might see on rebate forms include:
- Valid for online and/or in-store purchases.
- Valid only for a product purchased for a specific price.
- Only one rebate form can be submitted per household.
- Submission form must include a street address. No P.O.boxes allowed.
- The types of proof-of-purchase required such as receipt, email confirmation, or UPC code.
Make Copies of Receipts and the Form
If the claim form requires the original store receipt as proof-of-purchase and you later decide to return the item, you could run into trouble. Most stores require a receipt when shoppers return merchandise. To avoid any problems, ask for a gift receipt when you make your purchase. The receipt looks like a regular receipt, but without the prices. You could also copy the original receipt and keep it for your records.
You should also make copies of all the documentation you submitted with the claim form. Companies have been known to ask people to resubmit a form saying a mistake was made or that the request form was lost. Keeping copies of everything is your safety net when it comes to rebates.
Rebate To-Do Checklist
- Keep all the receipts for the items you plan on sending in for a rebate check. Companies may require that you mail either copies or originals of all receipts.
- Send in your rebates as quickly as possible. Many companies have a period of only seven days for consumers to submit documentation and rebate forms.
- Save the packaging and the product box. A rebate application may require the UPC code listed on the packaging or the box.
- Always sort your mail carefully. Many rebate checks are created to look like junk mail.
- Make copies of every element of your application.
- Have the right phone numbers in case you need to follow up. You may have to contact the company if the rebate does not arrive as promised.
- Set up a call record, noting the dates and who you spoke to about the problem. Also, note their response to the problem.
- Do not give up on getting your rebate check.
What If the Rebate Check Never Comes?
If the rebate never arrives (or it arrives late) you can file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, the state Attorney General and/or the local Better Business Bureau.