So those of you who read US News & World Report in the print edition have already seen my face this week in the article about "Why Shoppers Love to Hate Rebates". Special thanks to Kimberly Palmer for running across my blog and picking up comments I had made about my experiences with rebates. For those of you online readers, sorry, they didn't include all the photos from the print edition online. Hopefully I can post an electronic reprint sometime.
I've been a rebater for a long time. It probably comes from the fact that by nature I'm a tightwad and by nurture I'm a shopper.
As an update to Kimberly's article, as the article was going to press I received the Toshiba HD DVD player rebate back DENIED again. This time for "failure to correctly complete the form." Now I'm not sure how it could have been incomplete... seeing as how everything was filled in. And especially since I returned it to them with the previous submission, all the UPCs, and their previous denial letter.
In my personal opinion, I think Toshiba's rebate group already knew about Toshiba giving up on the HD DVD market. And they were just denying all the rebates to save having to spend the money on them.
No matter. At least they returned the UPC panel with the denial. So I taped the UPC code back on the box, packed up the Toshiba A20 HD DVD player, took the copy of the receipt and headed back to Wal-Mart with it.
Thankfully, Wal-Mart still has a 90 day return policy on electronics excluding computers. So 2 on a quiet morning at my local Wal-Mart last week, I ditched the Toshiba HD DVD player and its associated rebate hassles and walked out of the store with $100+ back in my pocket.
For those who would like to become rebate nuts like me, here are some other tips that have helped me stay on top of my rebates:
- For online purchases, always print the rebate out on the spot while you're shopping. You may never find the form again. Sometimes items can completely disappear from a site before you get yours in the mail. I've had this happen to me with Fry's Outpost and QVC.com.
- Keep all your rebate forms posted somewhere you can easily see them. I use a cork board for this. I pin rebate forms that are waiting for something to come in or occur to the board near my desk. That way I see them often and they don't fall into the cracks of my mind.
- If you have multiple rebates in play at a time like I do, use a spreadsheet or some other electronic organization method to track how much is owed to you, when it was sent and when it was purchased.
- Keep copies of everything! I use my scanner for this purpose. (A Brother MFC actually.) I scan and electronically file copies of every receipt I get - even non-rebate related ones. I'm the physical world, I'm a packrat. But in the digital world I'm able to organize that mess into something easily searchable and instantly retrievable thanks to OCR and PDFs. Before I went digital I used to have boxes and boxes of receipts. Come tax time, my account is grateful too!
- Don't buy something on rebate that you can't afford at full price. The nature of rebates is that a certain percentage of them are simply going to fail, be rejected or go belly up. At best you'll be floating that money for a good month or two. At worst you'll never see it again. While most retailers will try to accommodate you if the rebate company goes bankrupt or otherwise fails to honor their obligations, it might take you 6 months to a year to get your money back. And in the case of purchases from small retailers or online shops, you might never get any of the rebate money back at all. And if you didn't have copies of all your paperwork, expect to be turned away at the door regardless.
- Don't buy something on rebate that isn't a good value before the rebate. This ties back in to #5. If the only reason the price of something is attractive is due to an attached rebate, move on. The manufacturer or retailer is playing a game with you and you'd be best to stay out of that game. Think of rebates as "found money" and treat them as such. A rebate should be an incentive to buy a particular product over a similar product from some other company. It should not be compensation for an overpriced or underperforming product.
UPDATE 2/25/2008: For those who missed a copy on the newsstand, here is a scan of the article. Hopefully I'll have a real reprint to post soon.