By Jill Cataldo
Readers continue to weigh in on the pitfalls of mail-in rebates. The anti-rebate emails I receive far outnumber those singing their praises. Here’s a sampling.
I feel like companies make rebate rules hard to follow so fewer people try to redeem them. I recently learned that they can change the rules on the fly, too. I bought a bottle of wine at the store, and there was a printout form to send in for a $3 rebate. The form printed at the register and I filled it out. After I sent it in, I got a postcard that said I didn’t send in the receipt.
I didn’t send in a receipt because the form didn’t say I had to! I have done rebates before and know what I’m doing. I called the wine manufacturer and they said they changed the rebate requirements after the offer began. How can they do this when nobody with the original rebate form would know they had to send a receipt? After I complained, they agreed to send me my money, but I am done buying this brand of wine.
What do you think about this? I opened the newspaper and there was a deal on first-aid ointment. It was a free mail-in rebate, and you had to print the rebate form online. I wanted to print the form first so I could make sure to buy the right thing, but when I went online, the website said the rebate forms were all gone already! This was at 9 a.m. on Sunday morning, and the deal was in the coupon inserts that the whole country gets. How many forms could possibly have been available if they were all distributed before most people were even out of bed? I was pretty ticked and so glad I didn’t buy the ointment before trying to print that form!
As I’ve confessed in this column, I’m generally wary of rebates. I have been burned by rebates several times. Like Susanna, I’ve filled out rebate forms and made sure to include exactly what the form asked for, and then received a letter or postcard saying I didn’t qualify for the rebate. Not long ago, I sent in a rebate for a free six-pack of a juice beverage. The rebate was attached to the product packaging, and I sent in the form and receipt. About a month later, I received a postcard that stated my rebate was disqualified for being mailed after the deadline date. I know it was mailed on time, but how can I prove that? I suppose I could have sent it with a postal tracking number, but the extra expense to do that would have eaten up most of the rebate’s value.
As a result, I’ve become extremely selective about the rebates I send in, as well as what products I’ll buy in the future.
I’ve often wondered if companies that repeatedly deny rebates ever consider the larger ramifications of disgruntled consumers abandoning their brands, but that’s another issue entirely.
As with anything, some companies are better than others. One retailer in my area offers rebates for in-store credit each month, and the rebates are consistently mailed on time, without issue.
Based on my past experiences with this store’s rebates, I will take part in them when there’s an attractive offer. But with all rebates, I ask myself, “Am I OK buying this item, knowing that I may not get the rebate?”
If the answer is yes, chances are I’ll buy the item and submit the rebate. If the answer is no, for me, it’s not worth the risk.
Smart living tip: If you’re an avid rebater, keep a record of your rebate submissions. Make a photocopy, digital scan or digital photograph of the form, receipt and any other required elements, like a packaging UPC or label.
Jill Cataldo is a coupon workshop instructor and a mother of three.