I’m not sure who concocted rebates or when they started to become so popular—and by popular, I mean for the retailers. Near as I can tell, they’re a conveniently sneaky way for retailers to advertise that they’re offering you a great deal for your new laptop, refrigerator, or toaster, simply because there’s a rebate involved.
On the surface, they look harmless and what red-blooded consumer wouldn’t want $2, $20, maybe even $200 off their purchase?
Whenever I shop and a salesperson tells me I’ll get x-off my purchase with a mail-in rebate, I’m tempted to tell the salesperson to stuff it. Why? Because I’ve been duped. I’ve swallowed the rebate bait, but once was enough for me. Rebates are one step below Ponzi schemes and Amway and just as clever.
Last fall I bought a new refrigerator. I forget the exact price but I do remember that my new stainless steel frig came with a $100 mail-in rebate. “It’s easy,” the salesman promised me. Even a caveman can do it. “Simply send a copy of your bill to the manufacturer, along with this tiny postcard, and they’ll send you a check for $100. Easy.”
Yeah, right. In your dreams.
Turns out I sent the information to some rebate processing company on the other side of the world, probably to some guy living in a hut somewhere, laughing his coconuts off whenever he got an envelope from some green-eyed Westerner thinking that they’re going to receive a rebate. After six months, I forgot about it. When my brown envelope finally arrived, I assumed that I’d open it to find my $100 rebate check. Instead, I found a terse note scolding me for sending a copy instead of the original bill and for filling out the postcard in blue ink (instead of black) and using abbreviations in my return address. Apparently AZ isn’t a recognizable mailing abbreviation for Arizona. Another no-no. “Your rebate is hereby forfeited,” it concluded. It might as well have included the word “sucker” too.
Of course there was no 1-800 number to call, no address, because the guy lived in a tree. Worse, the salesperson at the store I dealt with was no longer with the appliance company and too much time had passed for me to do anything. Besides, hadn’t I already been using my new beautiful refrigerator? Wasn’t it filled with fruits and vegetables and to-go boxes from restaurants already? I was screwed.
Last week I went shopping for a new microwave. My 20-year old one had finally nuked its last meal. I drove to the appliance store (another one) and when the blonde salesgirl with a big smile on her face approached me and gushed that they were offering microwaves with $50 mail-in rebates I marched right out the door. I’ll learn how to cook (finally) before I ever buy another microwave—or anything—with a mail-in rebate.
::Writer X also writes at The 100 Most Annoying Things::