Rebates - Scams or Money In Your Pocket?

Everybody likes a deal.  That's why rebates work so well.   Consumers walk into a store, if there are two competitive products side by side for a similar price but one item offers a mail-in rebate which item do you think ends up in the cart?  You got it - the one offering the rebate.

Unfortunately, not all rebates are created equal.  Some rebate applications are long, complicated processes.  Some rebates come with unexpected fees and expiration dates.  Some rebates don't come at all.

Be Aware

The truth is stores don't want to give you a rebate on anything.  It costs them money.  So to help limit the number of rebates actually handed out a store relies on a common human trait - laziness. 

Long, complicated forms that require accompanying receipts and barcodes sometimes even a small fee to cover shipping prove to be major deterrents for a lot of people.  For those of us that persevere there are other issues:

·      Expiry dates.  Read the fine print on the rebate offer.  Often an item will sit on the shelf long after the expiry date on the rebate offer.  If the only reason you are buying that product is the rebate make sure you have time to claim it.
·      Hidden fees.  If you have to pay a shipping fee, processing fee or user fee then is the rebate really worth it? 
·      The delivery method.  The trend seems to be leaning away from issuing checks for rebates - the preferred delivery seems to be debit cards.   This could be a problem if a store won't accept it as part of a combined payment.  For example, you use the remaining balance on your card plus cash to make a purchase.

Not All Rebates Are Scams

While it's true you have to be a smart consumer and do your due diligence when it comes to rebates its important to note that not all rebates are out to cheat you.  Many big and small businesses use rebates as a marketing tool with no malicious intent at all. 

You can feel secure in the fact that if you follow the rebate application requirements to the tee you will get your promised rebate from any of the big name companies.  The smaller, no-name businesses might be a different story so a quick Internet search might be in order.

As a general rule your rebate should arrive in several weeks.  If it arrives too fast then you should run a quick check on the issuer just to be safe.

The best rebates are the instant rebates that are given at the till.  Be sure to check your bill though before you leave the store.  Sometimes claiming a rebate requires a teller to manually enter it and it can easily be forgotten.

Rebates can be good for the pocket book if they are legitimate.  However, if you are making a purchase just because it has a rebate attached to it then you are indulging in impulse buying and that is ultimately bad.  See my article, The Curse of theImpulse Buyer for more about impulse buying.

Before jumping on the rebate bandwagon consider the regular price, quality and legitimacy of the company offering the rebate.  Read the fine print and take note of the expiry date and application process. Shop smart and buy things because you need them.  You are not actually saving anything if you purchase something you will never use.

The Consumer Affairs website has many great articles on rebate scams and safe practices if you are interested in learning more.