Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Rebate Blues

I finally bit the bullet and upgraded our cell phone plan to include data services, which will add a hefty fee to our monthly bill. Like so many other people, we have allowed ourselves to become increasingly dependent on being able to access information – email, Google, Wikipedia, even (God help me) Facebook – no matter where we are. As a friend said in wonderment when I informed her that we had no plans to purchase “smart phones,” “they’ve become part of the cost of being alive in the 21st century.”

So I am finally a 21st century guy, although I am committed to not being one of those people who fidget with their phones every free moment. At least I will not once the novelty wears off. Currently I am not fidgeting with the phone; I am trying to figure out how to work it.

Fortunately the phones themselves were dirt cheap. They are a model called the Droid “Eris” which is something like an iphone for folks on a tight budget. They cost me forty bucks apiece after rebate. And therein lies the rub.

Why do companies insist upon giving us rebate forms instead of just taking (in this case) two hundred bucks off the bill? To save money, of course. They count on a certain portion of customers never getting around to sending in the rebate form. And they also count on an even greater number of consumers making a mistake in requesting their rebate and therefore not qualifying.

For example, when I bought the phones I was told that they were returnable only if they were returned in the original box. Fair enough. Then I was told that to request the rebate I had to cut off the portion of the box containing all the bar codes and magic numbers. I had to press the young woman a bit before she admitted that the phones could still be returned in a mutilated box.

Because I am a bit suspicious by nature, when I got home I read all the fine print on the rebate form. I learned that the company is not responsible if my request gets lost in the mail. I learned that if I send it certified mail so that I can prove they received it, they will take longer to process my request. I learned that I cannot send rebate requests for both phones in the same envelope or I will be disqualified (this information was buried very deep in the fine print). I learned that I should make copies of everything I send, but that copies are unacceptable in requesting a rebate. The one thing I did not find in the fine print were the words “Good luck, sucker!”

Oh, and should my rebates actually show up some day, they will be in the form of Visa cards. Clearly they are paying a bank less than $100 for a $100 Visa card, because the bank knows that, like gift cards in general, a certain portion of them will be misplaced, lost or forgotten. I am surprised the rebate does not come in the form of a gift certificate for a funeral home.

1 comment:

Lindsey said...

In the legal world, we call fine print like this "unconscionable." Unfortunately, the rest of the world calls it standard operating procedure.