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Rebating Your Way to Savings

Posted on Monday, January 24th, 2011 at 6:04 pm (2) comments

By Gabe Goldberg (SD user GabeGold)

Image by Flickr user scriptingnews

Though Slickdeals overflows with rebate offerings, they’re always a mixed opportunity. Rebates are great if they’re simple and reliable (and large!) but they’re a major frustration if they involve complex instructions and delayed or denied payment.

As rebates became widely used, strong opinions have arisen. Some people seek them aggressively, jump through hoops, fill out paperwork for apparent bargains. Others mistrust and avoid them, just try to buy at best prices available, whether discount, sale, or list. And still other folks ignore them.

Theories circulate about why companies use rebates and how they can deceive and defraud consumers. While some consumers believe that rebates simply let companies gather personal information, others haven’t seen their data abused. Nevertheless, when claiming rebates, it’s safer specifying that you don’t want to receive vendor news and special offers.

A more likely rebate justification is that some purchasers don’t claim them and others botch paperwork, allowing companies to tout low prices without paying off. In fact, many companies outsource rebate handling to specialized processing services, which sometimes use flimsy excuses for denying payment. It’s bad news for both consumers and businesses that skepticism and anger about rebates keep people out of some stores and away from some vendors.

But by planning purchases and watching for rebates on what you need, not falling for too-good-to-be-true offers, and (especially) following simple rules, you can avoid hazards and win the rebate game. Remember, though, it’s hardly worth much effort plus a stamp to claim a tiny rebate.

When shopping — online, by phone, even in stores — always remember rebates, though information about them may not be prominent. So, especially for large purchases, search for secret or lesser-known rebates. Just enter the shopping site you’re using with likely keywords such as “rebate”, “refund”, etc. And search Slickdeals as well.

Watch for rebates in store flyers and email newsletters. When new product versions are released, rebates often reduce prices dramatically, sometimes to zero.

A common and sometimes valuable category is companies rewarding upgrading software versions or replacing their competitor’s products. I’ve acquired many generations of multiple Symantec products for free or at very low cost, by combining store and manufacturer deals. Either way, you must prove ownership of the product being upgraded or replaced, usually by sending in its installation CD or a page from its manual. Since some vendors allow rebates for owning *any* of their or a competitor’s products, save product material, even if you’re no longer using it, until you’re sure that you won’t need it someday for a rebate.

Similarly, keep anything that rebates may require, including purchase receipts and packaging (UPC codes, box tabs, coupons).

Some rebates require submitting original receipts, so if you buy multiple rebate-eligible products, get separate receipts. And if a product provides multiple rebates, request duplicate receipts to avoid needing to make copies.

File promptly, since rebates expire. A dead rebate is a sad rebate.

Write legibly. If a clerk can’t read your information, you’ll lose the rebate. Use preprinted name/address labels if you have them.

Copy what you send. You may need to resubmit a rebate request, need the receipt for other products bought at the same time, or need paperwork to receive warranty service. Save copies of paperwork until payment is received.

Enclose a prominent list of rebate requirements and check off each one, indicating you’ve satisfied them all. I’ve had good luck claiming rebates since I started doing this. It may not matter, but I do this to indicate that I’ll complain if the rebate is denied.

If you’re skeptical about a rebate’s reliability, pay for post office proof-of-mailing, particularly for large rebates.

Record pending rebates and complain promptly/forcefully to store/vendor/both if they’re not received when due or are unjustly denied. Some people use spreadsheets or specialized software but a simple file is adequate for me.

When possible, submit rebates online. Costco, among other stores and vendors, prints simple instructions for doing this on receipts. It works.

You can check some rebates’ status online, which can either reassure you that payment is in process or alert you to a problem.

Finally, of course, always read the fine print. And don’t let a brightly hyped rebate lure you into buying something you’ll regret.

Gabe Goldberg has developed, worked with, and written about technology for decades. This article appeared originally on the slickdeals.net web site. © Gabriel Goldberg 2010. Permission is granted for reprinting and distribution by non-profit organizations with text reproduced unchanged and this paragraph included. Please email slickdeals@gabegold.com when you use it.