I like to think of myself as a fairly sophisticated consumer, too smart to fall for gimmicks. Luckily for me, the universe senses my thoughts and will occasionally give me a smackdown and snigger when I fall for something annoying. “Humility”, the universe whispers in my ear. Indeed.
I forget, but there are people whose entire livelihood revolve around thinking of ways to part you with your money. I don’t know which evil mastermind thought up mail-in rebates, but she is very good at her job and deserves a raise.
I bought contact lenses in October 2015 and when the salesman quoted me the final figure, he smoothly glossed over the fact that it included a $50 mail-in rebate. I did the math in my head and found the price per month acceptable and paid. But, ugh, what a pain to claim that $50 back.
In order to get $50 off, I had to:
- Realize that my specific lenses weren’t in stock and wait two weeks for them to come in.
- Tear off two specific panels from the contact lens box when they finally came in.
- Gather the receipt for my contacts purchase and circle the date and the contacts I purchased.
- Gather the receipt for my eye exam (which occurred at another date and which I had to go find) and circle the date of the exam.
- Gather the mail-in rebate voucher the store gave me.
- Go online to the website indicated on the rebate voucher and fill out my information.
- Print out a confirmation page from the online forray.
- Mail items 2, 3, 4, 5 and 7 to the manufacturer.
- Wait nine weeks.
- Receive a $50 prepaid Visa card in the mail.
- Call the number on the card to activate it and listen to all the restrictions.
- Realize that I would be charged a $3.95 monthly maintenance fee if I neglected to use it right away.
- Realize that it would expire in a year if I didn’t use it.
- Realize that the Visa card would do nothing for my credit.
- Realize that I couldn’t use it at the gas station pump.
- Realize that I couldn’t use it for purchases over $50 unless I paid the difference first.
- Realize that mail-in rebates are stupid and vow to not fall for them again.
Manufacturers bank on your frustration and laziness. They make it as hard as they can to redeem them and, as a result, 40-60% of mail-in rebates remain unclaimed. If you neglect to mail in any of the very specific items they require, they can and will reject your submission. If you wait longer than 90 days to mail in the required documentation, they can and will reject your submission. If you do not circle the specific items required, they can and will reject your submission.
Then if you do jump through all the hoops and present your jazz hands with a smile on your face, the company gives you a prepaid Visa card with more restrictions than perks. They count on the complications and the hassle. They count on you forgetting you’re owed money after 9 weeks. They count on you forgetting to use the prepaid Visa card. They count on you thinking “what a great deal!” at the register and then declining to go through the entire strenuous process.
So to sum up my feelings: mail-in rebates are stupid. I’m not sure what the alternative is and I apologize for only venting and not offering a solution, but I will certainly search hard for one when someone gives me the sales pitch that includes this stupid ploy.