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What's Bugging You? Tricky rebate deals

August 15, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
Loraine Alexander says she found a great deal on a laptop for $400. She got a surprise when she went to pay for it.

"I get to the cashier and she says that will be $650," Alexander said. "I said, 'Excuse me? It's $400,' so she points out, 'That's after mail-in rebate,' in fine print."

Alexander says that really bugged her, but she decided to buy it anyway and sent off for the rebate.

The manufacturer wanted receipts, proof of purchase and UPC codes. She said it was complicated and she made a mistake. She got a letter a few weeks later asking for the bar code off the box.

"It's a darn good thing I didn't throw the box away," Alexander said.

If you think it's complicated and a hassle to get those rebates, experts say that's exactly the way they're designed.

Experts say mail-in rebates are often handled by third parties that advertise how hard it is to redeem things and how many people do it wrong, which in turn saves the companies money.

Dr. Lars Perner, a professor of marketing at the University of Southern California, says about 50 percent of rebates are never sent in or consumers make mistakes and never get their money. The rebates are a marketing tool intended to make the item irresistible.

"People buy things they don't really need because it's too good a bargain to pass up," Perner said.

Alexander said she did get the rebate before the deadline.

"Just barely in time," Alexander said. "They hoped I'd forget."

Alexander says she tries to stay away from mail-in rebates now.

If you have to deal with mail-in rebates, make sure to read the directions carefully, get things in by the deadline and make copies of all your documents in case something gets lost. It's the only proof you have to claim your rebate and get your money.


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