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October 23, 2003

What if?

by Chris Feeney

What if a sale was just a sale? It used to be merchants would run an ad for an item with a special sales price. You went into the store, during the sale period, and you bought the item for the sale price. The merchant was happy he or she made a sale and the customer was pleased to receive a bargain.

Well today things aren’t quite that easy. Merchants have gotten wise to our ways. They still advertise special rates to get us into the stores to buy the items. But when we go up to the cash register to pay, the item rings up at the normal price. But the ad said it was on sale? You must have missed the asterisk, you know, the little star like symbol that basically means things are not really what they seem. It must have been an advertiser that devised the asterisk. Probably the same person that created the small print at the bottom of the page to go along with the symbol. But I digress. The asterisk denotes that the “sale” price is after rebate.

Okay, no big deal. It really is on sale right, you just have to pay the full price and then you will get the rebate in the mail. Sounds innocent enough. That is until the salesclerk prints you out about eight different receipts to go along with a pamphlet of rebate information. In order to get your bargain you have to be able to decipher the rebate rules that are often more complicated than the directions for building a kid’s toy. (Parents out there will really appreciate this as they’ve all had that set of rules that cost them all night trying to build junior’s swing set or other “easy to assemble” item.) Unfortunately that’s only the start of what ultimately has become a giant maze. It seems like retailers are holding out a big piece of cheese for us buyers but once we enter the maze they do everything they can to prevent us from making it to the end where they have to pay us the rebate money.

I recently bought a new laptop computer. Yes complete with not one, but two rebates to make it quite the bargain price. Hey, two rebates are better than one, right? Well I think its part of the grand smoke screen. Even though the rebates were on the same item, the process to receive my money back was different as night and day. Each one had a dozen or so different steps, requiring copies of receipts, the labels and barcodes from the boxes, a blood sample and the rights to your first born child. So once I completed my DNA sample and got the note from my mother I was ready to submit my rebate request. Lucky for me it only took me a few days, because I noticed that I was running out of time because the rebate application expired just a few days after the sale.

I triple checked each application and made sure of the envelopes and addresses. One little slip up and I’m sure my application would have been rejected or at least delayed long enough so that it no longer beat the deadline.

Six months later, I got my first rebate check in the mail. I nearly threw it away as it was disguised as a typical piece of junk mail. For whatever reason and I opened the disguised check, and was lucky I did. These folks don’t waste anytime on their deadlines. It seems like the check would be void if I didn’t bank it ASAP.

I made it to the bank and cashed my check. I halfway expected the crowd to erupt in applause as if I had just won the World Series. If nothing else I felt like I had ran a marathon. Lots of work, stress and waiting, simply so that you can buy an item on sale. If they can’t confuse you, trick you or make you miss the deadline, they’ll make it hard enough that you won’t waste your time. Shoot I think I’d pay extra for an item just to make sure it doesn’t have a rebate.

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