Nick Simard | Mail-In Rebates – Some Conditions Apply*
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Mail-In Rebates – Some Conditions Apply*

Written while employed as a blogger for the Royal Bank of Canada

07 May Mail-In Rebates – Some Conditions Apply*


Click For Backstory

In the fall of 2007 I entered a contest to become one of 6 bloggers for RBC. I submitted a one-minute video and the public voted for a month. After the smoke cleared, I was one of the winners and I went on to blog about everything from shaving, to retirement, to scooters. I was even chosen by RBC’s travel partner – Carlson-Wagonlit – to blog about a European bus tour, visiting London, Paris, Rome and several other cities.

Numbers Don’t Lie, But Do They Fib?

The other day my friend Andrew told me about this great deal he had found in a flyer from a local big
box technology store. Being the tech geek that he is, and knowing I could appreciate the item he was
coveting, he showed me a bluetooth mouse and exclaimed “Dude, it’s only $19!”. Usually, I would agree
that $19 is a phenomenal price for such a device, but being the skeptical frugalitarian that I am I
examined the details of the offer:

regular price: $89
instant savings: – $30
mail-in rebate (MIR): – $40
Total cost: $19

MIR-er, MIR-er On The Wall…

Personally, I detest mail-in rebates (and even their first cousins, the online “easy” rebates) and refuse
to buy products that have them. As consumers we often look at the bottom line without considering
where the savings come from. In Andrew’s case, with the mouse, the price is not $19 plus tax. The
price he will pay is ($89 – $30, or $19 + $40) plus tax and then the mail-in rebate comes off. So in
Nova Scotia that would be $66.67 minus the $40 MIR, which equals $26.67. For any of you
mathematical naysayers out there, I realize that this amounts to a mere $5.20 more than if the item
had been $19 plus tax. Regardless, that’s almost a 25% increase over how we see calculate things
when simply using the $19 as the price point.

In many cases, the difficulties that often arise with these non-instant rebates are not worth the
potential savings (not everyone who applies for these follows all the appropriate steps required to
actually RECEIVE the rebate). If you’ve ever tried qualifying for one of these you may recall the agility
and flexibility required to jump through the many hoops. While I will readily admit that $40 is a
substantial amount to save and that many customers will have no issues in redeeming them, I am still
personally hesitant. It should be obvious to most of you that companies count on a large percentage of
customers NOT redeeming their rebates. In fact, only about 50% of customers actually do.

…Who’s The Fairest Of Them All?

The rebates that are especially deceiving are the ones that involve mailing in for $7 (or some other
minimal amount that customers likely won’t bother with). And yet, how many people would consider
the $5.20 mentioned above to not be a big deal in our miscalculations of savings, and yet somehow see
the $7 as something they insist they’ll mail in for? In fact, I am willing to bet that some of you recently
bought something that had a mail-in rebate valued at $10 or less, and that you never bothered to fill it
out. It’s no use looking for it, it’s too late now. If you had, though, and spent an hour clipping, filling it
out, mailing it, checking on the status and then cashing the cheque you essentially would have worked
for less than minimum wage. Some retailers, like Best Buy, have realized how annoying these MIR’s are
and have decided to opt out.

I used to work in a call centre and dealt customers mistakenly calling into our department looking for
their rebate status. I was in sales and service, but would routinely try my best to get the information
from the rebate people. I can assure you that my contacting them helped tremendously, so if you ever
have problems try contacting the place from which you bought the item to see if they can help at all.
So many of these customers were extremely upset with the numerous complications that would arise in
the rebate process. That experience made me vow to stay away from these tempting – but often
elusive – “discounts” and save myself the unnecessary stress. That, to me, was worth more than saving
the couple of dollars offered by the rebate.

Dude, The Math

It remains to be seen whether Andrew will decide to purchase the mouse and how that rebate process
will go down. If you gain nothing else from this post, just remember to consider whether a mail-in
rebate is really worth the potential problems. Should you decide to take advantage of these rebates,
here are some tips to help you out. Don’t let the ads suck you in with their slick numbers when the
reality is that you’ll likely end up paying full price, due either to your own unwillingness/forgetfulness to
send in the required documentation or the mountain of obstacles in recovering what is rightfully owed
to you. And no, that asterisk in the title doesn’t lead anywhere – much like many of the ones I see in