Saturday, February 16, 2008

Rebate Hate

a.k.a. Bait Hate

As an individual with fifteen years experience in the advertising industry, it's both professionally and personally depressing to realize the degree by which customer service has deteriorated. It's spreading this country like a plague.

Gone are the days of Mr. Oleson's Mercantile where people skipped happily out the door with an apple, some flour and a good story to share when they got home. Hello to the days of law suits and outsourcing customer service while ensuring strict adherence to the "bottom line" regardless of quality.

Today's consumer experiences can best be likened to a salmon feverishly trying to swim upstream.

Why, then, are many consumer experiences so unfulfilling? So frustrating? One reason is found in the nucleus of that ball of frustration. The clever marketing bait: THE REBATE.

"So, What's In It For Me?"

I recently had the pleasure of renewing my service contract with AT&T for a new PDA. You see, my last PDA and I agreed to terminate our hate/hate relationship after two years of mutually tormenting each other. No more dropped calls. No more buttons that didn't work. No more cursing.

A Victim No More?

On January 6th, I set my renewed hope on a Blackberry Curve, which I have since been thrilled with. I skipped into the office the day after my online purchase boasting about how I scored it for 100 clams. My office mates didn't understand how I did it. "It was easy," I said.

All I had to do was: 1) Renew my commitment with my service provider for another two years. Who cares about the fact that I've paid thousands of dollars over the past five years alone to my AT&T for the privilege of being their customer; 2) Pay an $18 upgrade fee. Again, for the privilege of upgrading my sub-optimal experience; 3) Pay $200 for the PDA and; 4) Ah, yes, get my $100 rebate, which means I'm really paying $100.

Apparently, getting this rebate wasn't going to be easy.

I later learned AT&T went out of their way to make getting the advertised rebate extremely difficult. The new PDA was shipped without a rebate form. The order confirmation emails I received mentioned nothing of the rebate. Best of all, the online rebate form was taken OFFLINE from on January 20th when it was promptly replaced with "fresher bait."

So while the rebate promotion period is valid until March 4th, the ability to find the rebate form was removed six weeks before it expires? That's hateful!

After 45 minutes on the phone with an AT&T representative, I was finally emailed the rebate form. After completing the form which asked for me to regurgitate in writing all the information AT&T already had on file AND deface the product packaging in order to rip-off the "IMEI Proof of Purchase" label required for the rebate process, I now await my rebate in about 8 weeks. Two months.


Rebates Decoded

There's a term in the industry called "breakage."

  • From the marketer's perspective, breakage is what happens when someone doesn't redeem an offer you extend as bait. For example, not capitalizing on a rebate you were entitled to but forgot to send back in. For marketers, breakage is like beefing up the bottom line (profit). Like realized savings. Or a rebate, right? WRONG!
  • From a consumer's perspective, breakage occurs when they get screwed.

Rebates are nothing more than a maddening exercise. Rebates require flawless attention to detail, a timely response and lots of patience as you wait for whatever it is (a check or rebate card) to show up weeks after you purchase something. Personally, I think I could perform the perfect balance beam back-flip with better odds than navigating this life without any rebates gone unfulfilled.

In the case of my Blackberry purchase, the "Promotion Card," should I be lucky enough to ever see it, will only be valid for 120 days - just 60 days longer than the time it took to wait for the card in the first place. So there's more opportunity for breakage if I don't use the funds on the card before they expire.

If you try and use the cards for amounts greater than what's on the card, brace yourself. You have to use the precise amount on the card or a lesser amount. I spent many a maddening
moment at the POS (that's Point Of Sale for you people not in the business) wondering why my card was constantly being denied before I figured out this little nugget. Thus, promotion cards don't "work" like gift cards. So much for convenience.

Tricks Of The Bait Trade

There are six tricks I've learned that are simple for sharing:

1) First off, always get your rebate form in your hands wherever you were enticed with it. In my case, I should have known to print the rebate form from the website the day I bought the phone vs. expecting my provider to take care of me by enclosing it with the product;

2) After making copies of everything you return by snail mail, make yourself a reminder to ensure you get your promotion card as you will most likely forget about it after a two-month fulfillment cycle;

3) When your incentive card finally arrives, RUN - don't walk - to the nearest retailer and redeem that sucker for all it's worth. Putting it in your wallet or purse will likely result in what?
That's right, breakage!;

4) Strive to redeem the card one time for the full amount originally loaded on the card;

5) If you don't adhere to #4 above, make sure you know the remaining amount on the card by putting a sticky with the leftover dollars and cents on the card and tell the salesperson the exact amount to process; the balance you'll have to make good with another form of payment. Let's hope it's not another "promotion card" and;

6) Light candles and pray hard to whatever Greater Form you believe in during this process.

Red. With Envy.

I look back now and wish this consumer experience could require a little less involvement by me in order to get what's due. Until then, the hate for the rebate rages within.

Ultimately, your ability to successfully navigate the choppy waters of rebates depends on how well you fish, or (quite literally) cut bait.

More On Rebates Link #1

More On Rebates Link #2


Nikki said...

I am guilty of the breakage. I always forget to cash in my rebates but I won't do it anymore! Here's a nifty online tracker where you can track your rebate status:

Patrick said...

Thanks for the tracker - I didn't know such a thing existed.

Don't leave any money on the table!

Rebatefully Yours,
Patrick :-p

ActionNeeded said...

oh the wonders of AT&T wireless. I told ya, the rebate I had for my brothers phone was just the same. The new rebate form was online before he got the phone, and if it wasnt for me saving the original form, he would not have gotten his either (well, he is still waiting for the rebate in the mail, but whateva)....


Patrick said...

4.4.08 - I get home from work and have a letter from AT&T saying that AT&T regrets that they are unable to process my rebate because my request did not include the complete cash register receipt or packing slip detailing the date of purchase. I need to return the notification letter with all the missing information by 4.22.08 and allow ANOTHER 10 WEEKS for final processing.

What a load of bung! I had copies of everything I mailed in and yes, the sales receipt WAS included.

I called-into customer service at 8PM CST and guess what - they were closed.

I called-in again this morning and challenged "the new AT&T;" the guy looked up my rebate and said "yes, I see it right here. I'll go ahead and resubmit your rebate request."

WTF?!? Was this just a power play by the new AT&T to throw another wrench in the rebate process? So if I never received the notice letter or failed to open it, what would have happened?

Breakage lives, folks! TRUST NO ONE - especially the clever hands making rebate offers.