Rebates too cumbersome? Some businesses count on it, expert says

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SALT LAKE CITY — Rebates can save you money on everything from cell phones to flat screens. However, actually cashing in on a rebate can be a hassle, and some manufacturers count on consumers not bothering to do it.

Often many steps are involved — filling out forms, cutting out bar codes, copying receipts — all to get a deal. When you finally decide the hassle's not worth it, the manufacturer gets to keep your money.

Utah resident Bill Johnston recently purchased a new set of tires.

"I look for performance. I want them to last and I want them to ride well. I don't want to have any trouble with them," he said.

He didn't have any trouble with the tires, but he did with the $70 rebate.

"You have to fill out one of their little forms and send it in to the company," he explained.

Johnston said he sent the form to Michelin, along with the invoice, and then waited. He said 13 weeks later, he's still waiting.

"It's frustrating because I know I'll get my income tax refund back sooner than this rebate on the tires," he said.


Length of time it takes to receive the rebate is a nearly universal complaint. But last week, Johnston finally got a notice from Michelin saying his rebate was denied. There was no explanation, so we called Michelin.

They said they hadn't received the invoice, a document Johnston said he sent in twice previously.

"It's typical," said Jim Hood of "Companies always lose things."

Hood claims dealing with lost things is just one of the many hoops consumers typically must go through to get a rebate. He said you're likely out of luck if you didn't mail it in the right way, or forgot the bar code or some obscure piece of information.

Hundreds of millions of dollars of rebates go unfilled every year.

"It's too much trouble. They forget about it. They lose the receipt or surprise, surprise, they don't cross all the t's and don't dot all the i's," he said.

That's called "breakage" and some manufacturers and retailers love it. It makes their goods appear less expensive, yet many consumers don't get around to getting their rebate. advice
Hood's advice is to look at the upfront price as the price you're going to pay. Maybe you'll get the rebate, maybe not.

And there's a strong chance you'll find a better price elsewhere, like Amazon or other big e-tailers, and not even have to worry about a rebate.

"It's the major reason companies use rebates, because they know a huge percentage never mail it in or will fail to check one box, and therefore deny them their rebate," Hood said.

Market research firm The NPD Group estimates only half of all rebates are fulfilled. Why?

Rebates are typically structured to be so convoluted that people would rather just let it go than put a lot of time and effort into getting their promised money.

Johnston isn't one of those people. He said he would hound Michelin until he gets that $70 back on his new tires.

"I think they have an obligation to honor what they say they're going to do," he said.

Johnston's hard work paid off. Michelin confirmed to KSL that it finally approved Johnston's rebate, which is in the mail.


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