Tuesday, January 3, 2006

Rebate madness

I have a love-hate relationship with rebates. On one hand, I like the savings you realize when buying something with a rebate. On the other hand, I don't like the uncertainty, the delay and the hassle of claiming a rebate. I'm not alone. Here's some information about rebate scams.

I'm having a hassle right now with Panasonic in getting my rebate. Last June, I bought a cordless telephone for my mother from Best Buy. The phone was $105 with two $20-rebates making the net cost $65. I filled out the forms, made copies of all the paperwork and sent the rebates in. I do like the way that Best Buy lets you track their rebates. Every transaction has a PIN number and each rebate offer has its own unique offer number. That's fine if the rebate is a Best Buy rebate; when it's a manufacturer's rebate, there can be problems.

Late in August, I received one of the rebate checks, but not the other. I went on the Best Buy website and entered all the information. There was no record of my rebate. I e-mailed their support center and found out the rebate was a Panasonic rebate, not a Best Buy rebate. They gave me an 800 number to call which I did. [Side note: I always find it interesting that even when I call for the first time, the automated system always tells me the menu has changed and please listen for the options!] I was able to speak to a friendly, live voice. After giving her only my name and street address, she was able to tell me that they did receive the documentation and when the check was sent. Unfortunately, the check was sent a couple of weeks earlier and I still had not received it. She told me the check would expire on December 8 and to call back if I had not received the check by that date.

So far, so good. I verified the paperwork was processed and there was a record of the check being sent.

December 9th arrives and still no check. I called back hoping to speak to the same friendly voice. Instead, someone else answers and abruptly tells me that the Panasonic Rebate Center does not, surprisingly, handle Panasonic rebates! If I want to pursue this further, I needed to call Panasonic Customer Support! She gives me the phone number and I get a sinking feeling in my stomach that I will need to fight for my $20.

I called the number and got one of those awful voice response units. I have to tell the computer who I want to speak to! I first say "rebate" and the system tells me they don't understand my request. I then say "telephone" and then it asks me if I want to speak to technical support in telephones. At this point I figure it's worth it to get away from the voice response unit so I say "yes" and I'm connected to technical support. The call is answered by a techie and I begin to tell my story once again. The person tells me I should call the rebate center(!) and I relay what the rebate center told me. He tells me he will try to get some help for me and gives me a case (reference) number and someone will call me back.

A few hours later, I do get a telephone call on my home voice mail. The person tells me all they need is the unit's serial number and then they can process the rebate claim. Yay!

I call them back using my reference number and give them the serial number of my mom's phone. I'm told they will put this through and someone will call me back to verify the information.

Then nothing.

A couple of days after Christmas, I called back and once again repeated the story for the person who answers. I'm now told that they are busy this time of year processing other "cases" and because of the backlog and the holiday season, it may be a few more days before I hear anything.

I'm at the point right now where I am going to pester them until I get some satisfaction. Twenty dollars is still twenty dollars and I feel I held up my end of the deal by paying full retail price and then dutifully completing the paperwork and sending everything in. I know they are counting on consumers to just give up so they can pocket the extra money.

I was not aware that Panasonic was in such dire financial straits that they needed the extra money!

Like I said at the beginning, I have a love-hate relationship with rebates. I recently bought a Linksys wireless router and a wireless notebook card and received the rebates within the acceptable time period. Two weeks ago I bought another Linksys wireless PCI card and expect the rebate in late January or early February. Last weekend I bought an external hard drive and got a $20 instant rebate (the best kind!).

Does anyone else have rebate horror stories?