Thursday, November 17, 2005

Misguided Marketing

I’m trying to understand the concept of the rebate. The basic idea of selling something is for a willing buyer and a willing seller to agree on a price. That’s not quite the more liberal philosophy of “reasonable profit” which assumes someone exists with Solomon’s wisdom to determine what a seller is authorized. No, I like the idea of free market forces. If a seller can get more for a product because it is highly valued or in short supply, then more power to them. If they price too high, then I don’t buy. (Apologies to Johnny “the Glove-man” Cochran.)

But, that ignores the rebate. Here the situation is that the price is too high for me to buy, so the seller says he’ll give me some money back. Ahhh, but it isn’t just a price reduction. That would be a “sale” price. No, here I’ve got to jump through some hoops first. If I get a receipt and I get the UPC bar code off the box, and I fill out the application and I mail it within the allotted time, I might get some money back in six to eight weeks. If I’m lucky.

Recently you’ve probably received these yard-long cash register receipts at big-box stores. They include a copy of the receipt so you don’t have to scout up a copy machine. They’ve got the address so you don’t lose it. They’ve got the form so you don’t need a separate piece of paper. How much corporate money do you suppose is spent preparing the software for all of that? Why not simply lower the price and charge that? Lots less overhead if you ask me. And, the seller is ostensibly willing to sell for the price after rebate, aren’t they?

We know, however, that a lot of us never bother with the red tape. We buy the product, throw out the paperwork, and skip the rebate. Who needs to spend a 37-cent stamp to get a $2.00 rebate check that you then have to deposit at the bank? They want you to “skip it” and we do.

Occasionally, however, the rebate issue becomes money worth fighting for. That’s the case with me. I’m wrapping up construction of my new home and needed a full suite of appliances. I did my Internet shopping homework and knew what products I wanted and what they should cost me. I was armed and ready.

I wound up at Sears. I’ll confess that I’ve been a major cause of Sears financial woes over the last couple of decades. No good reason for animosity. It just worked out that way. I don’t shop regularly at Sears. But, I stopped in while at the mall and looked around. They had a lot of the stuff I wanted. So, I ordered four major appliances. The icing on the sales cake was a Sears/GE rebate offer of $300 back if you bought four appliances. Great deal.

Problems arose immediately. The form listed models from the GE Profile series that qualified. All of my products were GE Profile, but two were not listed. Further, since my home would not be ready for delivery for a couple of months, I wouldn’t take immediate delivery. The form required serial numbers, which weren’t available. They wouldn’t be available until after delivery. I called “Customer Service” at the rebate center. No problem, said the representative. Send in the form and the receipts.

Naturally, the rebate didn’t get paid. Question arises, with a paid receipt in hand, how can they deny that you made a qualifying purchase?

Delivery occurred yesterday. I find now that GE is reluctant to clearly identify which of the half dozen or so long and random numbers on the box are the “serial” number. Regardless, I copied them all down and sent them off today. We’ll see if I get paid.

Chapter Two:

Returned to Sears. (How dumb is that?) Found a nice washer and drier set. Salesman says that there is a 15% rebate if you open a Sears credit card account. I don’t want or need a Sears card, but 15% is about $400, so I sign up. Naturally there is a form to send in.

I note on reading the fine print that Sears credit charges 24% interest. This is a bit beyond outrageous, but I intend to pay in full and cancel the card immediately.

Next, I receive a nice letter from the Sears credit card folks thanking me for enrolling in the AccountCare insurance program—which I had specifically declined! In the cutthroat world of long-distance phone service that used to be called “slamming.” I called and cancelled.

Now, I’m waiting for my second significant check.

I don’t know whether I’ll ever receive either of these payments. I know I’ll dun them until they wake up at night screaming. I also know that they’ve done little to convince this customer that they are worth doing business with again. So, what’s the point of a rebate? Did I buy? Yes, but I would have bought at the basic price anyway. Could they have had a satisfied customer if I were not exercised with mail-in forms, serial number hunts, credit card usery and insurance slamming? Yes. Did they miss a chance? You bet.

Sears? Never again.

No comments: