Friday, March 30, 2007

Circuit City: The Rebate Rip-Off Roundabout

I hate rebates. I really, really hate rebates. You see a product advertised at a good price, and then you notice in the fine print that this price is after a rebate. So you have to go and pay more, then fill out forms and photocopy and mail things, and then wait and hope that your check shows up in the mail.

I understand why retailers and manufacturers do it; they know that many people just won't bother. So they can advertise a price of $200 on a $250 product, knowing that the average price people pay will wind up being $230.

I bought a monitor at Circuit City a while back - it feels like ages ago. There was a rebate on it. Now, I'm one of those people who always sends in the rebate forms, and then puts a to-do on his calendar 10 weeks out to check the status of it. (My mom was a major coupon clipper. I don't do that, but I think my rebate process is something I got from her.)

So I sent it my form. 10 weeks later, no check. So I went to the URL on the form to check the status of the rebate, and there was no record of my submission.

These things happen. I clicked the customer service link and filled out a form explaining what happened.

After a few days I got an email asking me to fax the rebate information to them. I did so. I checked a few days later; still nothing in the system. They said it might take a few days to process, so I waited a few more days and checked again. Nothing.

So, I replied to the original email telling me to fax everything in, and asked if they'd received it. No response.

Here's an interesting thing: these emails came from an outfit called Parago, whose business appears to be processing rebates. That's fine; who'd expect Circuit City to do this themselves? They aren't exactly big on responding to people, however, despite the chirpy "Your customers, our priority" copy on their web site. I heard nothing. My rebate never appeared in the system. I sent them a bunch of messages asking what was up (always forwarding the whole message thread, asking, "So, is anybody actually reading these messages?" Yes, at this point it was becoming a game: Let's see just now poor the service from these folks is.

Finally I got a response, telling me that Parago can't help me; I have to write to an email address at Circuit City.

Which I did, and I got a prompt response... from Parago, asking me to refax everything. (Let's play hot potato! "Eww, you talk to the icky customer!" "No, it's your turn!")

Why do I get the feeling that Parago's "service" process is to run people in circles until they give up, and then their client (Circuit City) gets to keep the $30 rebate for themselves?

(Their web site informs me that "Consumer emails are responded to within 24 hours." That's pretty funny.)

I'm going to fax it all again when I get home. I don't ever really expect to get my $30 at this point. But I am set on making sure that dealing with me costs them more than $30.

Needless to say, I won't be buying anything at Circuit City again. Here's the lesson: customers like transparent pricing. If you want to make customer love shopping with you, don't do rebates.

Don't make people fill out forms and photocopy bar codes and stuff things in envelopes and lick stamps. Charge a few dollars more and make it easy. Or do an "instant rebate" and give them the money back at the cash register, so they feel like they saved money, but didn't have to jump through hoops.

They will then have enjoyed shopping with you, and the next time someone (like me) is sitting thinking, "should I turn right and go to Circuit City, or turn left and go to Best Buy," they'll pick you. If people like to buy from you, you don't even have to have the absolute lowest price.

Here's what's really sad: the price of the monitor without the rebate would have been fine. By promising that extra $30 and then failing so miserably at processing the rebate, Circuit City has turned me into an irate customer unlikely to buy from them again.

Many businesses could learn from this: the telecoms, whose prices are all 40% higher than advertised because they add on so many fees and internal costs (I"m waiting to see the "employee coffee service" surcharge on a bill soon). Everyone who sells cars. And anybody who thinks rebates are a good idea.

If I do get that $30 check, I am going to scan it and post it here as a victory sign, though.

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Mary Schmidt said...

Good luck! The rebate wars are something else, aren't they? It's all about assuming you won't bother and then if you do - making it so difficult you'll give up. Failing that, drawing out the process so they can use your money for at least six months.

What's really "funny" is that they already know you bought from them. Your credit card/payment is in the system and you (if you're like me) registered for the warranty. (Verizon is world-class in avoiding giving rebates. Hello? Can you hear me now? You're billing me every month so I must have your phone, heh? Ditto Comcast and modems) Aaarggh.

One thing I've found helps is paying with American Express. I then file a dispute and Am Ex handles it.

Anonymous said...

I am actually a Parago employee and a rebate processing center and i can guarentee you that most of the time, the people who you are talking too really can't do anything. These companies have the rebate process soo messed up that different departments like the rebate center and customer service are both told that the other can do things that they cant so we do end up sending customers into a circle. And for those who take they're anger out on customer service representatives... all i can say is shame on you. Half the time it is something that you did wrong and are to opinionated to deal witht he fact that you may have made a mistake...anyways i wil;l not rant but thought that i would let you in on that little secret.