After my last go-round with Parago, the company that handles Circuit City rebates (in which they replied to my email asking for information which was contained in the email to which they were replying) I sent an email to Holly Gillentine, the contact at Parago's PR firm listed on their web site, asking if they'd like to chime in here. That seemed only fair. Moreover, to make this more than my tale of woe, I asked a few general questions. Here they are, verbatim:
1. What's the future of rebates?
2. Will the rebate process ever be modernized so that in an online world, people aren't stuffing pieces of paper into envelopes?
3. Why is the service process that accompanies rebates so bad? (I hope you'll read the material above: today I got an email from Parago asking me to provide information that was in the very email to which your rep was responding. That's unbelievably bad service!)
4. Many consumers suspect that the whole rebate game is designed to thwart them, because the goal is to have a low percentage of people claim the rebates. Is this true? Does Parago do anything to make the process easier (and thus increase the percentage of customers who get rebates) or is that something Parago's clients don't actually want?
This afternoon I got a response: a letter from Juli Spottiswood, Parago's CEO. I was going to paste it right in here, but unfortunately, they sent it as a PDF locked down so text can't be selected. Here's a JPG of it (click on it to make it bigger):
After I sent the email with the questions, I looked around online to see what people were saying about Parago. And boy, was that interesting.
Ms. Spottiswood says that my experience is the exception, but it seems to be a pretty common exception. I found tons of stories of people getting run-arounds just like I have - Consumerist had several items about them, including a case where a rebate was rejected for not including a UPC code, but the consumer had a photo of the form with the code. InfoWorld also has written about them, talking about a case where people were getting conflicting stories from Parago reps - including lies about who they worked for.
Ms. Spottiswood says that Parago is working to make rebates easier for consumers. For an interesting counterpoint, consider this piece from Adrian Kinsgley Hughes, a blogger at ZDNet, who found a Parago patent for an online redemption system. Consider this, directly from Parago's patent application:
"By requiring post-purchase activities, the rebate offerer attempts to reduce the number of successful rebate claimants. Breakage occurs when a product bearing a rebate is sold, but the rebate is not successfully claimed. Because rebate programs offer the potential for breakage, manufacturers can offer a more valuable rebate compared to a straight reduction in product price." (emphasis added)
So Parago is patenting technology to make sure that consumers don't get their rebates too often.
All of which leaves me convinced that Parago's mission is to keep consumers separated from their rebates. I give them credit for responding to me; as I found out more about them, I became convinced I would hear nothing. Unfortunately, the actual experiences of consumers - related all over the place online - speaks far more strongly about Parago than Ms. Spottiswood's letter.
Something else happened after that last blog post. I got an email about my rebate:
Thank you for your rebate inquiry. We are pleased to inform you that we have updated your record in our system. Your rebate submission is now valid. The rebate check should be mailed in the next 7-10 business days.
I guess telling them in April what I told them in February is more effective. But then today, at about the same time I received the email with Ms. Spottiswood's letter, I got another email from a Parago rep:
Thank you for your rebate inquiry. We apologize for any inconvenience. In order to provide you with accurate information, we need to know the promotion code or rebate offer. The promotion code is located on the rebate form and starts with P followed by a series of numbers and / or letters.
That's the same information I've provided three times.
Their online tracking system still says that my rebate has been entered and is "scheduled for final processing." Based on what I've read about others' experiences, I don't know whether "final processing" means sending my check, or asking for all the information a fifth time.