I’m a sucker for almost anything that comes with the promise of a rebate, particularly technology products. The phrase “FREE AFTER REBATE” is music to my ears, even though this is never quite true when you take into consideration the sales tax, postage, and other costs associated with filing the rebate claim.
Rebates were the one saving grace for a retailer that I thought was otherwise worthless, CompUSA. Most of the CompUSA stores in the USA have closed within the past year, and I suspect they will disappear completely in short order. The funny thing is, I’ve never come across anyone who was sorry that a CompUSA store closed. I’ll usually hear comments like “I can’t believe they lasted as long as they did”.
I’ve been running into a problem receiving rebates I’ve qualified for on a number of products I’ve purchased at Staples stores recently. Most often, they have been rebates on software titles from Symantec. The common thread with all of the rebates I’ve had trouble getting my rebate checks for is that they are fulfilled by a company called Parago. Quite frankly, I have a pretty good nose for this stuff, and I smell a scam. It wasn’t always this way. In the past, Symantec rebate checks always arrived quickly and without a problem. I could always depend on receiving my check within a few weeks, which was much quicker than many other manufacturer’s rebates, but things have changed.
I meticulously follow the requirements of each rebate offer. I’ll include the UPC barcode, proof-of-purchase seal (if applicable), cash register receipts, product registration requirements, proof that I qualify for rebates available only to owners of previous versions or competitive products, etc, etc. I double and triple check everything, including the offer expiration date. Then I make copies of everything I submit. I double check the postage and the addresses.
At least half of the time, I’ll get a postcard from Parago telling me that I did not qualify for the rebate, listing one or more bogus reasons. Funny, but when I check my copy of the material I submitted, I do qualify for the rebate, and I’ve submitted whatever it is that they say was missing from my submission.
Read this: “The Great Rebate Runaround”, published by Businessweek.
Here’s a story about Parago posted by another consumer, who has had the same experience with Parago.
I’ll call the phone number listed on the postcard, and I’m forced to navigate thru several menus before I can press the appropriate key and speak to a real live human being (or wait on hold until one is available).
Each time I’ve called about a rebate submission that was rejected, the person taking my call will take a few seconds to look over whatever records they have on their computer screen, and then announce that it was their mistake, telling me I will receive my rebate in a few weeks. Sure enough, about a month later, my rebate arrives.
What’s going on here? Let me take a guess. I think that either the retailer, in these cases Staples, or the manufacturer, in these cases usually Symantec, or more likely the rebate processor, which in every case has been Parago, has figured out how to make money. Conveniently manufacture a bogus reason to disqualify the rebate claim, and hope that the customer doesn’t pursue the matter. If the customer does complain, just say “oops, our mistake… so sorry… we’ll get that check out to you in a few weeks”. If this is indeed what is happening, it’s fraud, and it’s a crime. Could you imagine how much money is at stake if even a small percentage of the rebate submissions never get paid out? And this is on top of the fact that most rebates are never claimed by consumers to begin with.
Here’s an article on zdnet.com, that discusses the fact that Parago has actually patented ways to reduce the number of rebates it has to pay out to consumers. This is disgusting. It’s like being admitted to a hospital that has patented ways of killing it’s patients. It’s like a restaurant that tries to give their customers an empty plate. You can’t get away with it for very long. I think the fulfillment industry is going to destroy itself, just as the telemarketing industry did, by abusing the public to the point that legislation was passed which created the U.S. Government’s Do-Not-Call list. Americans who were sick and tired of being harassed by telemarketers have placed almost 150 million phone numbers on the DNC Registry. Telemarketers killed the goose that laid the golden egg. They have nobody to blame but themselves. The government recently decided to make DNC list registrations permanent. Good !
It appears to me that job #1 at rebate processors like Parago is not to get your rebate check to you quickly. Rather, their first and highest priority seems to be finding any way possible to avoid honoring a rebate offer. Who in their right mind would want to do business with a company whose goal, it seems, is to cheat you out of what they owe you? If a lot of companies offering rebates were being honest with their customers, I think their products would carry stickers such as this…
“$50 MAIL-IN REBATE, BUT WE WILL DO EVERYTHING WE CAN TO ENSURE THAT YOU WON’T QUALIFY FOR THE REBATE”.
Manufacturers or retailers who employ rebate processors that attempt to prevent as many consumers as possible from collecting their rebates are shortsighted indeed. It’s not the consumer who stands to be hurt the most by these practices. It’s the manufacturers themselves, and the rebate fulfillment companies who are destroying the consumer’s trust in rebate promotions. Successful companies don’t have to pinch their customers to make a profit. Throwing up as many barriers as you can, forcing your customer to jump thru hoops and clear hurdles before they will get their rebate is simply not good business. These types of practices are a sign of greed or desperation, by companies that are willing to sacrifice future income and goodwill in the name of a fast buck. It’s simply not the way an ethical company operates.
Now I know what you’re saying. You’re saying “why should we believe anything that RoutingByRumor says. Who the hell is RoutingByRumor anyway?” In that case, don’t take my word for it. Parago holds at least five U.S. patents, which can be viewed here. Among them is Patent # 7,146,328, which contains a number of claims, including the following…
“Rebates offer cash back to consumers who fulfill a set of requirements after purchasing a product bearing a rebate. 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.”
“Breakage refers to any event that prevents a rebate transaction from being completed, for example, denying based on bad verification materials such as receipts or UPC symbols, denying based on improper purchase dates or purchase price, or slippage from checks issued but not cashed.”
The patent also boasts that Parago’s system “provides opportunities for breakage”. Based on my experiences with Parago, I’m surprised it doesn’t say that their system “guarantees that breakage will occur”.
I have sent complaints to both Staples and Symantec about the difficulties I’ve had with rebates processed by Parago. Sadly, but not surprisingly, neither Staples or Symantec responded to my complaints. My guess is that retailers like Staples, and their vendors, such as Symantec, actually want Parago to mail out as few rebate checks as possible. If this is not the case, then they need to contract with a different fulfillment company. In my opinion, if companies like Staples and Symantec are involved in this practice in an attempt to avoid having to pay valid rebate claims, they should be prosecuted. I believe that a rebate offer is a contract between the buyer and the party offering the rebate. A class action lawsuit might be in order. Perhaps it’s time to stop buying products offering rebates.
If Parago CEO Juli Spottiswood (see nbpca article), Staples CEO Ron Sargent (see Forbes article), or Symantec CEO John Thompson (see Forbes article) wish to comment on this article, RoutingByRumor will post their comments here. If you click on the links to the Forbes articles above, you can see the incredible compensation these CEOs receive, made possible by your purchases and by all those rebates you thought you were getting, but never received.
If you have experienced this or similar problems trying to collect a rebate, post the details of your experience here, or e-mail them to me. If I receive a response to my complaints to Staples or Symantec, I will post the details, but I’m not holding my breath.