Saturday, July 08, 2006

Circuit City and mail-in rebates

I went to the local Circuit City store because they often have Kingston Technologies memory at very low prices if you count their (mail-in) rebates -- lower than the best prices one can find on the 'Net at times.

I was going to buy a pair of 1GB memory sticks for a client's notebook computer that needed upgrading and reconfiguring, as well as a WiFi router/switch so he could network his home office. They had the memory I needed at a lower price than anyplace else, except that one had to mail in a rebate form to get that price. I was okay with that, since my client wanted to get his laptop computer working right ASAP. So I grabbed the two plastic display hangers with the memory plus a Linksys WRT54G WiFi router and headed to checkout.

There I met Ron. Ron was brusque to the point of being rude. He wanted my name, address, phone number, etc. I said "Just print the rebate forms -- you don't need any extra info as I am paying with plastic." He said Circuit City needed it for the rebate and got annoyed when I said I didn't want to be in their marketing database and didn't care what he said about them not sharing my info; that I didn't believe Circuit City's empty promises. We were coming to closure on the deal when he asked me to sign on an electronic tablet. I said just hand me the paper voucher and I will sign with a pen. He told me I *had* to sign using their electronic system.

We had a somewhat contentious conversation then and there, about mail-in rebates being a scam that Circuit City wouldn't use if it wanted to satisfy its customers. Ron coldly informed me that the mail-in rebate in question was from Kingston Technologies (the much nicer salescritter had told me to pay for each stick of memory separately since there was supposed to be only one rebate per household (mailing address) and had mentioned that it was a manufacturer's rebate), and Ron made damn sure I didn't blame Circuit City!

At that point, with plenty of people backing up in line behind me, I calmly told him I didn't have to buy a damned thing there and that they had just lost a customer who was already tired of their mail-in rebate racket and didn't like the way electronic signature systems are easily used to enable identity theft. Then I told him, "Cancel it. I don't want to waste my money here."

He had already charged my debit card, before I had ever "signed" anything. I was leery when he said I had to "sign" to get a refund, so I just scribbled my initials. While I was loudly but politely complaining about how mail-in rebates inconvenienced customers, he interrupted and said (I paraphrase), "Studies show that only 42% of the rebate forms are ever mailed in, so of course Circuit City and manufacturers prefer to advertise prices after mail-in rebates." I had him repeat the 42% figure, just to make sure I heard right.

I did get a refund for the amount charged on my checking account and have never purchased another thing from Circuit City, despite their often attractive prices on computer memory. I just want to thank Ron for being honest enough to admit that Circuit City likes taking advantage of its customers via burdensome mail-in rebates that involve intentional hassles.

Thanks for the brief educational experience, Ron! Now I guess it is official: Circuit City uses mail-in rebates to lure in customers because it expects only 42% of them will jump through all the hoops necessary to get their rebates.

The price on the memory after the mail-in rebates was significantly better than I ended up paying an online vendor Kahlon, for similar RAM, but Kahlon delivered the memory in two days, as promised and guaranteed the memory would work in my client's machine. Kahlon was very professional and didn't expect me to run a bureaucratic obstacle course to get their best price on my purchase.

The Linksys router cost much more at Circuit City than it did from another online vendor that I turned to as long as I was going to have to wait two days anyway. All in all, I saved a little money overall for my client and we both had the peace of mind that we had done business with reputable businesses not trying to weasel a few extra bucks out of us if we didn't stay right on top of the mail-in paperwork.

I read on CNET that OfficeMax has said farewell to its mail-in rebates. Best Buy is rumored to be doing the same Real Soon Now. Maybe other stores will get the hint if we make a point of explaining (in front of other potential customers) why we won't buy stuff that requires a mail-in rebate if one wants to get the best advertised price.

Take a stand and put your money where your mouth is: Just say "No!" to mail-in rebates.


Blogger manbitesdog said...

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5:41 PM  

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