Black Friday Mania & Rebate "Scams"

November 26, 2010. This is the first time I ventured out on a Black Friday. My brother saw some great deals at Pep Boys and I needed some of the items for my car. 6:30am and we hit the shopping center that has a WalMart, Target, Home Depot, Borders, etc. It was like those scenes of power outage lootings. We worked our way to Pep Boys to find a crowd there also. The free spotlight (a bonus for me) was already gone, as were the free spark plugs. Bummer. But I did get oil, filters, and wiper blades I needed for the car. Free, almost free, and home by 8am.

I've never liked Black Friday, and now Cyber Monday, because it promotes manic consumerism. Items that people would not normally buy are wisked off the shelves by a mob (non-violent) at ridiculous prices. I realize this is a great marketing tool for retailers looking to make their year on the busiest part of the shopping season. The idea is to present loss-leader items at or below costs, with manufacturers offering rebates to compensate. Stores attract customers with these deals in the hope that you'll buy more profitable merchandise as well. I could compare the type of shoppers, but that's another separate topic. What bothers me about this particular weekend is the rebate "scam".

Rebates are offered year-round, but are an integral part of this madness weekend. It's technically not a scam and all rebates are legal offers, but there's a reality to why it profits manufacturers. Instead of discounting the price, a customer has to pay full price and mail-in a rebate to get their money back. Manufacturers quickly discovered roughly 8% of rebates were redeemed. That means 92% of customers paid full price and never realized the bargain, leaving full profit to the manufacturer.

Recently, the redeem rate has gone up. Now, there are complicated conditions on the rebate coupon in order to reject your submission. Take Pep Boys as an example. A good company and reputable in my opinion. I bought 2 sets of oil and filters, as described in their ad. The rebate coupon states, if you read it carefully, you must have an original coupon AND original receipt for each purchase to qualify for the rebate. The customer and cashier need to be aware that multiple receipts have to be printed. This is possible with computer registers that store recipt information, even after the transaction is complete.

We arrived an hour and a half after Pep Boys opened, and the cashier and manager didn't know about the consitions. Imagine how many customers don't know their rebate won't qualify. If they notice, they can go back and have additional receipts printed. I don't blame Pep Boys completely, but they will have to deal with the customer, not the manufacturer. They printed two receipts for me, and the manager had to go to an unused register to print six receipts for my brother.

If you're out there today, be careful of traffic, be patient and realize you won't get all the items you want, and recognize the sale is based on rebates with varying conditions. The sad part of all is that small businesses are left out. This is big chain marketing. Small Business Saturday has been created this year by American Express. Support your local business this weekend, and especially this Saturday. We're the character and support of your community.

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