How Dissatisfied Do You Need to Be to Use a Satisfaction-Guaranteed Rebate?

by Linsey Knerl on 20 June 2009 16 comments

Many brands offer them: satisfaction-guaranteed rebates.  While this helps to build reputation in the industry and gives genuinely disgruntled consumers an easy fix for their problems, is there a possibility that it’s too easy to get money back on the products you buy?  We look at both sides of the issue to help decide when “attainable” may not always be “ethical.” 

What is a Satisfaction-Guaranteed Rebate?  Quite simply, it is an offer by a brand to give back the full purchase price of a product, assuming you aren’t satisfied.  In many cases, this may mean that the product didn’t perform as promised, was defective, or had gone bad before purchase.  While many companies offer you the opportunity to provide product feedback, these types of rebates are different, because they are usually fulfilled in the same way as a regular rebate. (You fill out a form, mail it in with your proof or purchase, and wait for a check to arrive.) 

What’s the big deal anyway?  Apparently, many people use money-back guarantees or satisfaction rebates to get money back on all kinds of purchases – even those they weren’t particularly dissatisfied with.  While a conscious shopper may find that they are not happy with a purchase, search out a solution, and find that there is money-back guarantee on the product, others profit by following the process backwards.  They scan deal and freebies boards, looking for new satisfaction-guaranteed rebates to print off.  Then they go to the store and make the purchase, knowing in advance that they will redeem the rebate – even before they have a chance to try and be disappointed in the product. 

It is important to note that there is such a thing as a regular rebate.  “Try Me Free” offers are regularly offered with the objective of getting people to do the very thing I mentioned above: buying products specifically so that they can redeem the offer.  The hope is that a consumer segment that hasn’t yet tried the product will get a taste (a free one) and come back as a paying customer.  The satisfaction-guaranteed rebates, however, are designed more as a consolation for a bad experience. 

So what is ethical?  And what’s not?  While I most certainly won’t try to be the rebate police, I have my own opinions on the matter.  So do other money-saving gurus from around the web.  Here is what they are saying: 

Mercedes from Common Sense with Money says, “I am of the opinion
that only when you are dissatisfied you should submit these. Doing it
under other circumstances is against the intention of the manufacturer
and parallel to coupon fraud in my book.” 

Tara from Deal Seeking Mom agrees.  “I rarely use them, and
I don't promote them on my blog at all. I've seen a number of other sites
promoting them recently as a means to get free products, and I don't condone
these practices.” 

Lynnae from Being Frugal states, “I think if people continually abuse the
consumer satisfaction rebates, companies will no longer offer them.  I think
it's a great thing, if you're truly dissatisfied, though I've never used one.” 

It sounds like most everyone is in agreement then, right?  Wrong.  Sam Pocker of RetailAnarchy.com, and author of the book by the same name, defends the position that the rebates are there for the taking.  The number of people who do this to excess is relatively small, I believe it is around 1% of all consumers at best. Only 5% of all coupons issued in the marketplace are redeemed in the first place.”  Sam also says that no notice is taken of anything written on the form beyond the name, address, and dollar amount (the reason given for dissatisfaction is meaningless.) 

So we know what consumers think of the practice of redeeming satisfaction-guaranteed rebates when there truly is no dissatisfaction, but what do manufacturers think?  We can only guess (none would answer my request for comments.)

According to Sam, they could care less.  Others, like ConsumerQueen.com’s Melissa Garcia, aren’t so sure.  She works for a convenience foods company and is concerned about the rise in claims – which could possibly be a signal of false complaints.  It is her opinion that this may be the reason that some companies no longer offer them. 

Where do you stand?  Have you ever redeemed a satisfaction-guaranteed rebate?  If so, were you really dissatisfied?  Or do you prefer to go about the traditional methods of rebating and product feedback?

 

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Guest's picture
Kate

I have a friend (no, really!) who used to abuse this sort of thing, when she was younger and broke. She would go to thrift shops and garage sales and find clothes from certain longstanding catalog clothes vendors, buy them for very little money, and then return them to the vendor to claim the purchase price in rebate. I guess if she was asked she claimed the clothing was a gift.

She also pulled some other outright scams with airlines and hotels. I was really surprised to hear of these things from her, because she seems like a very ethical person, and it's not as though she was ever so desperately poor that she couldn't put food on the table. She wouldn't do those things today, as she's comfortably middle class, but she certainly justified it based on her low income when she was young.

I once returned a backpack after many years of use during my college years. I had tried a friend's backpack for a short while, and I found that my back pain almost completely disappeared. I ended up buying the same backpack my friend had, and claiming the rebate for my old one. I felt justified doing it, because it took me several years to really use the backpack every day to carry a fairly heavy load. When I finally started doing that, it hurt me, and other backpacks performed better.

Guest's picture
Mark

and this is exactly why civilization is going down hill because so many people rationalize unethical things such as this. Its sad and pathetic. People that do such things are thieves, liars, and con artists, plain and simple.

Guest's picture
RICKLEE

..I have never offered a satisfaction guarantee. In writing I have an "as is" clause, to reinforce my legal position. This was to curb the incidence of reckless returns or retail renters.

However, if a customer had a complaint about the products I sell, I listen. Depending on the complaint, and subject to the condition of the product returned, I often offer a replacement, an exchange, a credit note, or a refund. Rarely will I reject a return, because the golden rule still applies, but I never offer it in writing.

You'd be surprised how many customers demand a refund, especially when the rent is due.

Guest's picture
Alli

If a product is good, and people abuse the rebate system, it's very likely the company will take the product off the market or alter it in a dramatic way.

And why not? Apparently, many people had a "problem" with it!

Guest's picture

I go into a purchase assuming that I will like the product I buy and usually throw away any packaging immediately. For me to submit the label, proof of purchase, etc., to get a dissatisfaction rebate usually requires that I dig through the trash to find them.

That said, I WILL dig and find the necessary documentation if I truly am unhappy with a product. After all, I spent my money in good faith that I would be happy. If I'm not, I deserve my money back.

Guest's picture
Guest

Finish on the chair tarted to peel one, yes 1 week!, after I put it together and the they won't refund my money until I send it back. That means too much time and effort on my part but I sent them a photo of the crappy quality of their product but they do NOT care. Need to spread the word that their Chinese made outdoor furniture is garbage and a pain to return and they don't stand behind it.
Best

Guest's picture
Guest

Sometimes I do. Our local bump and dent store offers money back on spoiled merchandise. A bag of buggy flour, yes. One spoiled yoghurt out of a case of twelve (25c apiece), too much hassle to keep it until my normal shopping day. Smaller items that must be mailed in tend to be cost ineffective. Like shampoo that doesn't work in our hard water. I just don't buy that type again.

Guest's picture
Guest

I agree with Alli. Several years ago, Ritz crackers had a satisfaction guarantee when they changed their product to be made without partially hydrogenated oils. I thought it pretty silly that anyone would be dissatisfied with these crackers, which is why it sticks in my mind. Apparently, plenty of people were, because today, you cannot find Ritz crackers without hydrogenated oils.

Guest's picture
Kiyomi

All I can say is wow. Fortunately for me, I only sell services as I am in the business of writing.

I think to use product rebates that way is completely unethical and unacceptable. It not only hurts the company but it can threaten people's jobs within the company and cause the quality of a good product to become a product of not so good quality.

People that scam businesses like that don't understand the ramifications of their actions. Being poor is absolutely no excuse. My business was slow for a long time and I never resorted to stealing. Which is what using the rebate system improperly is, no matter how much someone wants to sugar-coat it.

There's plenty of legal or more ethical ways to get money if you need it that desperately. Most of the time however, it's just greedy and cheap people that do things like that. There's no reason for it at all and there's really no good excuse for it. Stealing is wrong.

Guest's picture
krnewman

Till everything falls apart. That's the American way, the tragedy of the commons, Gresham's Law. Kill the goose that lays the golden egg, cut off your nose to spite your face, I'm allright, Jack. OK when things are giood, but when things turn bad, this way of life will bite you, hard.

Guest's picture

Please do not make these assumptions as my words are presented in this article completely out of context. I am hardly a "thief", a "liar", or a "con artist".

While Melissa is fairly presented as being employed by a CPG, there is no disclosure as to if any of the other bloggers mentioned are compensated by any CPG in any way.

This website, Wisebread.com appears to have a good deal of advertising on it, and there is no disclosure as to any influence any of the advertisers may have had on this article.

As an independent consumer advocate and anti-consumerism writer, I urge the reader to do more research on their own before drawing these conclusions.

-SP

Linsey Knerl's picture

I would like to point out that it is harsh to use labels to condemn Sam and others on this one topic.  There are many deal sites out there that post the money-back guaranteed rebates for consumers to use, knowing full well that they will be used for reasons other than they were intended.

I disagree with this use, as do others in my article, and while Sam may feel otherwise, it is important to remain civil.  Sam's entire book is a based on consumers getting more for their money, whether you agree with the tips or not.  I believe his intentions really are to help people save money.

As far as being taken out of context, I asked for opinions on this topic, and I was given a few sentences from each interviewee (including Sam.) I posted everything that I was told from each respondent, with the exception of a few lines of Sam's email, as the content was a bit too "colorful" for our audience.  It was in line with the rest of his comments. It's also in line with what I perceived to be the tone of Retail Anarchy and the book. See the product description of Retail Anarchy below:

And how do you get an entire car-full of pudding for free? “Stand-up economist” Sam Pocker delves into these hard-hitting questions—and the result is a fascinating, wry, and amusing account of consumers’ non-sensical habits and the stores that prey upon them. With a dash of vitriol and a dose of sarcasm, Pocker exposes the sheer inanity of marketing schemes, the plague of rude cashiers, and shows how the “little guy” can rise up and beat the system by outsmarting the stores with their overly-complicated rules for rebates. Retail Anarchy is a satirical look at the self-imposed consumer coma that America has fallen into—and Sam Pocker’s mission is to wake readers up!

Regardless of whether you agree with Sam, I appreciate his candor and sharing with us.  Let's leave the vitrol out, if possible, and keep this a community that can explore issues and speak opinions without injury.

Thanks,

Linsey Knerl

 

Guest's picture
Guest

I haven't ever seen those "rebate" system in my country, Spain.

If a product doesn't work at all, you can take it back to the store. Most of the times they won't give your money back, you must buy other things from the store.

But noone will ever grant you a rebate if you're not satisfied with the product, or if it doesn't suit your needs.

Furthermore, as the Judicial System is completely collapsed (trials at courts may last 5 or 6 years to start resolution) noone tries to sue companies, either stores or manufacturers.

For example, my Brother printer self-cleans every night, even being off (thought switched on) and empties the ink cartridges. That was NOT advertised, but when you call to Brother, they just laugh at you.

What can you expect from a country where companies never use toll-free numbers for their customer services, but premium-rate expensive numbers ... doh!

We're doomed.

Guest's picture
Guest

I have no connection to any manufacturers/retailers and still think it's lying, cheating and stealing. The fact that only a small percentage of people do it makes not one whit of difference. Blogs that publish these offers are suborning unethical behavior.

That said, I *always* call if I'm genuinely unhappy.

Guest's picture

I guess since everyone is jumping on the idea of automatically redeeming a satisfaction guarantee rebate as being one of the world's greatest evils, my question would be at what point is it appropriate to request the rebate? Do you send it in only if you are completely dissatisfied, or is it OK to send it if you just think it could be better?

My view on this is that if you are satisfied with the product you shouldn't request the rebate, although it would be appropriate to send an email or call their customer service to tell them you like their product. In many cases they will send you additional coupons for providing the feedback.

I would say the threshold for dissatisfaction should be whether or not it works as well as what you'd normally buy. If it isn't as good as your normal brand, then I say request a rebate. If it is as good or better, I have a hard time justifying that I am "dissatisfied".

I've never redeemed one of these rebates, mainly because if I am dissatisfied with a product I will just return it to the retailer I bought it from. I've never had an instance where the store refused a return for something I wasn't happy with as long as I had my receipt.

Guest's picture

I post these on my blog occasionally; however, I do not advocate that you buy a product simply to get your money back. Many refunders do just that. But I only ask for my money back if I am dissatisfied.

I've read on refund forums that there's always a reason to be dissatisfied... and one that that person used a lot was price. That one is tricky because everyone values things differently. That being said, if I spent $10 on a gourmet product that tasted like a bottom of the shelf generic, I'd want my money back. If you are judicious in doing satisfaction guarantees, then I don't see why price couldn't occasionally be the reason you want your money back.

If everyone asked for their money back on satisfaction guarantee products, then perhaps the company would think their product was junk and quit manufacturing it.

I do think, though, that some companies keep track of habitual requesters. That is something to consider.