Rebate Shenanigans & Ethical Gray Areas

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I have an interesting “ethical” question for you all, especially given the fervor over the Costco return policy.

I recently purchased an Epson Home Cinema Projector that came with a $300 rebate and a free bulb rebate (worth nearly as much). One of the quirks about the rebate was that you had to mail it within thirty days, rather than the typical static time limit that was ignorant of when you purchased. As you can imagine, what happened was I got all excited with the projector and forgot to mail the rebate within the 30 day limit. I did exactly what the manufacturer wanted, I purchased the project at the “list price minus the rebate amount” in my mind but I actually paid full price. It’s been a while since I’ve made a $300 mistake like that, one that could be chalked up to carelessness and laziness rather than circumstances that were less within my control.

My solution to this was something that some may find unethical (or at least gray) but I didn’t see a problem with it. I purchased another Epson projector and then submitted that receipt with the other documentation (UPC code, serial number) so that I’d be compliant and the rebate was approved. The only cost to me was shipping the second project back via UPS Insured; it set me back around $60. All in all, the added hassle netted me $240 and a free bulb.

While I feel that was certainly in the gray area (submitting a receipt that didn’t technically match the UPC), I personally found that to be on the good side of the ethical line. I returned the project in exactly the same condition that it was sent to me and Amazon wasn’t out anything (maybe shipping fees) and I received a rebate I was rightfully entitled to (I did buy the projector, I just missed the 30 day window by a few days). And I was certainly on the good side if you consider how quickly rebate fulfillment companies are to screw the consumer at every opportunity!

What do you think?

{ 19 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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19 Responses to “Rebate Shenanigans & Ethical Gray Areas”

  1. IMHO, there’s something shady about rebates, period, and the promulgators deserve what they get. If they can afford to kick back $300 to you, they can afford to sell the item for $300 less up front without putting you through a hassle.

    I try to avoid buying products with rebates, because a) it’s a hassle and an annoyance; b) it’s too easy to forget to send in the rebate request before it expires (in my experience, a lot of them have expiration dates); and c) I’ve had too many outfits reject my submitted rebate because of some technicality.

  2. dong says:

    While I do think rebates are tricky are intended to effectively have customers mess up, I do not necessarily think this necessarily give the customers right to do anything they can to get the better of the manufacturer. I’m not saying this is the case here.

    The real question is who was the projector purchased from? I think it’s alright to use the a manufacturer’s rules against them, but if it involves transactions through a third party retailer who is not involved directly with the rebate it’s unethical. Let’s say Jim brought the projector from Amazon, it costs Amazon to stock and restock that item (especially if Jim were an Amazon Prime member). Amazon incurs extra costs for what is effectively a non-sale, but reaps none of the rebate that goes to Gym. It’s really not all that different from buying clothing, wearing it for some event and then returning it which is unethical.

  3. Rev says:

    I’m fine with it. I personally avoid anything with a rebate like the plague no matter how good of a deal it is. Not worth the hassle to me.

    Also the Amazon point that dong made is moot. Amazon knows the cost of doing business, If they are losing too much money they will raise the cost of Prime (which I use btw). All retailers price it back in somehow its just good business.

  4. Anonymous says:

    I think you did just fine. Think about it: they put that 30-day limit on the rebate because they were counting on you to forget all about it. I figure it serves them right that you were “thinking creatively.”

    I doubt people will go through the trouble you did, so the 3rd party retailers that dong mentions probably have nothing to worry about.

  5. Joe says:

    I don’t think that this is very ethical. Amazon ends up losing in this deal. I’d be more willing to doctor the date on the receipt than get Amazon mixed up in the problem. More than likely though, I would have taken the $300 hit and learned my lesson about sending in rebates on time. Since you asked…

  6. CK says:

    Jim- I don’t know if I can ever read your blog again. After reading this post I’ve realized what a low and despicable human being you are. Personally I consider anyone who even claims a rebate a cheat and a liar who should be jailed. -CK

  7. dong says:

    I think the 3rd party involvement is important. Why should they suffer for Epson’s tricky tactics and Jim’s creativity in getting around those tactics? I don’t think by saying it’s part of the cost of business is an excuse. Shoplifting is a cost of business, but that doesn’t make it OK. I’m not comparing Jim’s action to shoplifting. However, I do think we have to think about who bears the costs of these actions. This is not a major ethical crisis by any stretch of the imagination, but I think we should at least try to hold ourselves to highest of standards.

  8. Amanda says:

    I wouldn’t worry too much about it. I think you’re just saavy, not a criminal. Most people would not have been as creative!

  9. kay says:

    I think CK has made some harsh comments. Now was that totally necessary? If Jim is dispicable, so is most of those dirty car salesmen that cheat most honest folks out of $1000’s of dollars. Is that right? No but it’s legal….
    There is a blogger called “World of Wealth” and she just got played by the sellers’s realtors. They told her the tenant was staying, when they knew all along she was leaving. Obviously they were looking for the sale. Are they wrong? Yes but they do it.
    I am coming to believe that this is what makes the world go round….
    Would I have done it? Hmm if only I was that creative….lol

  10. Finance Monk says:

    CK was clearly being sarcastic. If this is the biggest ethical dilemma you’re facing nowadays I think you’re in the clear hehe.

  11. Tool Man says:

    I would say that altering the receipt would be unethical, but buying another one and returning to get the rebate is fine. I wouldn’t make it a habit though! You still purchased a projector, that’s the key point. Amazon incurs a small restocking fee, sure. Oh yea, they are a multi-billion dollar company. Let’s not forget about that before we try to protect them from the horrible restocking fee they incur. I have heard that people will go to Best Buy and buy a widescreen TV for the big game, only to return afterwards. Is this unethical? Sure. What about women (or men) who buy clothes for an event only to return them afterwards. I think this is unethical as well. These are blatant examples, but the projector one isn’t as cut and dry.

  12. Jon says:

    They say if you have to ask yourself whether it’s right or wrong, it’s probably not right. That said, I’d do the same thing (and I applaud your cleverness in securing the rebate). So you’re feeling a little twinge of guilt? Just show Amazon some love to make up for it- keep doing business there, and recommend to your friends that they do as well.

  13. Grace says:

    I would have done the same. If they’re going to offer rebates on their products, they should be ready to pony up when people do try to claim it. Most people don’t even bother sending things in, come on people, it’s free money!

  14. Adfecto says:

    I think you are ethically fine.

    I did something similar but slightly different once with hard disk drives. Retailer X is selling a hard drive for $200 with a $100 manufacturer’s rebate and has a company price match policy. Retailer Y is selling the same drive for $100 flat out (but possibly keeping the equivalent of the rebate themselves).

    What I did was purchase three hard drives from Retailer X and Retailer Y for $900 total. The three of the drives where then returned (new & unopened) to Retailer Y (refund of $300). Next, I waited a few weeks until the current rebate promotion was over (but within the price match period) and went back to Retailer X, but this time I requested a price match using my receipt from Retailer Y to get the drives for the same $100 each I paid at the other store (refund of $300). Finally I submitted the original $200 per hard drive receipt from X for the manufacturer’s rebate to get the last $300 purchase price back. All said and done I got three 200 gig hard drives and paid only the sales tax of about $30.

    In a way, Retailer X goofed up and was willing to price match a product even though it had a rebate a few weeks ago, but the clerk did it without hesitation. They may have lost some money but that’s the price they pay for having evil rebates and a price match policy (and clueless clerks).

    I wish you luck trying to guess which nationwide big box stores these were. I’ve heard that this type of thing is possible pretty regularly if you keep an eye out. The way I got the idea was from a college roommate who heard about it from an online bargain website.

  15. Jared says:

    Any company who offers a rebate should be burned to the ground, or at least not purchased from if you happen to not be an arsonist. Seriously though, there’s nothing wrong with what Jim did, companies like amazon have deals with shippers that make the cost very low, not to mention the Millions of dollars in profits they pull in every year. Do the large profits make it o.k. to screw them out of shipping costs….Absolutely. If amazon had a problem with it, they would not be selling products that they had to ship at all. If the rebate using companies did’nt use shady tactics, this would not even be an issue. I mean come on, whats the difference if I send it in without sighing my name to the fourth line of the third photcopy under my initials from section 2 line…….you get the point. Bravo Jim.

  16. pass says:

    Technically speaking, IMO you’re not “rightfully entitled” to a rebate if you don’t meet the terms of the rebate offer. You have to admit that it’s less than honest to try to get the rebate as you described, notwithstanding the fact that rebates are actually traps set for unwary consumers; the company hopes you will fail to submit the rebate information on time.

    You agreed to play the rebate game when you bought the product and submitted the rebate information. Do I think this is a big deal? Not really. But I think there is no “gray area” in the situation you describe.

  17. dong says:

    Not directly related, but I think people also need to understand that companies would not be able to offer rebates as large as they do if people didn’t screw up. So in the rebate game, it’s not just about getting the benefits from the company, but benifiting from doing things on time vs those who don’t.

  18. hidden says:

    Big companies screw people all the time………. way to hit them back

  19. I see nothing wrong with what you did. In fact, I would have suggested an even more questionable course of action. For anyone who does a lot of rebates, you know that these rebate processors mysteriously lose a disproportionate number of submissions, more than could possibly be explained by “lost in the mail”. Because they know it was probably their fault your rebate isn’t in their system, most processors will allow you to “resubmit” your rebate by mail or fax. Some will even just take your information over the phone.

    So my suggestion in this situation would be to wait until the standard six to eight weeks have passed and call the 800 number on the form inquiring about the status of your rebate. When they tell you that they don’t have it in their system, say that you sent it in and have copies of all of your submission materials. At this point they will probably give you a fax number or PO Box to “resend” your submission. Just send it to wherever they tell you and you’re golden!

    Some people may disagree with this, but as often as these rebate companies lose submissions and wrongfully deny claims, it is just fighting fire with fire in my book. You made the required purchase, so you should be able to claim your rebate.

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