You’d probably never intentionally throw your money in the trash.
But consumers do. More than $500 million in rebates go unfulfilled every year, according to DCR Strategies, a marketing company that creates loyalty programs for businesses.
It’s not for lack of trying.
Consumers complain the rebate process is stacked against them. Even when they make the effort to submit all the paperwork required to get a rebate, when the rebate doesn’t arrive, the burden is on the shopper to follow up. Resend paperwork. Make more phone calls.
It’s a pain.
Joe Krypel of Helmetta has been feeling that pain for nine months.
Back in April, he and his wife shopped around for stainless steel appliances for their kitchen.
They found what they wanted at a local store, with a bonus. The refrigerator, dishwasher and range, priced at $2,877 before tax, had rebates worth $200.
After making the purchase, Krypel completed the online rebate form and provided a copy of his receipt to a company called NECO Alliance, he said.
Krypel said the confirmation page, which gave him a claim number and showed a list of the eligible appliances, confirmed everything was in order.
“I was told that my claim had been submitted and I would receive notifications about the claim status and ‘digital pay instructions’ at my email,” Krypel said.
The “digital pay instructions” would give him a choice between a virtual rebate card or a physical rebate card, but Krypel said he never received anything by email.
As Krypel went on with his life, he said, he forgot about the rebate. When he realized he hadn’t heard anything in June, he logged back into the NECO Alliance website.
“I logged in with my claim number and was ‘welcomed back’ and was told my rebate was approved and to allow three to four weeks for payment,” Krypel said. “I waited about a month and sometime in July, I logged in again, only to receive the same message.”
The rebate left his mind for a few more weeks. But each time he’d remember to check, he would see the same message, he said.
“I could not find a phone number for NECO Alliance, but somewhere on their website I found a place to submit feedback and emailed them about my rebate and that I had not yet received my rebate payment,” Krypel said.
He never received a response, he said.
So he started to Google the company, and he found an unsavory report on the Better Business Bureau (BBB) website.
NECO had a rating of “F,” with 35 complaints against it. BBB said two of the complaints were ignored by NECO, and for four others, BBB said, “The business responded to the dispute but failed to make a good faith effort to resolve it.”
After seeing the negative reviews, Krypel asked Bamboozled for help.
It took Bamboozled several phone calls over several days to track down the right person to address Krypel’s complaint. But once the right person had it, the solution came within hours.
Jason King of 360insights, the company that processes NECO’s rebates, said his records showed Krypel’s rebate was paid in May, but he would work to resolve the issue.
Shortly after, Krypel reported that he talked to King.
“Jason wanted to know the entire process I went through in attempt to receive my rebate and how the road eventually led to Bamboozled,” Krypel said. “He stated during our conversation that his records showed that I was ‘paid’ back in May, but as I told you, this was furthest from the truth.”
By the end of the conversation, King offered to process the rebate again, Krypel said.
King later confirmed the customer should receive a physical rebate card in five to seven business days.
He said 360insights processed more than 10 million promotional claims, including rebates, last year, totaling more than a billion dollars. Data on NECO-specific claims was not available.
King said Krypel’s issue has been escalated within the company, and they’re trying to find out what went wrong.
He said it’s possible Krypel received an email notification about the rebate back when this all started, but it could have ended up in his spam box. On that end, King said, the company will look at its payment notification emails to see if it can be refined “to appear less spammy to email filters.”
“We are revisiting all up-front messaging end-to-end and looking for ways to refine communication around expectation of how payment works,” King said. “The digital choice card is meant to add value for the consumer through speed and flexibility, but clearly the opposite has happened in this case and some others.”
King said the number for NECO’s consumer programs is (855) 359-7131.
BE CAREFUL WITH REBATE CARDS
Rebate cards will look very much like gift cards, but they’re very different.
The Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure Act, commonly called the CARD Act, offers protections for credit cards and gift cards, but not for rebate cards.
Money on a gift card cannot expire for at least five years from the date the card was purchased or from the last date any additional money was loaded onto the card, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
The law also limits inactivity fees on gift cards. These can only be charged if a card hasn’t been used for at least one year, and then the fee can be charged monthly.
“Rebate cards are a little different because it’s the company’s money,” said Ben Jackson of the Network Branded Prepaid Card Association. “The company doesn’t have to give you the money forever. If you haven’t used it in a certain time, they can take the money back.”
Jackson said it’s important to look carefully at whatever card you receive. If it says “gift card,” it would have the CARD Act protections.
If it’s a rebate card, it will either say “rebate card” or it may not say anything, he said.
If you have a rebate card, be sure to note the expiration date so you can spend the money before it’s gone.
Also be sure to understand what inactivity fees might be attached to the card. Check the card itself for the fine print. It may explain the fees in detail or it may tell you to review the “terms and conditions” that came with the card, Jackson said.
The card Krypel will receive has no fees, 360insights’ King said, but it will have an expiration date in six months, which he called “the industry standard.”
So Krypel better start shopping as soon as he gets the card to make sure he doesn’t miss out on a chance to spend that money.
If he, or another consumer, isn’t sure the rebate card money will be spent quickly, there’s another strategy: Use the rebate card to buy a gift card from your favorite store.
The gift card will have more protections, and you’ll be a happier consumer.