The word free may seem too good to be true, but there really are free after rebate deals that don't cost consumers a penny - or very few pennies, at least. However, finding these deals and taking proper advantage of them can be tricky. Unprepared shoppers may unwittingly find themselves with merchandise far more expensive than the promised offer.
Types of Free After Rebate Deals
There are two general sources of rebate bargains: those offered by the manufacturers constructing the products and those offered by the stores selling the products. Both variations work the same way:
- Purchase the product at a participating store or one that carries the product with the advertised rebate offer.
- Complete the claim or redemption forms properly and submit them either online or via standard mail.
- Receive a check in the mail or via electronic deposit equal to the sales value of the item.
It's as easy as that - claiming money just by purchasing a product. But in reality, less than 40 percent of rebate offers are claimed, and an even smaller percentage of claims are successfully processed.
Why Offer Rebates?
If so few rebate offers are processed, why do stores or manufacturers go to the trouble of organizing the special in the first place?
By offering a free after rebate deal, manufacturers tempt consumers to try their product (why not, if you don't like it, it's free anyway), and stores tempt customers through their doors (where hundreds of products that aren't free await your shopping dollars).
This tactic is especially effective with new products, because the rebate entices initial consumers to boost sales numbers and public interest in the product until it becomes well known.
Another reason free rebate deals are offered is because the product in question isn't necessarily the targeted money-making item anyway. For example, a rebate may make a video game free, but the game system, extra controllers, and expansion packs are not. A free cell phone isn't much good without the service plan, and many users will pay for specialized ring tones and additional services too. By offering a rebate on the initial product, stores and manufacturers lure unsuspecting consumers into additional purchases to augment their free item.
Rebates also help manufacturers gather information about customers so they can create new marketing and advertising campaigns targeted to consumers known to purchase their products. While the personal information gathered on rebate forms is not sold or shared, it may be used for that company to generate additional offers or mailings.Though some of these tactics may seem unscrupulous, savvy consumers can still turn free after rebate deals into a great bargain by exercising restraint over additional purchases and only purchasing items they truly want or need, even if they will be free in the long run.
Products Offered for Free
Many different types of products are offered under rebate deals, including:
- Office Supplies: pens, pencils, highlighters, address labels, business cards, rubber stamps
- Software: new release programs as well as older but still popular versions, particularly if new expansion packs or add-on programs are available
- Home Equipment: small appliances, food items, telephones, small gifts, beauty supplies
- Electronics: Computer components, cell phones, batteries
- Services: hair cuts, web hosting, contractor installation services
Offers vary continually, and what items are available with a rebate today may disappear tomorrow. Some offers are seasonally based - there are more rebates on office supplies during the back-to-school season, for example - while others may last anywhere from a few days to several weeks or months.
Claiming a Rebate
Claiming a rebate may seem simple, but the vast majority of claims are returned as ineligible for the refund because the consumers didn't follow the instructions carefully. The best way to ensure a successful rebate is to read all restrictions, regulations, and instructions before purchasing the item to be sure you can follow them.
Tips for claiming a rebate:
- If the forms are available online, print them before purchasing the item to guarantee you have a copy available.
- Include all required materials, such as the UPC code, original cash register receipt, and so on, but keep copies for your records until you receive the rebate.
- Mail the rebate and associated materials at least 10 days prior to the expiration date to ensure it is received in time.
- Double check to be sure the offer is valid in your state of residence.
- Print clearly on the rebate form and check for errors before mailing.
- When purchasing the item, avoid putting other items in the same transaction to keep the receipt clear and uncluttered.
- Keep a record of when you submitted the claim and when you will need to follow up if necessary.
When Free After Rebate Isn't Free
Even if a deal advertises the item as free once the rebate is processed, that statement isn't always accurate. There are many different fees and charges that can overwhelm unsuspecting consumers, including:
- Shipping and handling fees for online purchases
- Processing fees for online orders or rebate claims
- Sales tax that can add up quickly on large purchases
- Accessory items necessary for the rebated item to function
- Membership or enrollment fees in programs needed to qualify for the rebate
Always investigate an offer carefully before proceeding with a rebate, particularly for expensive items. By knowing the details of the proposed bargain, it is possible to avoid unnecessary charges and truly keep the deal free.