Return to sender: Mail-in rebates are bad business for PC builders


In some ways, our long winter of PC building is over. GPUs have reached reasonable prices and are more available than ever, overcoming one of the biggest frustrations for builders and gamers over the past two years. Other parts may be hard to find or afford due to inflation and ongoing production issues, but supply-wise it’s a much better time to build a PC than a few years.

Those who can afford it may start collecting new parts, ready to build a new machine, maybe even one of the best pc builds or one Gaming PC for under $500. To these people, please do not rely on mail-in rebates.

Don’t get me wrong, times are tough, and either way I like it a lot. But mail-in rebates are bad for buyers who want their money back.

When I built my last PC, my Corsair PSU, which I ordered from Newegg, came with a mail-in rebate. To redeem it, I had to cut the barcode from the box, print out a form from Newegg, gather the receipt, and send it all to Corsair (yes, I paid the postage). A few weeks later, I got my discount on a prepaid debit card. (A current reimbursement form that I consulted (opens in a new tab) writing this suggested it could take eight to ten weeks. This may vary depending on the refund.)

I got this debit card because I did all this work. Sure, it doesn’t take a lot of time, but it’s something you have to remember to do. If you’re like me and don’t have a printer, you have to go somewhere else for the paperwork. More importantly, you must remember to do this, and if you do, it must be before the expiration date of the agreement.

“For the type of product you’re writing about, it seems like discounts are really a mixed bag,” Chuck Bell, director of advocacy programs at consumer reports told me in an email. “Consumers like to save money, but many programs have complex rules about what documents to send. Sometimes consumers wait long periods of time for reimbursement, or maybe it never arrives because of outsourced fulfillment centers, some of which are the subject of numerous complaints and occasional enforcement actions.”

Vendors who offer mail-in rebates, whether it’s PC components, appliances, or anything else, have a vested interest in your inaction. You are a busy person. You probably have a job, school, family, or other things that take up your time. So if you forget to do so after the postmark date in the terms and conditions – or not at all – it’s money you were hoping to get back that stays in their pocket. It might look like a bargain when you buy online or in-store, but it doesn’t matter if the money doesn’t end up in your wallet or bank account. This all snowballs if you buy an entire machine and several of those parts come with discounts.

Picking up a debit card, rather than a check, is also a hassle. These cards may have expiration dates, which means that if you don’t spend the money on time, you won’t be able to use it all. It can also be harder to spend. If you want to buy something that costs more than what you have on the card, you have to hope that the store will allow two payment methods.

There are alternatives. Stores and manufacturers can do instant discounts, which you often see with codes to enter at checkout. It’s still up to you to act (or notice in the first place), but it’s in a much shorter time frame and harder to screw up. Of course, the best thing these stores and sellers can do is put the items on sale in the first place.

Heck, I’d rather get something on a slightly smaller sale and spend less on purchase, then I have to remember to do something. I would gladly accept a $15 sale over a $20 mail-in rebate any day of the week.

The fact that anyone expects people to mail back proof of purchase is just ridiculous in 2022, especially if you’re shopping online. I can register almost any component online for some sort of membership program, but to get money back I need an envelope and a stamp? What a twentieth century!

Mail-in rebates aren’t limited to computer parts, of course. There seems to be surprisingly little recent research on them. The Federal Trade Commission, for example, responded to my request for information by saying that it did not have data on the use of mail-in rebates or the number of unused rebates. Most of the most recent research I have found is from years ago.

“No nationwide survey or complaint content analysis has been conducted to quantify consumer concerns about discounts,” researchers Cornelia Pechmann and Tim Silk wrote in Policy and research related to consumer rebates: a comprehensive review, published in the Journal of Public Policy and Marketing in 2013. But the research paper listed a number of other discount-related issues.

For example, Pechmann and Silk point out that some vendors do not specify the pre-discount price. (They may, for example, suggest that something costs $100 after mail-in rebate, not that you’ll pay $120 upfront.) Others may use abbreviated terms like “MIR” that aren’t entirely clear to everyone. consumers. These, of course, happen from store to store.

In a September 2009 survey of 1,000 adults that Bell sent to me, consumer reports found that 47% always or often submit rebate forms, 23% sometimes, and 25% never. The majority of those who don’t do everything (52%) said it was because it took too many steps, while others also pointed out that they missed deadlines, feared it would add them to mailing lists, whether they misplaced receipts or doubted they’d even get the money in the first place.

I honestly didn’t think I’d be talking about mail-in rebates in 2022. Best Buy, Dell, and OfficeMax all started eliminating them in 2006but somehow some stores still have it.

Gaming PCs are state of the art. Building a PC allows you to have a personal relationship with that machine. But the hobby is expensive, so I take advantage of sales and discounts to attract attention. But by involving the Postal Service, these companies don’t feel cutting edge. They feel stuck in the 1990s. And by putting such draconian terms and conditions on these discounts, the relationship between you and your machine goes deeper into the relationship between you and your money.

So here’s my call to stores and companies that make PCs and components: if you really want to give your customers a good deal, stop doing it with mail-in rebates. They are difficult to use and easy to forget. And if you’re someone looking to build a new PC, look for real sales. Don’t leave money on the table because a big company uses an archaic discount system when you could save money upfront.

Note: As with all of our opinion pieces, the opinions expressed here belong to the author alone and not Tom’s Hardware as a team.


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