Making Shopping Even More Expensive in Rhode Island (?)

Here’s the question for consumers: If you were intending to purchase an item of moderately high price — a flat-screen TV, for example — would you buy it in Rhode Island or head to Massachusetts if you could get a $50–100 mail in rebate in the northern state (on top of the lower sales tax, of course)?* I wouldn’t state it as a certainty, but I’d say that such an option is a reasonably foreseeable consequence of this legislation:

Under the law, retailers advertising a manufacturer’s rebate on any sale item must apply the rebate amount at the time of the sale and complete the rebate redemption process themselves, rather than requiring the consumer to do it.
The law prohibits retailers from advertising a “net,” or final, price for an item that includes a payment from a manufacturer — unless the retailer gives the buyer the amount of the manufacturer’s payment at the time of the sale.
“In many cases, [companies] assume consumers are going to forget all about it,” allowing the businesses to keep the money, [bill sponsor Rep. Brian P.] Kennedy said. “Offering a deal and then making the consumer jump through hoops to get it is inappropriate and not all that great a deal.” …
Retail-industry research estimates that 40 percent of all rebates are never redeemed, said John Palangio, director of the consumer protection unit for Attorney General Patrick C. Lynch. That rate translated into $500 million in unredeemed rebates last year, Palangio said.

Personally, I’d always assumed that one of the reasons companies offered such large rebates through a mail-in process was that they expected not to actually have to pay a significant number of customers, but it never occurred to me that such a game ought to be illegal. If a rebate amount isn’t worth the effort to claim, it seems to me, then it wasn’t a decisive factor in the purchase. (Curious that protection of citizens with inadequate self-agency doesn’t play, among our legislators, when it comes to preventing the bad deal of gambling.) Making the rebate game illegal seems likely to make it go away altogether, particularly considering that manufacturers and retailers already offer on-the-spot discounts and rebates as a separate category.
How deeply does our society have to dig its myopia-permitted hole before we realize that we — particularly a “we” in such a small area as Rhode Island — can’t simply insist that people and companies behave as we dictate, in eschewal of their own interests? Perhaps I’m too cynical, but I can’t help but wonder whether the legislation doesn’t have more to do with the following than with consumer protection:

Last year, Rhode Island joined 39 other states in a federal lawsuit against Young America Corp., a Minnesota company that processes rebates for manufacturers and retailers. State treasurers say the company, the nation’s largest rebate processor, improperly keeps unredeemed rebates that should be turned over to the states as unclaimed property.
That lawsuit is pending.

When it comes to lawsuits, the states are becoming a frightening maw, indeed — always in search of rebates, no matter the difficulty of the process.

* With the possible added burden of having to receive the check via an out-of-state friend.

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
17 years ago

I’m willing to be more conservative than liberals redeem the rebates. This only matter to people who watch their money and don’t spend it like drunken sailors.

17 years ago

The problem is, the state has concluded rightly, that companies, and specifically technology companies are illegally trying to make it hard to get refunds once the product is purchased. Among the things they do is make it hard to complete the refund include (1) you must include the original sales receipt, not a copy, (2) cut out this, AND that, AND this, (3) deny a mailing address that is a PMB or suite or RR, must be a home mailing address {probably to sell your information to other companies on a mailing list of people who buy whatever product you bought}, (4) deadlines that are real quick for the purchase, then the rebate is mailed to a different location, and then rerouted so that the deadline has already passed, and (5) not allowing online rebates to transpire. Even when it’s been completed correctly, they allow 6-8 weeks for the rebate to arrive, so you can forget about it when it doesn’t arrive. You have no way to contact the rebate company if it doesn’t arrive, and not much recourse afterwards, especially once you’ve sent your ORIGINAL receipt to the company, many of whom AREN’T the company that made the product in the first place. What I’ve done is just buy the product that is the cheapest on sale, and add the rebate back onto the price at the point of purchase, knowing full well that I’ll never see the rebate. This is why I haven’t bought a thing from Circuit City in years, and given Best Buy much more of my business, since alot of their rebates are of the instant kind, which is what RI is now trying to make retails stores follow. I bet after trying to get the rebates themselves in Rhode Island or losing customers if… Read more »

Show your support for Anchor Rising with a 25-cent-per-day subscription.