Joco Opinion

A clear-eyed look at rebate hell

Behold the actual micro-font of rebate paperwork. It’s easier to read a dime.
Behold the actual micro-font of rebate paperwork. It’s easier to read a dime. Special to The Star

I recently had the pleasure of buying a product that came with a rebate barnacle. I had to choose between ridiculous paperwork and the guilt of skipping the process/losing dough. I have taken both unpleasant roads in the past.

What have we consumers become? We hand out too much money for a necessary item and get homework in return.

Those of us with less-than-perfect vision are blessed with the opportunity to experience the “money back” game every year. As a nearsighted person and seasoned shopper, I believe nothing — not even printer ink cartridges — can be more overpriced than contact lenses. I have yet to buy a supply without the added burden of intensive rebate labor.

Gratitude first. The eye care world continues to amaze me. Despite the agonizing eyeball air puff test, I am thankful for optometrists and all the science that allows me to see clearly.

And boy, do I. Every time I order a new lens supply, I violently blink at the bottom line. I hesitate and wonder if these wispy little vision correction bubbles are made of unicorn tears and particles from the hope diamond. The promise of a future discount pushes me off the fence to go ahead and order a full year’s supply.

I’ve figured out the game. Manufacturers who offer rebates are betting on folks who have the intention of jumping through the flaming hoops of paperwork, but then lose their will or procrastinate past deadlines.

I’m certain the journey to reclaim a fraction of the inflated cost is getting worse. Just a few years back, I’d tear off a proof-of-purchase flap from the contact lens package, fill out a small form and drop the whole annoyance in the mail. It was a chore, and it ruined my supply box, but the effort was grounded in a simpler three-dimensional world.

This year, I tried the rebate claim online. It might have been the only option. Can’t remember: I’m still emerging from the fog. I do recall that as I was still reeling from the cost, the eye exam office handed me an instruction sheet to get me started. What a red flag: A form to navigate other forms. They also handed me photocopies of vital information I would need for my rebate dissertation.

Even describing the process is a real snoozer. Please do save this to re-read for future bouts of insomnia: I filled out a lengthy, glitchy multi-page online questionnaire, which is a fancy French word for corporate data mining. I was instructed to take photos of three horribly mundane things — a UPC square, an eye exam sheet and a receipt. I had to upload these Pulitzer-worthy images to the manufacturer’s clearing house. It didn’t work. Phone calls ensued. Many phone calls with bad words.

I almost gave up, which is exactly what the rebate gods wanted. I realized the time I was spending chipped away at the value of it all. But it became a quest. (#NeverthelessShePersisted.)

After blowing an entire afternoon, I was alerted by email my application for the rebate was received. But, but, it was going through some type of review. I had to wait for “approval.” I felt like a leper in a 19th century Ellis Island holding pen. Would I be accepted?

The drama dragged on for weeks. There was a sneaky email update with a question. Had I missed it, my refund would have disappeared in the ether. Another nice trick. But one magical day, the redeemers “approved” everything. All the while, the manufacturer was earning interest on my inflated purchase price.

My rebate, in the form of a Visa cash card, finally arrived with voluminous “Prepaid Cardholder Agreement” verbiage. The font is microscopic. I will never read it, nor will any other human on the planet. A final trick, because the eye strain could send me right back to the optometrist for a new, tweaked contact lens prescription. Which, I’m sure, is all part of the evil plan.  

Reach Denise Snodell at stripmalltree@gmail.com. On Twitter @DeniseSnodell

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