It’s time to ditch mail-in rebates in favor of electronic rebates

One of those outdated mail-in-rebates. Image credit: Sprint
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We’re all familiar with them:  You make a purchase, fill out a form with attached proof, mail it off to a processing center, and two months later, you see a check in the mail.  In 2017, where companies such as PayPal exist, there’s no reason for these outdated rebates anymore.

When online forms are filled out, they’re submitted to be processed by an automated system that validates the information and responds according to a program.  If you digitized a rebate form, and you encoded each field to be processed a certain way, and you made the submission of the proof of payment easy, processing would be much quicker, and the customer would get their rebate quicker.

As it is, fewer consumers by the day are taking receipts for their purchases, especially if there’s no intention to return the product.  Furthermore, customers aren’t always aware of a rebate until after the timeframe for it has expired.

In some cases, it’s possible to call the store or business to get a printed or emailed receipt that you can submit for the rebate.  In those cases, the vendor offering the rebate should have an online form for you to complete, where you take a picture of the receipt with your phone.  While a paper check is far easier to issue and doesn’t intrude upon people’s private information, electronic payment methods would be more efficient.  The consumer should be presented the option of receiving it directly through PayPal (or another company like it).

I will describe the process I would use using PayPal.  They aren’t the only ones that do this, but they are the most well-known to the consumer world.  Additionally, PayPal accounts are free to setup, and remain active until it’s deleted.

PayPal’s policies state that they only charge a fee when the money is sent or received via a credit card, versus from a bank account.  There’s little reason why a company couldn’t open a business account, and use sales data to project how much money they expect to issue in rebates, and load their PayPal with that amount.

Once their system receives the electronic rebate and validates it, the company could initiate a payment from their account to the consumer’s.  The consumer also has the option of adding a bank account to their account such that when money does arrive via this method, it can be transferred.  PayPal’s site gives no indication that it charges fees for such a transfer on either end.

Since rebates often see submissions into the millions, depending on the size and scope, PayPal does offer Mass Payments.  Their FAQ mentions that they can accommodate up to 5,000 recipients.  I’m sure a small team could work out a way to keep up with processing the rebates.  For many consumers, waiting a week for the rebate to come through, is far easier to tolerate than 6-8 weeks.

If companies adopt this over time, it’ll do a number of things:

  1. Increase consumer confidence in utilizing rebates.  Consumers seldom take advantage because they know that by doing the mailing option, they might not receive theirs for months on end.
  2. Many rebates aren’t properly processed because of missing or illegible information on the form.  With electronic entry, a computer is reading a typed form, which can be customized in a number of ways, and with an algorithm is performing validation.
  3. Promote consumer confidence with electronic payment methods.
  4. Less checks to print, less consumable mailing products to keep around, and less mailing costs overall.  Until people are more comfortable with electronic payments, checks will still have to be mailed, but give it time, and people will come around.
  5. It will also reduce fraud as it’s tougher to outsmart a human than a machine.

Author disclosure:  I receive no financial incentive or compensation from PayPal by using them in my example.

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About the author

Mike Rana

Mike Rana is one of those people who is hard to define, though he's not immune to being labeled for something. He likes to talk about many topics including technology, business, politics, education, psychology, and human behavior. In his spare time, Mike enjoys traveling, people watching, analyzing the world around him, writing about his life experiences, absorbing information from various social media channels, and trying to be the voice of reason in the political arena.