Friday, April 17, 2009

Rip-Offs and Rebates

A few years back when the “rebate” was conceived, I figured it was a pretty desperate marketing ploy to (try) to fool consumers. The idea was to imply that purchasers would get cold hard cash-on-the-barrel-head back if you bought their product. Back then I believed people were smarter than I believe they are now. I assumed everyone would see through the ruse immediately – the retailer upping the price of their product and simply giving them some of their own money back. Wrong!!! Consumers (some of them even good friends of mine) were completely taken-in. Rebates worked… all too well, as it would turn out.

Then it got worse: The “mail-in” rebate – advertise to the consumer they will actually pay a lower price for the product after receiving a rebate in the mail. All the consumer has to do is fill out a form (don’t we all love to fill out forms) and mail it in along with the (original) receipt and the cardboard box the crap came in to the company… then wait. What a scam!

The numbers are foggy, but of the people who decide to buy a product based on the promise of receiving a rebate, anywhere between only 2% to 60% ever actually receive their rebate. The psychology strikes of genius - Most people never bother to complete the paperwork or send it in. This means that, even though you bought the item thinking you would pay less, most companies instead end up pocketing the money they promised to rebate to you.

I was taken-in in also; I had the misfortune to believe I would get a rebate when I purchased a pair of Motorola walkie-talkies. I even sent in the rebate materials via certified mail as proof that they received it. I spent more time and money in phone calls and letters... but I never received my rebate. I mean “never”... as in: I will never buy anything from Motorola again.

Another scam I see a lot recently with car companies is the Manufacturers Suggested Retail Price (MSRP). Of course the manufacturer is going to set the retail price very high so it will appear as though they are offering significant discounts. We visited a local furniture manufacturer’s showroom in town once – Inquiring about the price of a table, my wife asked about the convoluted price structure on the sales tag. The sales person implied what a great deal she would get if she purchased the item for the discount price below MSRP. “But aren’t YOU the manufacturer”, she asked? The sales person stammered a bit. Generally, you could also refer to the MSRP as actually the JU (Jacked-Up) price. After your “discount”, you end up paying the full retail price you would have paid for the thing anyway.

Rebates are studies of the intricacies of contract law; and there are all kinds of laws covering rebates in marketing and sales... all of them designed to protect the company, not the consumer. I would be nice to see that changed… say, having the company that stiffs you end up owing you TWO TIMES the amount of the rebate if they don’t get it to you within 60 days - maybe keep that penalty multiplying for every month the rebate is outstanding.

Recently OfficeMax has completely done away with offering mail-in rebates, primarily due to so many customer complaints, and is opting instead for instant rebates paid at the time of purchase. Your best protection is to either avoid buying products that offer rebates altogether or choose only in-store rebates. Until then, most consumer morons will continue to believe that the retailer is relinquishing some of their hard-earned profit because they are so damn happy you bought from them. But don't take my word for it... Send me crisp $20 bill and I will send you a $10 rebate! How can you lose?

Sunday, April 12, 2009


Today the stand-off between four Somali pirates holding the captain of a U.S. merchant ship ended when Navy SEALS killed three of the pirates after the hostage escaped a second time. Pirates! In this day and age!

We can’t think of pirates today without conjuring images of jolly men (and scantily clad women), funny beards and three-cornered hats growling Arggggg to each other. But the reality of piracy today is deadly earnest and serious economic consequence. Of course, pirates have been seizing ships for some time in recent years; it just became news worthy because now an American ship was boarded. Now we suddenly want to do something about piracy.

Back in 1790, Alexander Hamilton established the U.S. Coast Guard (under the Department of Treasury, not Defense) originally to protect the economic interests of the county by combating smuggling and piracy on the high seas. – And, hey, while you’re out there, rescuing ships in distress might also be nice.

Because piracy directly affects economic interests, it seems reasonable to me that shipping companies would want to spend a little money to save a LOT of money and invest in private security on their vessels. It’s not a novel concept - We have security guards in banks, armored car drivers are armed, TSA in airports. In an economy that is crying out for jobs, I would think there would be more than enough applicants with previous military or police experience eager to take on this type of employment. We Americans are always touting our “entrepreneurial spirit”; I am surprised that half a dozen private shipboard security companies haven’t sprung into existence by now. C’mon, I couldn’t have been the first guy to come up with this idea?! I would call them Sea Marshals instead of Air Marshals.

These private security forces could be stationed at either end of the piracy trouble routes; sailing on the ships through the troubled waters until they reach port or out of the danger zone - Then hopping the next ship back the other way. I am not an accountant, but I would think the cost of private security would be less expensive than, say, a multi-million dollar ransom. And again… we need jobs!!!

This seems like such a dumb conversation to be having. The might, resources and smarts of the civilized world HAVE to be smarter than a bunch of illiterate thugs with AK-47’s and a motor boat.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Red means STOP

I consider myself a “rational” person – a “skeptic”, I put my faith in probability and the natural world. I am a member of the “Skeptics Society” and “Oregonians for Science and Reason”. I don’t believe in the supernatural be they UFOs, ghosts or God(s).

“Luck” is merely a perception; the personal attitude one takes regarding events that randomly happen in one’s life. Psychologists have studied luck and found that people’s perception of whether or not they are lucky can be altered by the way they look at it. All in all, good things and bad things happen to people in statistically predictable ways.

So all is in order in the universe and my outlook remains resolute and unbiased… except in one anomaly I cannot seem to reconcile: traffic lights.

You see, traffic lights somehow perceive my approach and turn red, forcing me to stop, with an uncanny regularity which I can only deduce are ordained directly against me. I notice, for example, if I am a passenger in a motor vehicle, the lights seem distinctly biased toward the green. However, if I am the driver, the light will invariably turn read as I approach.

My wife dismisses my belief; actually, she accuses me of being “irrational”. But I remain steadfast, as evidenced any time I need to be somewhere by a fixed period of time. My research further hypothesizes that the number of red traffic lights I encounter is inversely proportional to the amount of time required to reach my destination on time. In non-scientific terms; the more late I am for an appointment, the more of the traffic lights I encounter will be red.

My wife suggests I keep a notepad in the car on which to tally the number of red and green traffic lights I encounter on my journeys. I dismiss her suggestion – Why should I try to disprove what I already know to be true. Besides, I have lots and lots of time to think about this theory... while I am stopped at the many traffic lights on my way.