[June 15 update: I just heard from Denise, the Lenovo customer service representative who has been considering my complaint. She agreed to send me $200, the amount of the rebate that I would have gotten if I'd bought my Z60m ThinkPad in June rather than May.
That's great. I still believe I'm entitled to $250 but justice has been mostly served. Thank you, Lenovo. I still like the computer a lot. The IBM/Lenovo software and security package is excellent. Driver and other updates happen with a click of a button, and the built-in backup system is transparent and easy to use.]
Get heavy on the tricks and lighten the treats. That’s how the rebate game is played. As “The Great Rebate Scam” says, companies do their best to keep you from successfully completing a rebate form.
I’m used to playing computer Rebate Scavenger Hunt. Scurry around the house looking for the bar code on the packaging, the original sales receipt, and proof that you owned an earlier version of the product.
Then, at midnight under a full moon, prick your index finger. Let three drops of blood fall on the rebate request. Make a perfectly legible red thumbprint on the rebate form while hopping on one foot and chanting, “I really want this rebate, I really do.”
Mail everything off. Your check might come in three months. If the clarity of the thumbprint meets with a peon’s approval.
I exaggerate. Barely. Consider my experience today with Lenovo, the current purveyors of “IBM” ThinkPad computers. I ordered a ThinkPad last month. It wasn’t difficult to convince myself that I needed a new laptop. Hey, my Emachines was two years old, close to 100 in computer years.
And it was orphaned. Emachines doesn’t sell laptops anymore. I wanted to jump into the embrace of a solid, reliable, businesslike computer company. Someone who would stand beside me when I needed help with balky hardware or software. Being a blogger, I require constant computer uptime. My loyal regular readers, the whole handful of them, deserve no less.
So in May when I lusted after a ThinkPad, “The Ultimate Business Machine,” on Lenovo’s web site, an 11% off sale and $250 mail-in rebate were all I needed to seal the deal on a Z60m.
At least, I thought I was getting a $250 rebate. Every Z60m model featured had a mention of the rebate, from the cheapest to the most expensive. I customized the higher end model, opting for a slightly smaller hard drive and more memory. I also bought an external USB drive for backup and an extended in-home repair warranty.
The computer is sweet. But Lenovo’s rebate game, which borders on a scam, left a sour taste. “Where is the mail-in rebate form?” I asked a customer service rep this afternoon. “It didn’t come with the computer.” “You need to download it from the Lenovo web site,” I was told.
OK. No problem. Except, my Z60m model wasn’t listed on the form as qualifying for a rebate. There are eight models, and only four of them qualified. I bought a 2529R3U. A 2529RCU gets a rebate. A 2529E3U gets a rebate. But not a 2529R3U. I was one goddamn number or letter off.
It’s like Toyota advertising a $1,000 rebate on Camry’s. However, if you order leather seats and a sunroof, you’re out of luck. Didn’t you know that a car with these features doesn’t qualify for the rebate? Well, you would if you had read the rebate form before you bought the car.
Most of us don’t. We assume that a company is playing fair—within the bounds of the Rebate Game, at least. I’d taken for granted that my model was included in the rebate offer since it differed only slightly from the models prominently featured in the “$250 mail-in rebate” promotion on the Lenovo web site.
I called Lenovo customer support again. I told my tale. I expected a sympathetic response for several reasons, including…
ThinkPad laptops come in five series: Z, R, T, X tablet, and X basic. I had bought one of the Z series. A Z60m. At this level of computer detail, I figured I was rebate safe. Lenovo is to Toyota as laptops are to cars, as Think Pads are to sedans, as the Z series is to Camry’s, as the Z60m is to a hybrid Camry.
I told the Lenovo representative that it never occurred to me that of two almost identical (and costly) Z60m’s, one would get a rebate and one wouldn’t. Again, this would be like offering a rebate only for a hybrid Camry with a cloth interior. It would be misleading to prominently advertise rebates on hybrid Camry’s and not tell buyers who wanted certain specific features on their car that they wouldn’t qualify for money back.
The response: silence. Not agreement. Not disagreement. Just silence. When I said, “Well…” I heard, “Your computer isn’t on the list of models that qualify for the rebate.” “Yes,” I replied, “I know that. What I’m asking you is whether you can do anything about this, given how misleading your advertising was.”
More silence. I was face to face with the robotization of modern corporations. I’m sure that the person I was talking to had no authority to do anything but respond on the basis of a script. I was asking questions that drifted beyond the “if…then” training she’d received.
I wanted a human response. I knew that I wasn’t going to get it. I hung up. And tried the rebate center. With the same result. Silence. Now I likely was talking with someone from a hired gun firm, not Lenovo itself, so my chances of getting a non-scripted reply were even less.
If someone from the Lenovo direct sales division ever reads this, here’s a message from a first time ThinkPad buyer:
I’m sure that you put a lot of thought into your May anniversary sale promotion. You had meetings where you brainstormed about sales and profit projections given various mail-in rebate scenarios.
Eventually you decided that if you made it look like a buyer of any Z60m would get a rebate, but only include half of the models on the rebate form, you’d generate more sales while having to pay out fewer rebates.
Brilliant. You lured me in. Congratulations. You sold a $2,000 Think Pad without having to pay a $250 rebate. I didn’t attend to the fine print. You win the game.
But here’s the thing. When you treat customers in this sort of mechanical fashion, calculating what misleading marketing inputs will generate the maximum profit outputs, you’re forgetting that the person who trusted you with his VISA number isn’t a machine.
He will remember how you manipulated the Rebate Game. He will tell his friends how much he likes his new computer, and how little he likes the Lenovo sales approach. And he will write a lengthy blog post about it.
That sort of advertising you can’t buy. You have to earn it. And you have.
(Final irritating irony: Lenovo now has a $200 rebate offer on every Z series “2529” model bought in June. I bought in May. So if I’d waited for a few weeks, I would have gotten the $200 for sure. I told the Lenovo rep that I could return my computer within 30 days, buy a new one, and save $200. So why couldn’t she just give me the $200 rebate now? Predictable response: silence.)
Brain; Loved your story. I have had my experiences with rebates too. I never leave the store without having the sales attendant give me the rebate coupon for the particular item. Unfortunately, your story was a much more sophisicated process than mine. I have a really weird idea: Is it possible that you could just return the unit back to the store? Just tell the store return department that you were dissatisfied with the overall unit performance. Food for thought.
Posted by: Roger | June 07, 2006 at 07:05 AM
Roger, I've thought of that. Except, I ordered direct from Lenovo. Got free shipping via next day air. I'd have to pay to return the computer.
Plus, this being a PC, I've invested quite a bit of time already in reinstalling programs, copying files from my old computer, and so on.
I say, "this being a PC," because recently I read the tale of a Mac user who had a ridiculously easy time switching to a new Mac.
Yesterday I emailed Lenovo about my rebate irritation. Got a response today saying that my message had been "escalated to our Customer Relations Management Team." Sounds good. We'll see what transpires at the top of the escalator.
Posted by: Brian | June 07, 2006 at 10:14 AM
Brian, Something tells me, with your excellant writing skills, the Customer Relations Team is going to find a way to send you the $200.00 rebate.
When you get the money, I suggest that you go and buy some of those famous Oregon strawberries.
Posted by: Roger | June 07, 2006 at 11:22 AM
They're all bastards, Brian. Give'em hell!
Posted by: edison | June 07, 2006 at 11:06 PM
Hey I work for IBM and you can buy on my discount since I know you...
[log in]...if it's a better price return the one you have and go for it
Sorry about the misleading crap, corporations you know. I've had similar experiences with Lowe's and their "free installation" for appliances.
[Connie, thanks the offer. I've edited out your log-in information, figuring that you didn't want the entire world to be your IBM discount friend. It looks to me that if I can get my $250 rebate, I'd end up paying just $125 or so more compared to the employee discount price. A customer rep is considering my case at this moment.]
Posted by: Connie Lambert | June 09, 2006 at 10:50 PM
I am sorry to be the first jerk to do this - but....I work at a school and I do alot of traveling. THe school has offered to buy me a laptop but the discounts dont seem to be anything special for schools.
so....Connie, now that we are friends, can I use your discount code?
If not, no big deal.
Posted by: Ari Segal | June 21, 2006 at 03:42 PM
Another brain dead 'gimme gimme gimme' liberal speaks gibberish again.
Wow, I feel all the more stupid for reading this. I'm surprised people can possibly complain about rebates in this day and age with computer technology, and STILL not understand WHY they offer rebates or what the rebates are all about!!!!!!!
I guess if you are an old liberal that believes that you should have your cake, eat it too - and then sue someone when you get fat on it, this is to be expected.
Posted by: duh | February 21, 2007 at 06:59 AM
Duh, until now I never knew that getting a rebate, or not getting one, had anything to do with one's politics. Thanks for enlightening me.
That said, I really have no idea what you're talking about. But then, I often don't when right-wingers speak.
Posted by: Brian | February 21, 2007 at 10:08 AM
You know, I can't say I agree with all of Brian Hines' political views (or many of them, for that matter), but how exactly is wanting what was advertised (in a suggestively fraudulent matter, at that), indicative of liberal politics?
I consider myself EXTREMELY conservative, and if what happened to Brian happened to me, I'd be pretty pissed myself.
Posted by: Brian H (another one...) | March 05, 2007 at 12:45 PM
Brian H, thank you for your support. You sound like a wise person. Given your first name and last initial, I would expect nothing less.
Posted by: Brian | March 05, 2007 at 01:43 PM