[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.)