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Published on January 19, 2009

Scams lurk; look before you leap

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Opinion

AKRON (Jan. 19, 2009) — What retailer worth his or her cash register isn't always on the prowl for some kind of gimmick or promotion to get customers in the door and keep them coming back?


And if that promotion doesn't cost the merchant a lot of muss and fuss, so much the better.


Two time-worn caveats come to mind, however: You usually get what you pay—or don't pay—for; and caveat emptor, which is Latin for “Let the buyer beware.”


Let's add a couple more while we're at it: If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. And the immortal words of P.T. Barnum: “A sucker is born every minute.”


In the case of gas rebate coupons some tire dealerships have offered customers in recent months, the sad reality of the situation is they may not have gotten what they'd hoped for, leaving a legion of upset customers in the wake.


Last spring independent consultant and longtime tire industry veteran Don Dominguez told Tire Business about what he believed was a surefire way to help tire dealerships drum up sales. At the time gasoline prices were skyrocketing past $4 per gallon and many motorists were looking for relief from the merciless pump prices.


Enter a promotion for gas rebate marketing programs. A number of types of retailers already were offering similar gas rebates with the sale of merchandise. Retailers purchase coupons for a small fraction of their face value and distribute them to customers, who are then responsible for the paperwork needed to redeem the coupons with a redemption center.


It sounded like a plan, so some tire dealerships salted their customer pool with gas rebate offers.


Mr. Dominguez eventually discovered that some redemption companies had stirred the ire of customers by failing to follow through on or delaying reimbursements for the vouchers.


Community Wholesale Tire of Kansas City, Mo., fielded calls from irate customers complaining about not receiving their reimbursements for the vouchers and ended up spending about $3,000 out of pocket to make things right for patrons.


For customers to receive rebates, they have to follow specific instructions—collect and mail gas receipts from a certain gas station within a certain time period, etc. Redemption firms claim customers who face delays often don't follow instructions, leading to reimbursements being voided or delayed.


The moral? When considering a promotion, read the fine print. If you wouldn't want to jump through a myriad of hoops for a freebie, your customers probably won't want to either.


Just as with any purchase, the simplest, most obvious thing you must do is your homework, your due diligence. Sure, it may add an additional step in a process one would have hoped is hassle-free, based on the promises of companies offering rebates and promotions. Check with a Better Business Bureau or a consumer protection agency or group before trusting a promoter. Use the Internet to scan for consumer complaints.


Just like those old Wild West snake oil pitches, the buyer must beware—the elixir often doesn't live up to the hype.

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