CYBERCRITIQUE: Mere 14 weeks separates rebate offer and arrival

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MARKETER: Hewlett-Packard Co.

Consider the following scenario: We purchased a Hewlett-Packard Co. printer from an online computer store. Part of the deal was a free, handheld global positioning system unit available via mail-in. So we downloaded the form on the site, clipped the zebra stripes off the box, wrote down the serial number and sent it off.

Seven weeks later we call customer service and are told our order is being processed and should reach us any day. Two weeks later we call again and are told that our claim is being returned because we used the online coupon.

The service rep tells us she agrees this is absurd and promises that if we fax the materials over to her, she'll process the item herself to get it off to us sooner.

We thought, "You've got all the materials. You're shipping FedEx. Just put it in a box, already. This is your mistake, not ours." Time to get this free gift: 14 weeks.

Marketers are doing more to bring the customer service feedback chain online. Consumers can buy, sell, auction, get tech support, give product feedback from companies online. But rebates and bonus gifts are almost universally a mail-only transaction. Granted, once the sale with the promised rebate has been made, there's no economic advantage for the marketer to actually give away the money or the gift.

The fact that consumers can track their order online from start to drop-off, but can't do the same with rebates gives the impression the offer isn't totally sincere. If the point of the rebates is to encourage sales, companies that make this easy for consumers stand to reap some serious benefits.

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