As many of you may know, the rebate system is based on the idea that most folks will not get around to filling out a rebate form, or will fill it out improperly. Estimates run that 60% or more of people don't get their rebate. In some cases, the companies do everything they can to not redeem, some are even accused of illegal behaviour. Some companies are rumoured to be rejecting all rebates then only redeeming to those people who complain.
What this means of course is that they can give a very attractive rebate, in many cases selling the product below cost. We've seen rebates for the full purchase price in some cases.
Now this is actually good for you if you are very good at getting rebates back, because you get to buy a product below cost, subsidized by the people who aren't good at getting the rebates back, who ended up paying an above average price. It's a form of differential pricing. Those who care get a lower price, those who are richer and care less pay more.
So is the time ripe for a company that, for a fee, will do your rebate paperwork for you? Of course, you would still need to cut off the proof of purchase, check over the rebate for any special requirements (like signatures or serial numbers not found on the proof of purchase) and stuff them in a preprinted envelope, and get it to the post office in time to make it to the rebate paperwork house in time for them to mail it in to the vendor. (Not really the vendor, but the vender's outsourced rebate house.)
I imagine you would pay something like $5 plus some small fraction of the rebate, charged on your credit card, and refunded to your credit card if you don't get the rebate. That seems like a lot for what should be a few minutes work, but if you factor in the time required to fill out forms carefully, print envelopes, copy receipts and other items, and get to the mailbox, I think it's not out of line.
Of course for the rebate facilitator, they are even more efficient. They have all your relevant info on file, filled out in a web form. They have all the popular rebates similarly encoded and scanned. They can either automatically print out a rebate form with your info clearly filled in, or they can print a custom sticky label with your info and apply it to the original if the original is needed.
They can copy the receipts and scan the proof of purchase. And then mail them out at bulk postage rates to the rebate center, or even have staff who hand deliver them to the major rebate centers in certain cases if volume is high enough.Of course, if the rebate must be filed within just a day or two of purchase, this doesn't work. Fortunately studies now show that the longer they give you to redeem the rebate, the more likely you procrastinate and never send it in.
And of course, the form must be filled out to send the cheque back to you. That's why you have to pay in advance. If you claim you never got it, the company can use the rebate tracking systems many rebate houses have to find out if that's true and why. You could try to cheat the company out of their $5 by demanding the refund, but the worst case is they drop you as a customer if you do that too often.
Many rebates now send you an e-mail confirmation of rebate processing. Since the company would put a special E-mail address on the form, and would remember any checking URLs, they could stop the customer from filing a fake claim of non-receipt.
Now the companies granting rebates might try to fight this. They could try to put in a rule that you can't get assistance filling out a form, but that seems extreme and hard to enforce.
In fact, the companies might well learn to be good about the rebates filled out by such a service house. The service house might put a big stamp on saying that they filled out the form, and they're watching. That's because right now if a vendor plays games not redeeming rebates, it's hard for customers to notice a pattern of abuse. They just give up. Patterns of abuse, however, are illegal and would be detected by this middleman. The middleman could afford the lawyers to go after them and have evidence to back it all up.
Ideally you want this company to get big enough to be efficient, but not so big that vendors stop the rebates or try to stop the company. Remember, rebates aren't paid by the vendor really. The money comes from the people who bought a product for too much and then didn't redeem their rebate.
Clearly this is only efficient on rebates of a certain size, probably $20 and up. Seems there are 100 of those at Fry's today.