Cash back

I recently bought a new laser printer from Officeworks. It’s from Brother, and I picked it up for $99. Actually, it was $139 with a $40 “cash back” (and I’m still waiting for the cash back, to be completely honest).

Cash backs are a weaselly way of providing a discount. We all know that they are offered with the understanding that not all customers will be bothered to, or will remember about, getting their cash back. If they were genuine about the discount, they’d simply reduce the retail price.

In order to claim this one, I had to:

  1. Keep the receipt from Officeworks
  2. Make a photocopy of it
  3. Do a web search for “brother cash back” (no details were provided in store, on the receipt, or with the product on how to claim the cash back)
  4. Visit the right website
  5. Locate the serial number for the product (detailed instructions are provided on the website)
  6. Complete a claim form online, including specifying receipt number, serial number, and bank account details
  7. Get back a unique code, that had to be written on the back of the photocopied receipt, along with my name and address
  8. Post the photocopied receipt to the address specified (also requires a stamp)
  9. Wait

Not exactly trivial. At several points I wondered if it was worth bothering, but I obviously persevered. A straight-out discount would have been preferable.

Although, now I’m reconsidering. The practice of cash backs is a bit like a tax on the slack. The motivated get the discount, while the slack do not. If everyone was motivated enough to jump through the hoops the manufacturer has created, the amount they could provide in the cash back would be less. So, in a real sense, the difficulty of the cash back process results in a higher cash back amount for those willing to endure it.

I may end up quite happy once the payment has been received. However, The Age published an article today alerting readers to problems with HP’s cash back schemes. So, I wait, and hope that Brother’s process is less difficult than HP’s.

9 thoughts on “Cash back”

  1. I am always surprised how reluctant people can be to chase down this easy money. Yes it can be a hassle, but in most circumstances, the time vs reward can be considerably greater than one’s regular hourly wage. I have seen a calculation showing that it is an inefficient use of Bill Gates’ time to stop and pick up a dropped $100 note. Most of us are not in his position, so why do we put in less effort for ourselves than we would for an employer who is offering a smaller reward per hour?

  2. Housemate was looking for a new laptop the other day on one of the computer sales sites I frequent, and upon seeing the Toshiba Cash Back offer my gast was momentarily flabbered (although in hindsight I’m not actually at all surprised): “You will need to register your laptop for this Cashback promotion between 30 (thirty) and sixty (60) days after the date of invoice of your laptop (Cashback claims cannot be accepted at any other time).”

    One wonders if this will be at all affected by the problem I had with my Toshiba laptop, where the serial number rubbed off the sticker.

    Effectively what you’re doing is buying a piece of hardware for a certain price, and then giving them an interest-free loan, which only gets called in under the lenders’ terms. Wow. People fall for this?

  3. @Jason, you are right to be outraged by this, I think. But, not for the reason you suggest.

    “Loaning” Toshiba 50 pounds for 30 days at (to be conservative) 6%, will effectively earn them the princely sum of 25p in interest. Surely their costs of administering the scheme will exceed this by an order of magnitude.

    What is outrageous is that you need to wait a month to register your cashback. They have so little respect for their customers that they think 30 days is enough for them to forget all about the cashback, or lose the receipt, or lose the laptop itself. Nah – it’s less a cashback, and more of a game of endurance between you and Toshiba.

    I wonder if they could offer a scheme where you could register your cashback in the first 30 days, and get 10 pounds back, but if you wait longer, you get the full 50. I’d have more respect for that, somehow.

  4. Hmm, I suppose it could have come across as outrage… wasn’t meant to be :) More incredulousness, really.

    I’ve got no idea what sort of number of units per month we’re talking about here, but for argument’s sake say they sell 1000 laptops per month with the £50 cashback system, and of those, 800 owners claim it back correctly – they get their £250 for investing all of the cashback money, and then they keep the £10000 of cashback that hasn’t been paid out.

    Hmm, no you’re right – it’s not about loan interest at all, it’s purely a risk game on how many people are bothered jumping through the hoops.

    I’ve got to stop commenting on blogs at this time of night.

  5. Just a thought Andrew, but surely any company offering a cash back has already factored in the cost of the scheme into the price of the good? Thus very similar to frequent flier points for credit cards or other “reward” schemes, perhaps better value is available where no such “scheme” applies?

    I went to my local, non-brand name, good quality computer supplier in Mt Waverley and looked at their laser printers. Not a cash back offer in sight with plenty of good machines available as well.

  6. @Aditya, I agree that they will have factored the cost of the scheme into the price. The difference here is that loyalty points are given to *everyone* but cashbacks are given to only those that jump through the hoops. So, they probably don’t add the full cashback amount to the price (admittedly I have no evidence for this, though).

  7. @Aditya, I’ve reconsidered what I wrote before. You’re right that some store-based loyalty schemes, e.g. FlyBuys, are optional for customers at that store. So, in that sense, the offer of membership in a store-based loyalty scheme is similar to the offer of a cashback. However, cashback schemes are deliberately set up to be difficult, so I would assume that the business model behind them would be based on less than 100% take-up.

  8. Maybe it’s karma or something. Finally, yesterday (a full month after my original post), we were paid the $40 cashback we were due. A little bit longer than “5 working days from receipt” that they promised. I can see why Officeworks has pulled out of selling products with cashbacks…

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