How often have we as customers seen a great price with a small asterix that says "After rebate"? Are you still interested or do you turn away?

How often have we as customers seen a great price with a small asterix that says "After rebate"? Are you still interested or do you turn away?

Many of us lose interest, says Kevin Savetz, founder of "Studies show that only 10 to 30 percent of rebates are ever redeemed." Why is that? "In many cases, the deadline sneaks up on them," says Savetz. "People set the rebate form aside, procrastinate, and the next time they think of it, the rebate has expired. People buy the product fully intending to redeem the rebate, but life gets in the way."

Other factors come into play, too, says Jim Sherlock, director of sales and merchandising for Staples, Inc. The complexity of the offer, the time frames or the value of the rebate all play a part in a consumer's decision to claim a rebate offer. "Some customers don't think $5 is worth the trouble," says Sherlock.

"[Rebates] truly are a benefit to the customer," says Sherlock, but admits that it's not always been an easy process. "The rebate program has had challenges." Customers found the process frustrating and manufacturers had no way to track fraudulent rebate claims or protect against returns after rebates were issued. "We (Staples) decided to proactively market a simpler rebate program" and five years ago developed a process that promises "no clipping, no mailing, no hassles." And it has been working for both vendors and consumers, Sherlock says, with rebate redemption rates "significantly higher" than industry standard norms. "Customers give us high marks."

For retailers and manufacturers, as Sherlock has seen, rebates can build customer loyalty and provide retailers with a competitive edge. "Some stores have chosen not to participate in rebate programs," says Sherlock. "The customer doesn't win." And neither, therefore, does the retailer. "Manufacturers want people to get a taste of these products, or draw them onto their Web sites in the hopes that they'll ultimately buy higher-priced items as well and become loyal, long-term customers," says Savetz.

For consumers, "the biggest advantage, of course, is saving money," says Savetz. "In many cases, rebates can make a product free, or even better than free — you get more money back than you paid." So if you want to make the most of rebate offers, how should you proceed?

1. Follow the requirements. "Read the instructions, including the fine print, carefully to save yourself time and headaches later," Savetz says. "Before you mail the rebate double-check the address. Also, make note of the date that will be postmarked."

2. Put time on your side. "I won't even let myself use a new thing until I've cut out its UPC and sent in the rebate," admits Savetz. The sooner you send it in, the sooner the rebate will come to you. "A note on the calendar would be a good idea," he adds, to let you follow up if your rebate doesn't arrive in the promised time frame.

3. Save a copy. "Keeping copies, scanning or taking a photo of the assembled rebate materials is smart, because if your rebate is rejected you have visual proof that you fulfilled all the requirements and it's on the manufacturer or rebate company to make it right," says Savetz.

4. Use the on-line option. "Print the rebate form as soon as you place the order, because sometimes online rebate forms pull a 'disappearing act,'" cautions Savetz. And submitting online rebates also has some benefits including faster processing, notification or traceability. "Our system lets you track it at any point in the cycle," points out Sherlock.

5. Use your judgement. "If you don't think you'll have the time or access to equipment (such as a copy machine) to follow through with all of the steps of the rebate redemption process, it's probably best to pass it up," says Savetz. "In some cases, the shipping charges could make a rebate not worthwhile."

"It does take time to go through the steps to prepare and submit the rebate materials," says Savetz. "But, as the cliché goes, time is money and for many people — especially in today's economy — it's well worth it to make the effort."