EcommerceBytes-Update, Number 147 - August 07, 2005 - ISSN 1528-6703     2 of 7

An eBay Twist on Rebate Programs

By Brian Cohen

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There has been a lot of discussion about eBay as a "community." A few enterprising efforts by eBay sellers have capitalized on this virtual society. Most conspicuous perhaps was John Freyer's AllMyLifeForSale (

John Freyer sold all his material possessions and, remarkably, visited his bidders across the country and now has a coffee-table book to document it. More conventional examples of bidder interaction through loyalty programs were discussed last year in AuctionBytes (

Feeling somewhat inspired by John Freyer's efforts, I wanted to bring the virtual and physical world closer together. I settled for a conceptual art project in the form an interactive rebate. I called it the "ShowMe!" Rebate and created a website for it at (

Some of my inventory consists of vintage and new T-shirts. Instead of cutting out and sending UPC symbols to claim their rebate, bidders would send me within three weeks of the auction close a picture of themselves wearing these shirts. The bidder could be as creative or as uninspired in taking the picture as they wanted to be (I felt that the less "creative" submissions would be more engaging). Upon receipt of the photo, I would send the bidder a refund (50% of the bid price, not including Shipping & Handling) through PayPal. (Note to PayPal: hopefully you folks are reading this because rebate functionality is lacking from your system!)

Quite a few bidders indicated that they intended to send me pictures of themselves, but for one reason or another, they never followed through. Why the change of mind?

According to Wikipedia (, the rebate return rate depends on the "amount of the rebate, the particular store, and the particular product, a general estimate is a return rate of less than 10%."

The Wall Street Journal reports that up to 95 percent of people forget to claim their rebate. Many buyers intend to but never participate in a rebate. These bidders are initially willing to bid higher and pay MORE for an item because they factor in that they will be getting a 50 percent rebate but change their mind after the sale.

These bidders/buyers:
- Lose or misplace the rebate after sale
- Forget about the rebate after sale
- Get preoccupied after the sale and do not have time for the rebate
- Do not adhere to the requirements of or have the technical ability or know how to complete the rebate

Perhaps you are questioning the ethics behind a rebate program then. However, sellers are rewarded when bidders participate in a rebate program. In my case, it would accomplish the following:

  • Bidders would tell people about the "unusual" experience they had on eBay. It would create a "buzz" for my website as the bidder sends my website with their picture to their friends and family.
  • It would establish a visible client base. People naturally feel more comfortable using a product if they see other people using the same product. Moreover, the pictures would act as models or digital mannequins for my merchandise for future bidders to see.
  • Repeat sales. This will be experience that bidders will not forget. This form of branding will make it easier to recall the seller, and perhaps some would even add me to their "favorites seller" list.

Plus, I wouldn't mind having a coffee-table book deal either. I found my rebate program to be a fun way to interact with eBay bidders and encourage you to discover and discuss new ways we can interact with the eBay community.

About the author:

Brian Cohen has been an active member of the eBay community since May 1998. He currently trades under the member name His first AuctionBytes article was published in May 2002. Brian can be contacted through his website at where he always has a "little Bid of This and little Bid of That."

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