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Dear Super Saver: I purchased a refrigerator from Best Buy in Las Vegas. At the time, there was an advertisement for free delivery on such large appliances. When I attempted to collect my "free delivery," I was told I didn't qualify. Could you please verify this for me?

-- Silvia Umatum, Las Vegas

Dear Silvia: I contacted Best Buy on your behalf, and they have declined to honor your claim of free delivery. However, because Best Buy is a well-known and nationally accessible chain, I feel that the outcome of this scenario is pertinent to all consumers who may shop there.

First, here's how Jennifer Newcastle of Best Buy Consumer Relations responded to my inquiry:

"Thank you for bringing Ms. Umatum's concern to our attention. I am enclosing a copy of my response to Ms. Umatum for your records. Unfortunately, Best Buy will not be able to provide Ms. Umatum with the rebate she has requested."

Now, I am not suggesting that Best Buy -- or any other retailer or manufacturer, for that matter -- should simply give out rebates at will. However, I do believe that rebates should be honored in good faith. My concern here is that the possibility that the consumer was confused by ambiguous advertising is simply not an attempt at good faith.

For the reference of other readers, here is how Best Buy explained their decision not to honor Silvia's request for free delivery on her Amana refrigerator purchase:

"I received the complaint that you sent to Jan Leasure, Super Saver. Please allow me to respond accordingly: I looked into your concern and verified that you did not qualify for a rebate at the time of purchase. The advertisement enclosed in your correspondence was from March; all offers from that advertisement are good for one week in March. You purchased the refrigerator on August 29th. I checked the advertisements for August 24 until August 30 and the delivery special we offered at that time stated, 'Free delivery on all appliances $398 and up, except Amana.' I have enclosed a copy of the advertisement for your reference.

"I am sorry that you found this offer and the rebate forms confusing. The delivery rebate forms do not have dates or specific promotions listed on them because we use the same form for all of our delivery rebate promotions. However, the coupon does note the purchase must be made within the specified promotion period. Consequently, Best Buy will not be able to provide you with a rebate for this purchase. In closing, thank you again for taking the time to contact us. We appreciate your patronage, and hope you will remain a valued customer in the future."

Silvia's situation is important and pertains to all consumers who comparison shop to make any major purchase. I have reviewed the Best Buy ads from the time period in which Silvia made her purchase. Quite frankly, I found the ads to be ambiguous and filled with catch-22's. Each ad had the following disclaimer: "Mail-in rebate. Limited metro delivery area. See store for details."

The purchase of a refrigerator, television, furniture or any other expensive item that requires delivery is something for which the customer comparison shops. The cost of delivery or the opportunity for free delivery is certainly a consideration when making a buying decision. This is not like purchasing a can of green beans. The decision is usually not made unilaterally by the customer; assistance is often provided by a store employee -- one who frequently is on commission. Silvia was not told that she would not receive free delivery on this item. She was given a rebate form to send in to receive her delivery fee back. The form, however, was generic and did not have any dates or restrictions. I'm sorry, but I don't believe it is the fault of the consumer if the ad, salesmanship and rebate form were confusing and ambiguous. It is the fault of the rebate sponsor.

These "TAC" (Try And Collect) offers really make me furious. How in the world can Best Buy possibly think that Silvia will continue to remain a "valued" customer? I guess the best advice I can give to all readers who are making a major deliverable purchase is simply this: caveat emptor (Buyer Beware). Do not cough up the cash (or credit) unless you have all terms clearly in writing. I think that in this case Best Buy's behavior is inexcusable; they know that the customer will not return a refrigerator.

My advice to Best Buy in the future is to lose the generic rebate forms and take the time to give customers clear and specific advertising along with brand-specific, dated rebate forms that provide the details and limitations of each offer. If this is too much trouble, or if employees can't be educated to understand the terms of the offers and the restrictions, then they should try some other advertising tactic.

Today's offers

$2 Mr. & Mrs. T's refund. For a $2 refund, send the UPCs from two 32-ounce bottles of Mr. & Mrs. T's products plus dated and circled cash register receipt(s). Hang-tag form required. Expires Nov. 30, 1998.

$3 Conair Haircutting Kit refund. For $3 refund, send the UPC from a Conair model HC220CS or HC200-RCS Haircutting Kit plus a dated and circled cash register receipt. Required calendar form expires Dec. 31, 1998.

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