Something for Nothing Can Be Tough

Judi McAdoo lives in San Diego

The big, bold lettering caught my eye as I drew near to the soft soap display in the supermarket. It said: "Buy Two, Get One Free."

"Oh, goody," I said to myself. I picked out three of the pretty flower-decorated containers and put them in the shopping cart. I crossed that item off my shopping list. I had planned to buy two today, and felt quite smug at getting one free. I had saved $1.03, and so easily--or so I thought!

At the checkout counter, I unloaded my cart of all the goodies--and there was a lot because I buy for more than 20 people. I'm house director of a sorority at San Diego State University and budget the finances as carefully as possible.

As the prized soft soap containers edged their way on the conveyor belt nearer the cashier, I said to him, "Please don't forget that one of them is free." He quickly replied, "I think you have to send a label off to the manufacturers to claim the money." I was not too happy about this and nearly told him what to do with the free soft soap, but I'm a fussbudget for saving money, especially if it's on an item I was going to buy and use regularly. But I'm also determined, and quickly decided not to be beaten by the manufacturer.

"OK, if it's just simply filling out the label and sending it off in the mail--costing a 22-cent stamp--I'll do it!" I answered the cashier cheerfully. Mind you, I felt a little cheated that the store was party to this type of sales technique.

Back home, I unloaded the groceries and eagerly seized one of the prized soft soap containers. "He did say you have to send in a label, didn't he?" I asked out loud. "But he didn't say how to get the thing off the plastic container; it's almost impossible." Eventually the label was off--all 1 1/2 by 2 inches of it! I turned it over. On the back, the writing was so tiny I had to use a magnifying glass to decipher it. I'm sure that at this stage the manufacturer hopes the consumer will have run out of patience and interest and give in. Not me. I was even more determined.

I read the following instructions: To the consumer. Please write clearly (how, I thought--the label was so wee and sticky) your name and address, the name of the store where you purchased the goods and the date purchased. Send the label to the manufacturer at the given address, together with two labels from the clear tops of the soft soap containers and the cash register receipt, identifying the goods with a circle around the price, mail to us and we will send you up to $1.19.

Whew, I was breathless just trying to absorb all the instructions, and I needed to read it through again carefully. First, it said, send two labels from the clear top of the containers--this was a totally different label from the one I was reading. I looked at the three containers and yes--you've guessed it--only one had the necessary label attached.

So, what was I going to do--go back to the store and request soft soap containers with the missing labels? I didn't want to do that because I was tired and short of time, and I expect it could be confusing to explain the situation to the store staff and even a little embarrassing in front of a crowd of people. Well, I could put everything on one side until my next shopping trip, but it would just be one more job waiting to be done.

I passed over this, by now, tedious operation and read more instructions. Fill in your name and address and the name of the store where you purchased the goods and the date. OK, I could do that without any difficulty. Then came a problem as I read: Send in the cash receipt; circle around the price of goods. But I needed the receipt for my bookkeeping records for the household account. I suppose I could pop over to the photocopying shop and get a copy for 4 cents . . . I had already expended enough of my precious time to negate the $1.03 refund.

So who benefits? The manufacturer sells more to the retailer, the retailer sells more to the consumer, and the poor consumers, who think they are getting a bargain--in this case, one free soft soap container valued at $1.03--almost get a heart attack or are well on the way to an ulcer!

I vow and declare that I will never attempt to take advantage of this type of sales campaign again--at least not unless I have read the small print very carefully.

But I must remember to keep a magnifying glass in my purse.

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