Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Beware of race car driving experience re-sellers

Twelve years ago when RacingSchools.com was founded, life was simpler, at least on the Internet. Access was slow and painful. If you ever found what you were looking for within the first few minutes of searching a topic, you were thankful. Today, the masses have access to the Web at work as well as at home and tens of millions of users are connected via high speed modems.

As the internet got faster to use and websites easier to create, a frightfully large number of websites became dedicated to selling general merchandize gift certificates. As the number of such retailers grew wildly so did the need for them to offer more unusual ways for certificate holders to redeem their vouchers. Once those gift certificate pedlers discovered the existence of the auto racing school and driving adventure industry, they began to court school operators to secure permission to let certificate holders use their vouchers towards the purchase of race car driving experiences.

Unfortunately, unlike RacingSchools.com's model, these certificate pedlers never offered to provide the school owners with brand exposure or a full and complete listing of their products and services. Certificate peddlers were happy to list only a couple of the school's less expensive program options in the hopes of selling greater qualtities of generic gift certificates to their visitors. As 35-40% or more of all certificates never get redeemed, the gift certificate sales business turned out to be almost as lucrative as printing your own money.

Because most of these gift certificate sites have zero knowledge of our business, getting more specific or detailed information from their customer service representatives about the racing school products they list is practically impossible. As each and every racing school or driving experience operator offers its own unique formats, curriculums and pricing structures, how does the inexperienced consumer find out about the options available to them? They don't if they've bought their certificates from such fly by night operators as Thrill Planet, to name only one.

Think about this: When you purchase a gift certificate, you are trusting a perfect stranger with your hard earned money. Until you contact that vendor to redeem your voucher, you are trusting them to hold on to your money. How do you know the website operator is trustworthy? You don't. How do you know the website operator has secured an agreement from the merchants it features to accept your certificate? You don't.

Buyer beware. The auto racing school and driving experience industry allows a few independent re-sellers to sell their products but the vast majority of those re-sellers know NOTHING about this industry. Worst, some of these re-sellers are nothing more than thinly disguised criminal enterprises out to get your money and provide nothing in return.

When you go shopping for a race car driving experience certificate on the Net, look for obvious signs that the provider is not really interested in ever having you redeem that voucher. For one, do they clearly list the names of the schools that accept their certificates? Do they provide you with a list of all the different program options? Do they clearly list the dates and locations where the programs are offered? Do they allow you to get a refund of your certificate purchase? Do they tell you how long they've been in business? If they fail in any one of these categories, stay away.

Many of these certificate pedlers actually mark up the retail price of the programs they re-sell by as much as 10-35% over published prices. That's not a good deal for you. Do they charge a processing fee? That's a no no as well.

If you're serious about giving a loved one a certificate to drive real race cars, make sure you're purchasing it from a reputable vendor with a long history of providing quality service to its clients. Ask lots of questions before turning over your credit card and, never use a debit card to make these high dollar purchases as this payment method does not allow you to "charge back" your purchase if for any reason, you are not 100% satisfied with your shopping experience.

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