For me, the biggest, most successful rebranding exercise I’ve ever seen was Prince, or rather, The Artist Formerly Known As Prince. Let’s call him TAFKAP for short.
Short he may have been, but there was no shortage of talent in his genes, either before or after his various rebranding exercises. Well-known for his eclectic styles, vocal range and the ability to defy labels, TAFKAP’s career spanned half a century, and defined multiple generations’ outlooks on life, love, politics, and music.
Just before the turn of the century, and arguably at the height of TAFKAP’s career, two former deputy district attorneys launched a rewards program that was not only forward-thinking for the time (given the limited technology back then), but decades ahead of rewards programs today.
This review takes a look at The Site Formerly Known As Ebates. It’s worth noting that although Ebates rebranded and changed their name more than 5 years ago, all other Ebates reviews I looked at all still (also) refer to them as Ebates, though do mention the Rakuten brand throughout as I have done.
Our Ebates review also discusses rewards offered, cashback and ecoupon deals, partner sites, pros and cons, reasons for rebranding, and more.
What are Ebates?
Ebates (the descriptive noun, not the naming noun) are electronic rebates. Loosely defined, this is generally a rewards-based program that lets you earn cashback for shopping online.
Ecoupons (electronic coupons) are a rewards-based incentive to purchase certain products online.
As this review focuses on Rakuten (previously Ebates), we’ll take a closer look at these two reward systems that make up the hugely successful Rakuten offering.
Who is Rakuten?
Headquartered in San Mateo, California, Ebates.com launched on May 3, 1999. Founded by two former deputy district attorneys, Ebates.com was funded by venture capital firm Foundation Capital and offered up to 25% cash back from about 40 online retailers at the time.
In September 2014, Rakuten, Inc. a Japanese-based company, acquired Ebates for $1 Billion, where it traded as a subsidiary under the Ebates name for roughly 5 years until it was officially changed to Rakuten Rewards in early 2019, although Rakuten still trades in Canada as Ebates Canada.
Rakuten was founded in 1997 and is headquartered in Tokyo. Rakuten employs over 10,000 people globally. “Rakuten” is the Japanese word for “optimism”
What’s the catch with Rakuten?
Signing up will get you either $10 in cashback or a $10 Walmart gift card.
Once you’ve signed up, there are quite a few ways to earn coupons or cashback. The list of participating stores is currently counted at over 2,500 (or 3,500, depending on which page you’re reading) so there’s quite a bit to get through at first. We suggest you make a list of stores you regularly shop at, then head over to the store listing to find your cashback reward for each of those stores.
There is something for everyone with double cashback stores, in-store cashback, and hot deals that include free shipping on selected purchases or Buy One, Get One (BOGO).
If you like the site and the flexibility and affordability it gives you through its rewards, you may want to seriously consider referring a friend or two, which will score you an additional $25 per friend that becomes an active member. That means signing up and using the site as much or perhaps even more than you have been doing.
With up to 40% off from selected stores, daily recommendations on the site keep you up-to-date with what’s trending today, ensuring you get the best deal. A fan of the Samsung brand, I headed over to see what today’s deals looked like, and although wearables and the Art Store are not my things, I would certainly check out the Galaxy S20 deal or the QLED 4K TV deal, because the cashback reward on those two items carry additional benefits for me as a user.
How much money can I earn in cashback from Rakuten’s Ebates?
Well, that depends on what you buy and the value of that purchase and which store you choose to buy from. It’s actually surprising how much it all totals to, especially if you get lost in percentages. Taking a look at the stats in the above screen dump, you’ll note that the average cash back earned is $20 per purchase. Of course, that cashback to date is not all mine – how cool would that be?
The higher the value of your purchase and the higher the cashback percentage per brand, the more cash you’ll get back.
Black Friday and Cyber Monday, two of the biggest online retail saving experiences in any given year, are no exceptions. In addition to the deals already in-store or exclusively online, Rakuten’s Ebates offers even more in cashback.
If you’d prefer to wait for Green Monday – generally the second Monday of December and thus just two weeks after Cyber Monday (for those of us who don’t get paid in time for Black Friday blowouts), is also a good deal to check out.
Remember that those stores who usually only have a 5% cashback promo will have upped that percentage to 10 or more to entice buyers to buy more during these three shopping experiences.
How do you get your money back from Rakuten?
Cashback is accumulated and paid back to you on a quarterly basis, either via PayPal or a Big Fat Check. Either method you choose is completely free, but keep in mind that a PayPal and check processing fee is still applicable to the cash-out end of things.
How long does it take to get your money from Rakuten?
If you consider that you probably have the potential to earn up to about $50 in cashback per month, that’s a Big Fat Check worth over $100 at every payout, no matter how you choose to get paid.
Additional features, apps, and benefits
The Rakuten Cash Back button is a browser extension currently only available for Chrome, Edge, Firefox, and Safari browsers. Installing the extension allows it to read the sites you browse while you shop online and instantly alert you to any specials, promos, coupons or cash-back rewards you may qualify for or be interested in.
If you’re an always-on-the-go mom like me, your phone is your best accessory. Maximize your earning potential by installing the Rakuten Mobile App and making sure your accounts are synced across devices to stay up to date.
One of my pet peeves is remembering which card to take to which store so I can qualify for rewards by swiping or purchasing online. The Rakuten Visa credit card is another great accessory with many benefits, some of which are:
- Earn an extra 3% cashback on qualifying purchases made online or in-store
- $10 First Purchase Bonus rewarded back to your account after your first credit card purchase
- An additional 1% cashback when you use your Rakuten Visa credit card at non-participating stores or for other purchases that qualify for in-store cashback discounts
- No Annual Fees on your account
What the members say
Interestingly, referring a friend does not mean dumping a referral link on your website or sharing it across spam emails. In my research to make sure this was a totally unbiased Ebates review, I came across so many negative reviews like this one, but a single glance at the comment sections will tell you the real story of those negative reviews.
There is no doubt that there will be people who feel “scammed” out of “their” money, but reading through the help files and FAQ on Rakuten’s Ebates site clearly indicates processes and steps to follow. An example? If you didn’t claim your cashback promo on a Samsung product prior to purchasing that product, you can’t suddenly link up your purchase to the rewards you lost out on.
Again and as always, read the exclusions and limitations on any site you’re thinking of doing business with. Ask around, check with your friends and co-workers if they’ve experienced any negatives or downsides to using specific rewards-based programs to get cashback. Do your own research on the fine print following their feedback. If, for instance, one of your friends had a bad experience thinking he could just dump a referral link on his Facebook page to score $25 a time, go check out the detailed help file on referring a friend here.
You will note when you visit the Refer-A-Friend page that there are narrow qualifying criteria and quite specific products that need to be purchased. In order to qualify for your $25 referral bonus, your friend has to use your unique link to sign up, and then make a minimum qualifying purchase within one year of signing up. Naturally, the longer they take to make that purchase, the longer it will take to get your quarterly check or PayPal payment.
Not only does reading the fine print and following instructions protect you as a consumer, it also opens doors to fair and transparent business practices by the store or rewards-based program you’re doing business with. In addition, those friendly help-desk people who keep dismissing your claim will have no cause to do so.
How do I activate my cashback reward?
Create a Rakuten Shopping Trip by selecting items through either Rakuten.com, in the Rakuten App or with the Rakuten Cash Back Button. This generates a unique Shopping Trip number, which is used to verify purchases with stores. If your buying journey begins any other way than through one of these three portals, there is no way to prove to the store that you are a qualifying Rakuten member.
What kind of customer support can I expect?
The one comment or suggestion I never found anywhere was a site button that takes me back to the top of the page. Be prepared to scroll a lot, especially if you’re on a store listing page.
There are some technical issues new members need to be aware of that specifically relate to Apple technology and store browser limitations.
- Apple technology
Apple’s Intelligent Tracking Prevention 2.0 affects the Safari browser for both macOS and iOS (Mac, iPhone, and iPad). Technical details can be found here, but in essence, tracking allows the Rakuten browser extension to view your internet activity and track your store visits so it is able to notify you of promos and cashback rewards. Without tracking, you simply won’t see those rewards. To avoid this, consider installing the Rakuten Mobile App by clicking here.
- Store browser limitations
In some instances, store partners are still making the necessary changes to ensure orders are tracked so you receive cashback. In these instances, tracking may be blocked and your cashback reward notifications will not work when using the Rakuten Cash Back button extension. To avoid this, consider installing the Rakuten Mobile App by clicking here.
Finding support was otherwise pretty easy, with a contact form on their help page. A contact number would have been nice, but that was just as easy to find with a Google search. The few queries I had were managed well and with brisk efficiency.
Pros and cons
You know, I have a friend who talks about winning the lotto all the time, but only plays it 1% of the time. With Rakuten’s Ebates, much like Ingrid, you can’t win it if you’re not in it.
There may even be some drawbacks to waiting a quarter for your cashback to hit your PayPal account, but consider what a bulk amount could mean to your monthly shopping bills. Rewards-based programs that payout after a certain amount is invariably structured to either make that amount as small as possible (in which case, you pay huge fees on it), or to accumulating X amount of points or cash before you can withdraw it. No matter how much you make in cashback between cash-out dates, you and everyone else (me, too) get that cashback on the same day. It’s like drawing a bonus check you never knew you worked for!
Yes, there are qualifying limitations. Yes, you need to be online and synced with tracking enabled in order to get notified of additional promos or deals that meet your needs. And yes, Apple does have its limitations, too.
Also, expect to get feedback when you try to scam or cheat the site in any way. In most cases, that means a deactivated account or no cashback. You wouldn’t pay someone who cheated you, so would you expect another to do it?
The question is: can you avoid these pitfalls and why would you want to?
Well, for starters, the cashback is a great way to earn extra money from purchases you’ve already made, already saved money on, and are already using. It’s a savings account you can’t withdraw from for a fixed term, and if you’ve ever been to see a financial planner, you’ll know that that is some sound financial savings advice right there.
Does Rakuten work with Amazon?
Rakuten’s Ebates is also linked to other trending online shops like eBay, Macy’s, Amazon and Walmart, so you can be sure to always get the best deal possible.
Add to that the additional rewards the Visa card gives you, coupled with great holiday savings and incentives and you’re looking at a pretty sweet deal, in my opinion. The trick to maximizing your savings and your cashback is to make sure you are organized and methodical in your buying behavior. Here is a short checklist to guide you:
- Keep an updated store list and item list of your most frequently purchased items;
- Make sure you are connected in every way possible to the stores and the Rakuten Ebates site and app for regular updates;
- Encourage your friends and co-workers who like what you’ve purchased to sign up and make the same purchases you do
- Remember to share your profile link and make recommendations so you get that added $25;
- Swipe, swipe, swipe. The more you use your Rakuten Visa card for everyday purchases, the more you save and earn.
Is Rakuten Ebates a scam or is it a legit way to earn cashback? Having done my homework and made it to my first payout, I can definitely say that it’s legit. Does it have everything I want on it? No, but then, very few stores do.
And for me, that was the best part about shopping online with Rakuten Ebates: all my favorite stores were in one place.