I have received over $1,000 in automatic cashback since August 2014 using Rakuten. Check out my biased Rakuten review below. Biased because I do love this cashback app and can’t hide it!
I started shopping online more often
We moved to the small town of Johnsburg, IL in 2011.
The population is around 6,300 but it feels much smaller than that. There isn’t much of a “downtown” where you can walk around and shop. We share a zip code with neighboring McHenry, IL if that puts things into perspective. We don’t even have a post office!
There are a few restaurants, a few bars, and of course a few churches. But lacking is any kind of shopping. There is a small shopping area in McHenry a few miles away that has a JC Penney and Kohl’s but nothing resembling a mall or a Target for miles.
Rakuten Review: Great for Online & Offline Purchases
It was around this time of lack of shopping options when I started shopping in physical stores less and started shopping online more. I can’t put my finger on it but somewhere in the last few years, this girl who used to love to just “hang out” at the mall and could aimlessly shop for hours had lost my mall itch.
Out of sight out of mind, I guess. The driving, the parking, the crowds, the aimless shopping gradually lost its luster.
I found myself aimlessly shopping online often instead. I don’t need anything, but that’s not the fun of it. Online shopping is so convenient, and I can do it in my yoga pants with a glass of wine. You don’t have to drive.
Meet spending minimums and you get shipping for free. There are no dressing rooms you have to go into and can try things on in the comfort of your own home when they arrive on your doorstep (although returning can be a pain at times).
In 2014 I stumbled upon the cashback app Rakuten. It was advertised as a cash-back app for online shoppers. Being the frugal online shopper that I was, of course, I looked into it. In the 4 years, I’ve been using the app, I have received over $873 cashback. That’s over $174 in checks on average automatically sent to me every year for online purchases I would have made anyway. Sound too good to be true? It’s not!
If you’re not using Rakuten when making online purchases, you are missing out on a huge opportunity to save more. Check out my Rakuten Review below.
What is Rakuten?
Rakuten is a website that tracks the amount you spend at participating retailers and gives you a percentage of that amount back automatically. Every 3 months, Rakuten will send you a check for a percentage of your purchases made at select retailers over the quarter. For example, if you made a $100 purchase and Ebates was offering 5% cashback, you’d receive a check for $5.00
In addition to tracking your purchases and giving you cashback automatically, they also provide suggested promo codes. You use the promo codes you can use on qualifying purchases on the manufacturer’s website. So you get a great deal on the retailers’ website AND get cashback through Rakuten.
How does Rakuten work?
Before you begin shopping, visit Rakuten.com and create an account. (This is a referral link and we’ll both get a cashback bonus once you use Rakuten for the first time)
To start, you can search for the name of the store you are planning to shop at if you already know where you want to save. Or you can simply browse all offers available from all retailers. As an example, let’s say you wanted to shop at Kohl’s. In the search box, simply type in Kohl’s. Click on “Kohl’s” that comes up as the first result under “Stores.”
Once you click on “Kohl’s” in the example above, you will land on the Kohl’s results page. The page can look a bit cluttered and confusing as there are multiple “shop” options in red.
You can see that Kohl’s is offering 3% cashback which means if you click on any of the “shop” buttons and make a purchase, you will receive 3% cash back on the net amount (not including taxes or shipping). Don’t get too hung up on which “Shop” to click as they will all give you 3% cashback.
My recommendation is to always start with the top “shop” button. You can see other “shop” options under a header of “Top Coupons.” As a courtesy, Rakuten provides promo code options you can use on retailer’s sites. You can cut and paste them from the app into the promo code field at check out.
So if you click “Shop Now” on the top result, you will automatically be driven to the Kohls.com website and all promo codes are saved within the app.
In the upper right corner, you can see that Ebates has saved promo code offers you can use at checkout on Kohls.com. Also, notice the header, it says Rakuten so you know you’re shopping the Kohl’s site but being tracked by the Rakuten app.
What do you earn cashback on?
You will earn cashback on nearly any online purchase. Some retailers may limit or specify what the cashback is valid on, and they would note it before you click-through to the website.
For example, Amazon. They don’t offer cashback on everything. The cashback varies by product category. Sometimes specific brands are excluded. Check the percentages by category and exclusions so you aren’t surprised if you do or don’t receive cashback.
Is Rakuten only for online purchases?
This is a bit of a misnomer, no, it’s not just for online purchases. Rakuten is branching out in offering savings in store. However, most savings options are still only available online.
Some retailers offer cashback in the store which is awesome if you’re shopping in a mall or brick and mortar and want to save more. If they do, it will be listed on the store’s page in Ebates. Using Macy’s as an example, you can see they are currently offering 6% cashback online, or 2% cash back in-store.
To qualify for an in-store Rakuten purchase you will need to:
- Link your Rakuten account with the credit card you plan to use in-store
- Link the offer you plan to use to your card
- Shop and then check out using the credit card you linked to your account
Pro tip: Shop in-store, but check out online.
Have you ever purchased something online, such as clothing only to find out it doesn’t fit or the shoes are the wrong size? Sometimes I like to shop in-store FIRST. Leave without purchasing. Then make an online purchase using Ebates later. This is especially awesome if you can get free shipping, use ship to store or pick up in-store.
Take the Macy’s example above. They are offering 6% online and 2% in the store. I’d much prefer to get 6% cashback than 2%. So shop, try on clothes, find the perfect gift. Then leave the store and checkout online and either pick up in-store or have the items shipped to get 4% more cashback!
An easy way to save more, especially if stores are close by or ones you frequent. I do this often with Kohl’s and Old Navy. Try on clothes, leave, order online and use an in-store pickup.
How do you know when you’ve earned cashback?
Cashback will automatically appear in your account typically a few days after your purchase. Sometimes travel booked into the future won’t be calculated until after the travel is over. I receive an email notification that cashback has been added to my account.
You can also go to “My account” and see your current cashback balance. In this example, I see that I recently earned $2.65 and $3.27 from Gap (can you tell I like Gap a lot?).
Earning Double Cash Back (2x)
If you want to cash in, shop at retailers who are offering 2x cashback. On the “Featured” tab of the Rakuten app, there is an option to look at retailers who are offering inflated cashback for a limited time.
You will find this a lot around the holidays. May stores will use an increase in percentage cashback to entice shoppers to spend more at their stores. Not just around Christmas, nearly all holidays.
Rakuten sporadically offers increased percentages throughout the year. They recently had a huge event for their anniversary. Even though the tab says “2x Cash Back” occasionally you can find percentage increases for cashback for more than 2x. See Banana Republic below is 3x cashback.
What if I used Rakuten but didn’t receive cashback?
Rakuten has a very user-friendly app, especially regarding missing cashback. Sometimes for whatever reason, the app does not automatically give you cashback. It hasn’t happened to me often, but I keep a mental note of what I should be receiving cashback on. If cash has not posted within a few days or a week, I’ll try to find my missing cash.
Navigate to “my account” and click on “Missing Cash Back.”
Identify which shopping trip you believe you should have earned cash back but haven’t, and click. A notification window will pop up; click “Contact Customer Service.”
After clicking “Contact Customer Service” a new window will appear where you will type in the order number and subtotal of the order you are missing cashback on. Rakuten will then investigate and likely credit you the cashback. They are typically lightning quick with giving missing cashback.
- Your savings are fully automated – you don’t have to do anything more than simply visit Rakuten.com before you start shopping. Your savings are automatically calculated and distributed to you quarterly.
- The app works in conjunction with all other sales and deals on retail sites. Also, Rakuten awesomely lists deals and promo codes valid for the retail website you’re visiting, so not only does Rakuten give you cashback, but you can find a store promo code to use too!
- Savings are offered online and offline. While more prevalent online, you can use Rakuten in store too with a little pre-planning.
- Rakuten offers a round-up on your quarterly payment of an additional 15% if you cash out for a gift card. I recently received an email that I was about to get paid my quarterly check. Before the cut me a check, they offered me the option to “boost” my cashback up to 15% by choosing an e-gift card instead. Not only can you maximize the dollars further, but you can also have it delivered instantly!
- They have excellent customer service. I have never had any issues receiving money that was due to me by using the app.
Pro tip: If you also get credit card rewards, check the rewards options for the specific website you are purchasing from. Compare the percentage back of your credit card to Rakuten. While I find that Rakuten usually gives me the best deal, use whichever one will give you the biggest cashback. For example, I use a chase credit card and earn points by shopping through their “ultimate rewards mall.” I’ll compare the cashback of the ultimate rewards mall to Rakuten and use whichever is the higher percentage cashback.
- Checks are only distributed once quarterly (every 3 months). So if you spend a lot around Christmas time and have a decent amount of money coming back, it’ll likely be February before you see it. You can’t decide on your own when to “cash-out” it’s on a rotating quarterly basis.
- Rakuten doesn’t work in apps that I’m aware of. When you open the Ebates app and click-through to a retailer, it is the retailers’ website that opens within the Ebates app, even if you have the store’s app on your phone. This may not seem like a big deal but let’s look at Kohl’s as an example. If you connect to Kohl’s Wi-Fi in-store, in many cases they will offer you a promo code or an incentive if you check out on their app.
- For example, I’ve been offered free shipping on my Kohl’s order if I order through the Kohl’s app when connected to Kohl’s Wi-Fi. In this case, because Rakuten automatically opens within the Rakuten app, you wouldn’t be able to use Rakuten and use the unique Kohl’s offer. Probably something you’re not going to run into often but wanted to mention.
- There are some exclusions. Not all stores are on Rakuten. Not all items in your cart qualify, depending. You will see the exclusions when you check out, so you know in advance.
Ebates is a no-brainer way to save additional money, online and even in the store. If you master any one money-saving app, this is the one. It is extremely easy to use, fully automated, and a great way to stretch your money further. Also, another good competitor to Rakuten to keep an eye on is Mr. Rebates.
Have you used Ebates? What’s your experience with this cashback app been? If you’re looking for other ways to save online, discover other money-making apps you should be using today!