Update: Ebates officially changed its name to Rakuten in mid-2019. The name change came five years after Rakuten, a large Japanese e-commerce company, purchased the popular rewards site.
You love the idea of saving money when you shop. But you don’t want to spend your valuable time searching for coupons on Google. Who has the time for that?
What you need is a tool that does all the heavy lifting for you when it comes to saving money.
Rakuten might be just the tool you’ve been dreaming about. And if you still want to search for coupons? No problem – they’re stackable with your savings from Rakuten.
This Rakuten review will teach you everything you need to know about this money-saving program, including how to maximize your cash-back.
Rakuten Review: Why I Love This Site
How Does Rakuten Work?
Let’s start with what Rakuten is. You’ve probably never heard of the company, but in Japan, Rakuten is everything. It’s a credit card provider, the nation’s largest online bank, and the main sponsor of the Japanese major league baseball team the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles.
Most importantly for our purposes, it’s a well-known e-commerce brand that’s locked in a tight battle for market share with Amazon’s Japanese division.
How has Rakuten survived and thrived against Amazon while so many other retailers have been trounced? Well, that’s thanks in large part to its wildly popular loyalty program, which rewards shoppers with points.
That’s why Rakuten’s 2014 purchase of Ebates makes perfect sense: the company saw an opportunity to bring its expertise with cash-back shopping and loyalty programs to the United States.
What Does the U.S. Version of Rakuten Do?
Rakuten offers you cash-back deals at a wide range of stores. All you have to do is shop through Rakuten’s online portal when making a purchase.
What that means is that instead of going to a site like Nike.com and buying a pair of shoes, you’ll first go to Rakuten.com and then click a link that takes you to Nike.com. For your few seconds of effort, you’ll be rewarded with big cash-back rates — sometimes to the tune of 10% or more.
Their business model is that many stores, especially online retailers, pay people for sending customers their way. For example, if I send you to Amazon to buy a book via a link from this website, I’ll get a small percentage of that sale.
Rakuten simply splits that commission with you. So you get a bit, and they get a bit. Since this is money you weren’t going to see in the first place, it’s really a win-win situation.
You can use Rakuten from your phone, from a desktop, or even shopping in-store at certain locations.
Here’s a rundown of how it looks.
Say you’re going to buy a new mobile from a desktop computer. You know the type of phone you want — the Samsung Galaxy S8.
Step #1: Sign up for Rakuten
Click join now, and then you can quickly sign up with your email address or through Facebook.
Step #2: Start your online shopping search from Rakuten
Enter the product you’re looking for in the search bar.
Alternatively, if you’re not sure exactly what you want to buy — or just want to go through a specific retailer — you can search for your favorite stores.
Step #3: Click through to a site that maximizes your cash-back
Here are my search results when I look for the Samsung Galaxy S8.
Step #4: Click through to the website of your choice
Last, simply click through to the store that gives you the overall best deal. In this case, Walmart looks like a no-brainer: it’s offering up to 10% cash-back (about $60), and is also the lowest price of all the options.
Once you complete the purchase through this link, you’ll be credited the cash-back in your Rakuten account.
It’s worth mentioning again that this is how the process works on a desktop or laptop computer. The process changes slightly on your phone, although the basic premise is the same. However, it does take a little more effort to use Rakuten for in-store purchases.
To use the in-store feature, you’ll need to tap on the in-store button within the Rakuten app. Then, you’ll have to locate the store you’re going to and tap the button that says “link.”
If this is your first time using the feature, you’ll need to key in your credit card or debit card to link that card to your Rakuten account. While that may make some people skittish about the security of their card details, the information is encrypted. Also, while I’m generally sensitive to those concerns, keep in mind that Rakuten is a large, highly-trusted company with a solid reputation for privacy.
When you see that the card is linked, you’re good to go. You can shop just like you normally would. As long as you pay with your linked card, the purchase will be logged and your cash-back will be added to your Rakuten balance.
Pros and Cons of Rakuten
It seems easy, right? That’s because it is.
Nonetheless, no Rakuten review would be complete without looking at the pros and cons. As with any tool, there are good things and not-so-good things about Rakuten.
Pros of Rakuten:
- It’s incredibly simple to use, even if you aren’t great with technology.
- You get money for shopping as usual – you don’t need to change any of your habits, except for remembering to shop through Rakuten’s online portal.
- The program features thousands of stores, so there are many options for saving.
- It’s free to join.
- You have a variety of options when it comes to cashing out your balance, including a PayPal deposit or a paper check in the mail.
Cons of Rakuten:
- You can’t link all types of debit and credit cards, including Mastercard or Discover, for in-store purchases. You can use Visa and American Express, though.
- They only disburse payments four times a year, although that does allow those payouts to be bigger because they contain three months’ worth of rewards.
- Certain stores only give cash-back in particular shopping categories, not on everything you buy in the store.
Rakuten vs. Swagbucks
There are now more than a dozen cash-back websites around. One of the most popular is Swagbucks.
How does Rakuten stack up to Swagbucks?
Here are a few things to know:
- Rakuten pays in cash, while Swagbucks pays in points that can be redeemed for cash or gift cards.
- Rakuten pays you quarterly. Swagbucks allows you to purchase gift cards starting a $3 and withdraw cash at $25.
- Swagbucks has more ways to earn points (like watching videos and completing surveys), while Rakuten is strictly a cash-back shopping tool.
- Rakuten offers a very generous $25 bonus for referring a friend. Swagbucks offers you $3, then 10% of the points your friends earn.
While these details are helpful to know, what’s most important is to minimize your total cost. And to do that, it’s worth searching both cash-back sites to find the best deal.
Rakuten Review: Tips For Maximizing Your Cash-Back
To ensure you’re getting the most bang for your buck, here are some tips to follow.
- Pay attention to limited-time bonuses. For example, they recently offered 15% cash-back on everything, and 10% cash-back on hotels. That kind of savings can really pay off when you’re booking a family vacation, as you could easily save $100 or more.
- Download the browser extension as well as the app. Once you’ve installed the extension, you’ll see an icon in the upper right corner of your screen. You can click on that icon at any time to check your information, such as how much money you have pending in savings and how much you’ve saved so far. And whenever you visit a website to do some shopping, if there are any Rakuten savings linked to that retailer, the extension will let you know. Then you just press the “activate” button before paying for your merchandise.
- Refer your friends and family. You’ll get a very generous $25 bonus for every friend who signs up and makes a purchase. Keep in mind, they’ll get $10 too. So, it’s an easy win for both of you.
- You can stack your savings with a good cash-back card. My favorite is the Chase Freedom Unlimited or Chase Freedom.
- Sign up for more than one cash-back portal, and then use Cashback Monitor to make sure you’re always getting the absolute best deal available.