Rakuten is a cash-back shopping app and website that has gained immense popularity among frugal shoppers thanks to its high rates and seamless user experience.
In fact, one of the editors here at The Ways To Wealth has earned more than $1,000 by using Rakuten consistently since 2019:
Our Rakuten review will give you an in-depth look at how the platform works, including its features, its pros and cons, and how it compares to other cash-back apps.
Rakuten is a popular cash-back app and website known for its consistent tracking, higher-than-average cash-back rates, and an extensive list of more than 3,500 partnered stores. Users can redeem rewards for cash or American Express Membership Rewards Points, and the platform offers attractive sign-up bonuses and frequent limited-time deals. The biggest downside is that Rakuten only pays out rewards quarterly. Overall, Rakuten is one of our top-rated cash-back apps. And with the attractive $30 sign-up bonus, it’s worth joining today.
Our Favorite Rakuten Features
These are some of the key things that make Rakuten stand out when compared to other cash-back sites and apps.
- Consistent cash-back tracking. In our extensive testing, Rakuten has accurately tracked nearly 100% of our transactions. You can even see a three-month history of your shopping trips, including whether or not you were credited with cash-back.
- Easy dispute resolution. In the handful of instances when we did not receive the expected cash-back for a given shopping trip, we were able to use the “Missing Cash-Back” feature to report the problem. In every single case, we were instantly credited the missing amount.
- High overall cash-back rates. We found Rakuten to have higher-than-average cash-back rates.
- Extensive store selection. Rakuten outshines many competitors with over 3,500 participating stores, including both popular retailers and many smaller online brands.
- Earn cash-back or American Express Membership Rewards Points. While many cash-back sites limit you to getting gift cards, Rakuten pays in either cash or American Express Membership Rewards Points (a great perk for American Express cardholders).
- Attractive $30 sign-up bonus. This is the highest guaranteed sign-up bonus available (and is only available through referral links). Note that to get this bonus, you must spend $30 within 90 days of signing up.
- Limited-time deals and extra cash-back. Rakuten often runs special promotions, such as 20% cash-back at 300+ stores on Cyber Monday in 2022.
Here are a few potential downsides of using the Rakuten cash-back app and website.
- Quarterly cash-back payouts. Rakuten’s payout schedule operates on a quarterly basis, with specific payout dates for purchases made within particular timeframes. Consequently, if a purchase is made early in the quarter, you might have to wait up to 120 days to receive your payout. For example, purchases made between January 1st and March 31st will be paid out on May 15th. You cannot withdraw your earnings on-demand.
- You can’t use the merchant’s app when shopping on your phone. If you want to get cash-back while shopping on your mobile device, you’ll need to use the Rakuten app. The app loads the merchant’s website, but that doesn’t always offer the same features as the merchant’s own app.
- Does not always have the best cash-back rates. Although Rakuten often provides competitive cash-back rates, it doesn’t always offer the absolute best rate for every purchase (nor do they guarantee, like some competitors, that they have the best rate available).
- Limited in-store shopping partners. Rakuten’s selection of in-store shopping partners is small (fewer than 100 at the time of publication), and doesn’t include many major national retailers (with Walmart being a notable exception). If you primarily shop in-store and want to maximize your cash-back rewards, you may need to use other apps or loyalty programs alongside Rakuten.
How Rakuten Compares to Alternatives
Here’s how they compare:
|Feature||Rakuten||Swagbucks||Capital One Shopping|
|Summary||Cash-back shopping.||Cash-back shopping and online rewards.||Rewards for shopping and online coupon finder.|
|Other ways to earn||None.||Surveys, videos, games, offers, referrals.||None.|
|Payout methods||PayPal, paper check, Amex points.||PayPal and gift cards.||Gift cards.|
|Sign-up bonus||$30 after spending $30 in 90 days.||$10 after spending $25 in 30 days.||None.|
|Mobile app||Yes.||Yes.||Yes, but limited.|
|Review link||Swagbucks Review||Capital One Shopping Review|
To highlight some of the reasons why one app may be a better choice for you than the others:
- Earning opportunities. Swagbucks offers a more diverse range of earning options than Rakuten and Capital One Shopping, including watching videos, playing games and completing offers. This makes Swagbucks appealing if you’re looking for multiple ways to earn money.
- Cash-back rates. Rakuten tends to offer higher cash-back rates than Swagbucks and Capital One Shopping for certain merchants and categories. This makes Rakuten an attractive option if you’re focused on maximizing cash-back rewards, particularly with online shopping.
- Price comparison and coupons. Capital One Shopping excels at helping you find a lower price and coupons when shopping online. However, its mobile app offers limited functionality, which might be a downside for some users.
- Payout frequency. Rakuten pays users quarterly, while Swagbucks and Capital One Shopping allow for more frequent redemption of earnings. If you prefer to access your rewards more often, Swagbucks or Capital One Shopping might be a better option.
What Is Rakuten?
While you may not be as familiar with Rakuten in the United States, it’s a major company in Japan, where it operates as a credit card provider and mobile payment processor, the largest online bank in Japan, and even the main sponsor of the Japanese major league baseball team the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles.
More importantly, Rakuten is a prominent e-commerce brand, competing closely with Amazon’s Japanese division for market share. A key factor in Rakuten’s success is its popular loyalty program that rewards shoppers with points.
Rakuten’s 2014 acquisition of Ebates was a strategic move to leverage its expertise in cash-back shopping and loyalty programs in the United States. By combining these strengths, Rakuten has positioned itself as a formidable cash-back and loyalty rewards player.
How Does Cash-Back Shopping on Rakuten Work?
Rakuten offers you cash-back deals at various stores. All you have to do is shop through the online portal when making a purchase.
That means that instead of going to a site like Nike.com and buying a pair of shoes, you’ll first go to Rakuten.com (or open the Rakuten app) 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 as much as 10% or more.
Their business model is that many stores, especially online retailers, pay people to send 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.
Importantly, you do not pay more when you use Rakuten.
Here’s a step-by-step rundown of how it works, using the example of shopping for a specific smartphone (a Samsung Galaxy S8) from a desktop computer.
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 unsure 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.
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. (Purchases at some stores credit instantly, while those at other stores can take a day or more.)
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 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.
You’re good to go when you see that the card is linked. 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.
Tips For Maximizing Your Cash-Back With Rakuten
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 cash-back you have pending and how much you’ve earned so far. And whenever you visit a website, if there are any Rakuten offers 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 bonus, which ranges from $10 to $40, for every friend who signs up and makes a purchase.
Rakuten is 100% legit. As noted in the intro to this article, we’ve saved over $1,000 using the platform in a little over three years. We have never had a problem with missing cash-back or lack of payment.
Aside from the fact that using Rakuten takes a little bit of extra time and effort, the biggest “catch” is that you’re sharing your online shopping data with the company. That said, Rakuten is a large, trusted company with an excellent reputation, and it does not have access to your payment details — only whether you made a qualifying purchase (and the amount of the purchase) during a shopping trip.
No. The IRS views cash-back as a form of rebate/savings, and you’re not responsible for reporting it as income or paying taxes on it.
Unfortunately, no. Amazon used to offer cash-back in limited categories (mostly on Amazon devices like Kindles), but the partnership ended. Drop Rewards is one of the only cash-back apps we’ve found that works on the site, though there are some other good ways to save money on Amazon that are worth checking out.
Rakuten Review: Summary and Final Verdict
If you’re seeking a comprehensive cash-back app to maximize your rewards while shopping, Rakuten is an excellent choice.
Whether you’re an occasional shopper or a dedicated bargain hunter, Rakuten offers features and benefits tailored to your needs.
Rakuten boasts consistent tracking, high cash-back rates, and an extensive selection of over 3,500 participating stores. With a great sign-up bonus and frequent limited-time deals, it’s worth downloading today.
While the quarterly cash-back payouts and limited in-store partners may be drawbacks for some, Rakuten remains a top-rated cash-back app that’s perfect for enhancing your overall shopping experience and savings.
*Capital One Shopping compensates us when you sign up for the service using the links provided.