[This rakuten review may contain affiliate links at no cost to you]
Rakuten review – easy cash back or too much hassle?
There’s so many cash back websites out there these days. They come in all forms from coupons to portals. In this review, I wanted to tackle one of the more popular ones, Rakuten.
After all, online shopping is awesome and getting cash back is awesome too so why not use them? I’m totally on board with that idea. However, I’ve tried a bunch but I never found one I really liked.
They kinda sorta work but in the end, a lot of them just prove to be a pain in the butt. You have to wade through a bunch of hoops to get your reward and half the time it doesn’t even register. Why bother?
When one of my friends suggest I try Rakuten, I wasn’t all that excited but I figured I’d give it a try.
Now that I’ve used it for a few months, I can ask myself. Is Rakuten different? That’s what I’ll try to answer in this Rakuten Review.
What is Rakuten?
Rakuten(formerly known as Ebates) is a website and app that provides discount and cash back opportunities. It is one of the most popular cash back sites and has been around since 1999.
Rakuten develops relationships with affiliate networks that in turn have relationships with online retailers. The affiliate networks pass on a certain commission for any sales Rakuten drives and Rakuten passes a part of that cut onto you, the customer.
In simple terms, companies pay Rakuten in order to drive sales to their platform. Rakuten then gives you a portion of that in cash back rewards.
On top of that, Rakuten is also a coupon portal which can automatically scour the internet for coupons and apply them to your order.
You’ve probably clicked an affiliate link in your lifetime. Most websites, including this one, will link to certain websites in order to get a portion of any sales that occur when a user clicks that link. Rakuten essentially works in the same format but on a much larger scale. They have relationships with dozens and dozens of affiliate networks and can potentially negotiate better discounts on behalf of their users.
That means that the potential affiliate cut can be larger and they can pass on more money to the end user.
How does Rakuten Work?
Rakuten is a wide and varied business these days but I’m mainly concerned with the cash back aspect that it offers. I’ve tried a variety of cash back websites or apps in the past and found them to be too much effort for the rewards offered.
One good example is iBotta which I just found too limited in the rewards it offered me. If you enjoy clipping coupons and shop at certain stores, it may be awesome. However, I hated having to wade through various pages of items to manually add coupons one by one at stores I rarely used. The effort just wasn’t worth it and 99% of the items weren’t ones I bought.
When I started using Rakuten, I wondered if I’d have the same experience.
Signing up is really easy. You just jump on the website or the app and sign up with an email.
One good thing about Rakuten is that they have a pretty good bonus just for joining. Those who sign up and spend $20 using this link get $20 cash back.
That made joining easier for me since even if I didn’t like it, I’d get a bonus rather easily.
Rakuten’s core offering is the cash back you can get by shopping through their portal.
If you start your shopping experience through Rakuten, you’ll be eligible for cash back rewards that vary based on the stores you visit. For the most part, the rewards are a simple % of purchase made which is what drew me to the platform. The reward is clear and easy to understand.
For example, shopping via Rakuten at Walmart may reward you with 1% cash back. Other rewards can be much higher and I’ve seen rewards in the 15% range on some of the more niche stores. This can really add up if you do a lot of shopping online.
How to Use Rakuten
After you sign up, there are three main ways to shop.
The first is to start on the Rakuten home page and click a link through there.
The good thing about Rakuten is that the main page is clear and easy to read. It’s not cluttered and it does a good job of highlighting the stores that have a special deal going on. You see often times certain stores will have double cash back which is nice to see in a centralized location.
However, I rarely use this as a starting point since I want my cash back to be as easy as possible. That’s where option #2 comes in to play.
Rakuten has an extension you can download and install into your browser. This cash back button will sit in your browser and give you a friendly tap when you’re browsing a shop front that has a discount.
The message pops up in the top right corner for your browser. It’s simple, not obtrusive and allows you to click a button to activate the cash back or click activate later if you want to hide it. The nice thing about this is that hitting activate later will hide the message for the entire visit. I like that kind of measured approach from the company. I half expected the pop up to bother me every second page but it’s a one and done type situation.
For me, this has been my preferred method of using Rakuten. Since signing up, I’ve rarely visited their main web page and just activate cash back when it appears at stores I’m utilizing. It’s as simple as that.
I can forget about it and be gently reminded when I’m shopping for something that may have a discount. On top of that, the rakuten cash back button will also find promo codes for you when available and apply them automatically. That’s double the savings. It’ll also let you know in any google searches if a store has a cash back offer. Overall, those are some nice quality of life features.
The third way of using Rakuten is via the app on your phone. This isn’t as automatic as the above as it requires you to visit the app to start your shopping trip. However, certain offers are only available via the app. For example, right now I can get $0.25 cash back for each ride I get from Lyft as long as I start the ride from the Rakuten app.
The app also has a variety of offers for things like restaurants as long as you pay with a card linked through the app. You can even get cash back for shopping in store via a linked card as well. Do people still do that? Shop in stores?
Honestly, I’ve rarely used the app since I do most of my shopping on my desktop in my pajamas but it’s there for those that shop on their phone a lot(or eat/shop out a lot).
Now for the big question, how’s the store selection? After all, cash back is great but if you never use it because there’s 3 stores, what’s the point?
The Rakuten Offering
Luckily, Rakuten partners with over 2500 stores so the selection is broad and wide.
I’ve used the cash back offering on Amazon, Target, Vitacost, EBags and J.Crew Factory personally. However, Rakuten has something for everyone.
Here’s a selection from their recommended store listing from today.
You can see that even big names like Kohl’s and Walmart are there on top of Amazon and Target.
If you don’t have the extension installed and are starting on the website, you’d hit shop now under Kohl’s to visit the website with your 3% cash back activated.
You can also click on the Kohl’s name to get a sense of what’s on offer as well.
Rakuten will list the available cash back and a variety of the coupon codes available as well. Again, if you have the Rakuten extension installed, all of this will automatically be turned on as soon as you visit the website and click activate cash back.
Here’s what I see when I visit the Kohl’s home page. I can just hit activate 3% cash back and shop to get my 3% credit in the future without having to jump through any additional hoops.
Another neat part of Rakuten is that they often do double cash back deals in certain stores. The patient customer can really hit it big if they’re looking for a certain store.
As you can see, the cash back can actually be quite significant with double digits offers existing.
From time to time, they’ll have flash sales as well which are short window specialized offerings. I’ve seen numbers as high as 15% which is a significant amount of cash back to get. These aren’t too common but they do often pop up during days like Cyber Monday or Black Friday where Rakuten really goes all out in offering deals.
In fact, one of my biggest purchases using Rakuten happened during one of those boosted days where Ebags offered a 12% cash back reward. That’s a good bump over their normal 5%.
Is Rakuten a Scam?
At the end of the day, all that matters is whether the cash back is real or not.
In the case of Rakuten, it’s definitely real. I’m not a big spender but I’ve already accrued $48.41 in cash back since I signed up in August.
My biggest rewards have come from Priceline(yes, they even have cash back offers for travel) for $13.96 and $27.57 for Ebags.
The Ebags reward was a real win for me since we were just about to buy the backpacks at REI then I looked online and saw that Ebags offered them at a slightly reduced price. Imagine my surprise when I got home, went to the website and saw the 12% cash back sign pop up. It was great!
I’ve already gotten my first payment via Paypal and am waiting for my second. If you don’t have Paypal, they’ll also send you a check. Note that the numbers above do not include my sign-up bonus which came to me in the form of a Walmart gift card for some reason. That means I’ve already gotten $58.41 in cash back which is a great win for pretty much doing nothing.
From a reliability standpoint, the company has been around for twenty years and have more than 10 million members signed up with largely favorable reviews and I think I’m starting to see why.
From a cash back standpoint, this is the first one I’ve found that actually works as advertised.
The best part about it is that it’s very easy to use once you install the extension and essentially make the cash back automatic.
However, that doesn’t mean Rakuten is without its concerns.
Rakuten Review – The Negatives
If I’m reviewing something then I have to talk about the negatives too right? There are a few things I don’t like about Rakuten.
I don’t believe they use any of this information for nefarious means so I’m not worried about it but just an FYI in case you’re the private type.
Another negative is that the rewards can be a bit unpredictable. It was great that I caught the Ebags sales when it was at 12% but you may have just bought it at 5% and missed out. The rewards you get can vary day to day and can often disappear as well. It’s hard to tell when things go on offer but if you’re patient, you can snag a good deal especially if it’s during a flash sale or a double cash back day.
Another one that I mentioned above is that certain things won’t qualify. You may think it’s great that Walmart is offered at 5% but that’s only for certain categories. Pet supplies are 5% today but electronics are only 1% and certain items may not qualify at all. Still, that’s a minor complaint since 1% is better than 0% but the simple nature of an overall cash back % is nice instead of varied numbers for different categories.
Timing of the cash back credits can be another problem. It’s not something you get right away. You activate the cash back, make the purchase then you wait and wait for the store to actually confirm that purchase. Sometimes, it may take weeks before your cash back is credited to our account. It seems to depend on the store as some are faster than others.
The payouts themselves also happen on a quarterly basis so it’ll be a while before the cash back hits your paypal account once approved. Here’s their payout schedule.
It’s a long wait for something you bought in January but hey it’s free money so who am I to complain.
I’ve also had one situation where I went through all the steps but the payment never posted. However, Rakuten made it easy to contact them with the shopping trip number and had the cash back in my account in a few days. I’ve not run into any issues yet with cash back not appearing at all and not getting credit when contacting Rakuten but I’m sure those situations do happen. That’s a common complaint of any cash back website.
However, as far as I’ve seen so far, Rakuten does well in actually crediting your cash back even if you have to contact them for it once or twice.
Still, it’d be better if it worked 100% of the time! Why can’t you be perfect Rakuten!
Rakuten Review – Final Thoughts
Overall, I’m a big fan of Rakuten. I went in with low expectations given my experience in the world of cash back apps and was pleasantly surprised.
The main reason is that it’s damn simple and pretty much automatic. You install the browser extension and you’re off to the races. I don’t want to have to do work to save money and with Rakuten, I don’t.
That may sound lazy but the reality is that for most people, things have to be simple and quick to be of value. With a lot of other cash back apps, I was spending 30 minutes to save $3. That’s not a good return on my time investment. Here, it literally takes me 5 seconds to click activate cash back.
Now, any time I visit a store that has a Rakuten partnership, I get the option to activate cash back and save money. It’s as simple as that and I love it. The best part is that the cash back window is small and unobtrusive and leaves me alone as soon as I close it. You can’t beat that.
Plus, I get coupon codes automatically applied to save me even more money. That’s a lot of good stuff in one product offering. And best of all, it’s all free!
On top of that, the variety of stores is impressive. It has all the big hitters and they seem to add more all the time. Sure, some websites like Amazon or Walmart are limited to certain categories but the cash back on some of the smaller websites can really add up.
The best part is that you can also stack it with other rewards. You know my Ebags purchase? I also had an American Express get $25 back if you spend $100 offer in place. That means a $230 purchase at the store went to ~$150 online.
There’s a reason more people are drawn to online shopping and things like Rakuten certainly help.
Yes, there are a few negatives as mentioned above.
However, in the end, Rakuten is free, reliable and easy to use. Most importantly, it works and gets you cash back.
You can’t beat that combination.
There’s one thing to remember. If cash back websites cause you to spend more they might not be that great for you. However, if you’re using it at stores and for things you were already going to buy, it’s a big win for you.
If you’d like to sign up and get your $20 reward after spending $20 using Rakuten, sign up here.
Psst, here’s some tips for those who made it to the end.
- Definitely Install the browser extension. It’s huge in making this work well as it essentially makes everything automatic.
- Check out the app if you eat out a lot or use a lot of phone apps like Lyft, you can find some unique cash back offers there.
- Check out CashBackMonitor if you’re making a big purchase. There’s a lot of cash back places out there and you may find a better offer somewhere else. However, personally, I’m too lazy to deal with ten different things so I usually stick with Rakuten now.
- Stack the deals with sales and other offers. Have a credit card? Often they have offers you can stack with Rakuten. On top of that, Rakuten offer has great cash back bonuses during big sales days like Black Friday or Cyber Monday. 15% cash back on top of a 50% sale is real nice. Here’s some other tips to save money during the holiday sales season.
Happy shopping and let me know what you think about Rakuten or whether this Rakuten Review missed anything.