Cash-back sites have grown in popularity over the years and provide frugal shoppers a powerful tool to save money on their online purchases. Figuring out which cash-back site to use can be tricky, however. There are plenty to choose from and they each offer different advantages and shortcomings. It really depends on the consumer’s situation.
Five primary cash-back sites in particular have emerged and stand above the rest. When breaking them down, it is important to remember that they all offer a unique value proposition. Take a look at the following analysis to learn which program best fits each type of shopper and see which one suits your needs the best.
Founded in 1998, Ebates is one of the oldest cash-back sites in existence. It has built on its pioneering status during the past two decades and had impressive staying power. The site is currently in the midst of a massive promotional push and is looking to establish itself further among the general public by spending significant amounts on TV commercials and other forms of advertising.
The Ebates model is predicated upon simplicity. Users can go through Ebates to shop at any of 1,800 affiliated stores and they receive cash back once they make a purchase. The amount of cash back they receive depends on the store and can change at any time. Essentially, Ebates is paid a commission every time it generates a sale for one of its partner stores and shares some of that commission in the form of cash back to its users.
- Ease of use: By sticking to a straightforward system, Ebates eliminates a lot of the confusion caused by other more complicated cash-back sites. You know what you’ll get back by shopping at various stores through ebates and nothing is required besides you making a purchase.
- Transparency: Ebates’ basic approach to cash back makes it very easy to understand and track what you are earning.
- Broad Coverage: With 1,800 partner merchant credit card processing companies, users have a robust selection of stores from which to choose when looking to get cash back.
- Trusted Brand: A reputation goes a long way in the cash back space and Ebates can credit some of its longevity to its strong customer service. It has an A+ rating by the Better Business Bureau and generally gets good user reviews.
- Slow Redemption: Ebates only sends its cash back payments once every three months, so don’t expect to get paid quickly.
- Minimum Threshold Requirement: You will not start receiving any cash back payments until you have earned at least $5.01 over that three-month period. If you haven’t hit that threshold, you’ll have to wait another three months until you surpass it. Also a negative: “Bonus Rewards” (like those acquired via special promotions such as the tell-a-friend program) don’t count.
- Occasional Lower Cash-Back Rates: Despite its industry-leading status, Ebates does not always offer the best cash-back percentages.
Bottom line on Ebates
For casual shoppers that are interested in getting cash back on their purchases, but don’t want to jump through a lot of hoops, Ebates is an excellent choice. Hardcore deal seekers that desire more flexibility and want their payments more immediately would be wise to look elsewhere.
Launched in the United Kingdom 10 years ago, Top Cashback has quickly ascended since being brought to the U.S. in 2011 and is now one of the nation’s most popular cash-back sites. An aggressive digital marketing campaign has helped the company extend its success stateside, although there are still places where it’s obvious the company is British, such as the spelling of certain words and the fact some links direct you back to their UK site.
Unlike Ebates, which shares its commission with users by giving them some of it as cash back, TopCashback claims to give the entire commission back to its users. This can lead to better rates at times, but can also create some user experience issues, because the site instead relies on banner ads and other types of advertising to make its revenue.
- Huge Store Database: If you thought Ebates’ coverage of 1,800 stores was impressive, you’ll be blown away by TopCashback, which boasts that it covers 3,500 merchants. There are some major retailers like Toys R Us that are not listed on Ebates, but are listed on TopCashback.
- Good Cash-Back Rates: There are certainly instances where Ebates beats TopCashback in terms of its cash-back percentages, but more often than not, TopCashback has some of the best percentages you can find.
- Earn Cash Back Without Buying Anything: Users can answer surveys, sign up for free trials or even perform web searches in order to get cash-back without necessarily having to make a purchase.
- Exclusive Offers: TopCashback provides its users with some increased cash-back rates or special discounts and sale offers that you can’t find elsewhere. There are several of these offers at any one time.
- Doesn’t Always Back Up Its Boasts: Though TopCashback does present several “exclusive offers,” they aren’t always all that special. For example, TopCashback is currently bragging about having an exclusive 6% cashback offer for Sakes OFF 5th, but Ebates actually has 8% cashback for Sakes OFF 5th.
- “Free” Cash-Back Not Really “Free”: As mentioned above, TopCashback does afford its users the opportunity to earn cash back without making a purchase, unfortunately it’s not always clear how that happens. There are multiple instances of supposed ways to earn free cash back on the site that actually require a purchase.
- Intrusive Advertisements: Because TopCashback gets its revenue from advertising and sponsorships rather than from sales commissions, this can sometimes lead to bothersome banner ads and email newsletter advertising.
- Confusing Tracking: TopCashback doesn’t have a scheduled payment system like Ebates. Users can typically see their earnings within 7 days, but aren’t actually given access to the funds until the returns period is over and the retailer has paid TopCashback the commission. The process isn’t always clear and has led to some complaints by users, which may have contributed to the company’s C- Better Business Bureau grade.
Bottom line on TopCashBack
Consumers seeking the absolute best cash-back rates at the widest range of stores will likely prefer TopCashback. Those seeking a higher level of service and a site with a more direct approach and fewer ads will probably be better served elsewhere.
Owned by digital services company Prodege, Swagbucks was introduced in 2008 as a sort of digital currency. Conceptually created as a way for users to earn rewards for engaging with a variety of brands by completing dedicated tasks, the site has continued to evolve and now has a loyal base of dedicated users.
The Swagbucks model is far different than that of Ebates or TopCashback. Rather than just providing a percentage of cash-back on purchases, Swagbucks instead allows users a number of different ways to earn “SwagBucks” that can then be redeemed for gift cards, coupons or even entries into “Swagstakes” (their version of sweepstakes).
- Tons of Ways to Earn: Among the many ways you can earn SwagBucks are taking surveys, watching videos, voting in polls, playing games, deciphering hidden “Swag Codes” (messages buried throughout the site) and searching the web, in addition to shopping.
- It’s Interactive and Fun: Not only are there several methods to acquire points, many of them are actually quite enjoyable. It’s a lot more engaging than more traditional cash-back sites like Ebates or TopCashback.
- Wide Array of Gift Card Redemption Options: Rather than give actual cash back, Swagbucks gives its users “Swagbucks” that can then be cashed in for a huge selection of gift cards or charitable donations.
- Useful Web Browser Extension: Swagbucks has a helpful button that you can attach to most web browsers, which will alert you if the store you are shopping at has a relationship with Swagbucks and offers cash-back.
- Overly Complicated System: By offering so many options to get cash-back, Swagbucks can quickly get overwhelming for new users. It’s not as straightforward and basic as the other traditional cash-back sites.
- Lots of Effort Required: Swagbucks rewards its users for performing a variety of actions, but each of those actions take up time. It’s not as simple as just buying items and getting cash back sent in the mail a few months later.
- No Actual Cash Given to Users: While there are plenty of gift cards to choose from through the site, Swagbucks does not give its users cold hard cash, so for shoppers seeking actual cash back, Swagbucks might not be the best choice.
- Questionable Customer Service: Though Swagbucks’ parent company Prodege does have an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau, there are many complaints of unresponsive customer service on forums across the web.
Bottom line on SwagBucks
For shoppers that want a lot of avenues to get cash back (in the form of gift cards) and are seeking a more game-like experience, then Swagbucks is ideal. If a shopper just wants to get some cash-back on purchases with no other hassle involved, then it is probably not the best option.
This year was InboxDollars’ 15th anniversary as it was started in the year 2000. Over the course of the past 15 years, InboxDollars has expanded internationally in Canada and the UK as well as bought out rival SendEarnings to create a bigger empire. Originally focused specifically on email as its name would suggest, InboxDollars now also allows users to start earning cash back by taking surveys, playing games, searching the web, watching video ads and shopping online.
InboxDollars is very similar to Swagbucks in how it operates with one notable exception: They do have the option to pay cash back rather than gift cards. This is the one way in which InboxDollars functions more like Ebates and TopCashback than it does Swagbucks. There are no credits/points (Swagbucks), but instead just cash amounts given for each action taken.
- A Slew of Cash-Back Activities: Like Swagbucks, InboxDollars gives cash back for playing games, taking surveys, searching the web, listening to the radio and watching video ads. The one thing that makes InboxDollars unique is that it also pays cash back to users that agree to receive and read “PaidEmail” emails from sponsor partners.
- Clearer Compensation: By giving actual cash as opposed to points, InboxDollars does a good job of showing exactly what will be gained by performing each action. For example, it’s made plainly obvious that participating in a poll in which you choose between Coke or Pepsi will give you 75 cents.
- Actual Cash Back: Users can choose to get their cash back in the form of a check, a visa gift card or an InboxDollars eCard, which is basically a voucher card that can be used at a limited selection of retailers and non-profits.
- Coupons.com Integration: Another thing that differentiates InboxDollars from its rivals is its partnership with Coupons.com. This enables users to get manufacturer coupons and even earn 10 cents every time one is redeemed.
- Navigation Issues: Though InboxDollars does provide a wide range of methods to earn cash back, it doesn’t make it very easy for the user to understand how to do that. One example is that when you go to the FAQ section, it only explains how the email cash back works but fails to mention anything about all the other alternatives.
- Unappealing User Interface: The InboxDollars web site is not exactly what you would call attractive. The design feels like a relic from the early 2000s and on many pages there are large ads, including one that rotates constantly and causes distraction.
- Significant Minimum Threshold: In order for a member to get his/her first cash-back payment they must have at least $30 in their account and that’s not including a $3 processing fee that InboxDollars charges every time you cash out. Even when you do reach the $30 level, payment is not automatic, it must be requested on the site, and the first payment takes up to 16 days to get processed (it is faster subsequent times).
- Email Overload: For shoppers that hate a cluttered inbox, then this program is not necessarily a good fit. Expect to receive lots and lots of advertising emails from InboxDollars after registration. Of course, the plus side is that you do get cash back for reading them.
Bottom line on InboxDollars
InboxDollars certainly has its enthusiasts and users that want to complete a ton of tasks that will earn them a few cents at a time will enjoy the site. Those seeking a quick payout and not interested in getting a bunch of advertising emails should look elsewhere.
A more recent entry into the cash-back scene, Dealspotr is a pretty unique take on a rewards site. Dealspotr is a hybrid of a coupon community mixed with a rewards / cash-back system. As a member on Dealspotr, your goal is to help other shoppers save money by posting good deals and coupons, and you get rewarded for doing that. The site is sort of a “Wikipedia for deals” in which the members curate the site, but they earn gift cards for participating.
Unlike the aforementioned sites, Dealspotr bases its cash-back program on community participation rather than purchasing items or completing various tasks. Users earn “Karma Points” for posting deals and coupons to the site that they’ve recently found or used and those Karma Points can then be redeemed for Amazon gift cards. Users also earn points for verifying whether a deal worked or not as well as for leaving helpful comments, among other things.
- No Purchase Necessary: Whereas traditional cash-back sites like Ebates force their members to buy something before they can earn any cash back, that is not the case with Dealspotr. Members can get Amazon gift cards just for sharing and talking about deals.
- User-Friendly Layout: Dealspotr has an intuitive design that provides straightforward navigation and several advanced tools so users can easily track their progress and activity, making for an excellent experience for the user.
- Quick and Easy-to-Reach Payouts: There is no months-long or even weeks-long wait for Dealspotr users when it comes to getting their cash back. Dealspotr delivers its Amazon gift card rewards in a matter of days after redemption. In addition, active users can usually earn enough Karma Points to get their first cash-back reward after just a few days of activity, if not sooner.
- Strong Community: The fact Dealspotr relies on its users to post, verify and add comments to deals leads to a much higher level of quality. Community members are very welcoming of new users and do an outstanding job of giving feedback and helping new users understand how best to post deals, while also moderating the site for bad deals.
- No Mobile App: The Dealspotr web site works very well on mobile devices, but that still doesn’t entirely make up for the fact that it lacks a mobile app. This is coming in the future, but for now it’s an area in which Dealspotr is lacking compared to the other sites.
- Payouts Limited to Amazon Gift Cards: Currently, Dealspotr only gives its rewards as Amazon gift cards. There are plans to allow users more cash-back options, but at present it is the most limited in this area.
- Targeted Mostly at Deal Hunters and Couponers: Considering that the essential actions on Dealspotr revolve around posting deals, verifying deals and providing valuable feedback and comments about deals; the site is likely to be less appealing to users that aren’t especially interested in deals.
- New Site With Frequent Site Updates: Due to its youth, Dealspotr often rolls out updates and enhancements and regularly adds new features. As a result, users have to get accustomed to frequent change.
Bottom line on Dealspotr
Dealspotr is a great tool for hardcore deal seekers and casual shoppers looking for a quick coupon. It really allows both of those audiences to help each other. Users that just want straight cash-back for purchases or want to get credit for taking surveys and watching video ads could get more from another site.