Whenever I hear the phrase ‘free money,’ a little red flag goes up in my head. It should because that’s how we avoid getting scammed.
But sometimes, there are businesses out there that can help you save or earn money by using their services.
Rakuten is an affiliate marketing company that helps you earn cash back by shopping through their site.
Understanding Rakuten’s overall business model can help you feel better about using their site to save money.
What is Rakuten?
Formerly known as Ebates, Rakuten is a cashback site that will give you money for making purchases through their website or by using their browser extension.
Consumers can earn anywhere from 1% to 40% cashback on almost anything purchased through Rakuten. Anyone 18 or older can use Rakuten, and they have partnerships with over 2,500 retailers.
This includes big names like Nordstrom, Walmart, Amazon, Sephora, and Target. Almost anything you would shop for on a regular basis can be eligible for cashback through Rakuten.
The big question surrounding Rakuten is whether it’s a scam or not. Definitively, no. It is not a scam.
So How Does Rakuten Make Money?
Rakuten is an affiliate marketing company. Affiliate marketing is when companies reward influencers for directing consumers to buy from their site or store.
In Rakuten’s case, the retailer pays them a commission when you, the consumer, buy through Rakuten. Rakuten chooses to split this commission with you to incentivize you to keep making your purchases through them.
Ultimately, this is a win-win for everyone!
Once you accrue cashback, Rakuten can pay you in one of two ways. They will either mail you a physical check or send you the balance to a PayPal account.
The only catch is that Rakuten only pays out once a quarter based on the below schedule:
|Purchases Made||Payment Issued|
|January 1 – March 31||May 15|
|April 1 – June 30||August 15|
|July 1 – September 30||November 15|
|October 1 – December 31||February 15|
This payout method can be a bummer if you’re used to instant gratification. They also won’t issue payment if you accrue less than $5 during the quarter.
However, you don’t lose that money from quarter to quarter, so you can always accrue more the next quarter.
Perhaps the most useful feature of Rakuten is their browser extension. It can be a pain to navigate to Rakuten to make all your online purchases. Their browser extension removes that step altogether.
When you download the browser extension, Rakuten can track when you’re on a retail partner’s site. They will create a little popup at checkout to indicate that you’re eligible for cashback rewards. That makes it as easy as clicking a button to earn cashback on your purchases.
In a retail partner’s physical store? No problem.
Rakuten allows for in-store cashback purchases as well. You will need to activate the in-store offer through either the site or the app. You will also need to link your credit card to the system so that it can track your purchase.
Once you make the purchase, the retailer will confirm the purchase and send it to Rakuten. It can take hours or days for the store to confirm your purchase, but you should see the cashback show up in your balance.
The in-store offers are only valid for one purchase, meaning you will need to reactivate it if you plan to make another in-store purchase. It’s a little more complicated than making purchases online, but it’s a way to earn cashback nonetheless.
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Rakuten is entirely free to use. No fees, no hidden costs. Again, because retailers pay Rakuten upfront to refer people to their stores, Rakuten doesn’t charge consumers for the service, which makes it a no brainer from a cost perspective. With Rakuten, it isn’t about how much you pay but rather how much you’re getting back.
Each retail partner of Rakuten varies in the amount of cashback you can earn. Overall, consumers can earn anywhere from 1% to 40%. These cashback percentages vary by retailer and product.
For example, Target may offer 1-5% cashback on overall purchases but 20% cashback on all home and garden products, meaning that you would get more back when you buy garden products through them.
Signing up for a Rakuten account is incredibly simple. All you need to do is provide your email and create a password. You aren’t required to link bank accounts or credit cards unless you plan to redeem in-store cashback.
Eventually, you will need to provide a mailing address or a PayPal account to get your cash back rewards, but you don’t have to worry about them secretly charging your card or anything.
Once you log in, you can search for a specific store or their site for discounts and promotions. Rakuten makes it easy to shop by category, hot deals, double cash back stores, and more.
Once you decide to shop at a particular store, Rakuten will direct you to that store’s site through their site. From there, it is no different than if you had gone to that store’s website originally.
If you don’t want to navigate to Rakuten every time, you can always install their chrome browser extension. The extension will show a popup whenever your purchase is eligible for cashback. You just click the Rakuten button at checkout, and you’re good to go.
If earning cash back isn’t enough, Rakuten boasts a rewards program that can help you earn cash by referring to your friends.
If someone you refer makes a purchase of $25 or more through Rakuten, you earn $5 on your cashback.
Rakuten even offers promotions that allow you to earn $25 for each referral.
Also, they will give $10 to your friends if they take advantage of your referral. It’s a win-win for everyone!
Rakuten will run frequent specials, such as double cash back promotions and hot deals for specific stores or items. You can learn about special BOGO deals, promo codes, coupons, and more. Setting your notifications to alert you to deals can help you keep an eye out.
Rakuten has also recently partnered up with sites like Expedia so that you can get discounts on flights and hotels for vacation. When you book on these sites through Rakuten, you can get cashback on even big purchases like these, which can make going on vacation even better.
Rakuten is a very secure site. They do not require that you enter any payment information to use their services, which is a good sign. The only thing you need to sign up is an active email address.
As far as cybersecurity goes, Rakuten is certified as compliant by the Payment Card Industry Security Standards Council (PCI). It’s a mouthful, but they are essentially a governing body that makes sure sites sufficiently encrypt sensitive data, such as your credit card information.
Rakuten is very candid about how they use your information, though you may want to read the fine print. Rakuten admits to using location tracking to accumulate marketing data that they then sell to a third party.
While you can choose to opt-out of the location tracking, it may limit certain features being available to you. Collecting and selling marketing data is standard practice these days, but it’s something to be aware of if you’re concerned about how companies use your data.
Rakuten’s customer support is pretty limited. They have a help section on their site that you need to scroll to the very bottom to find. Even then, it simply takes you to a knowledge center page with frequently asked questions. They have a contact us page, but this appears to operate on a ticket system. Your
question is funneled down into specifics, and then you are prompted to describe your issue. For the most part, people seem to need little assistance with Rakuten’s services. The most common issues, according to their knowledge center, seem to be tracking your check or checking your cashback balance.
Pros and Cons
Rakuten is a wonderful service, but it definitely has some drawbacks. Let’s review some of the pros and cons of Rakuten.
- Ease of use: Using Rakuten is very self-explanatory. All you have to do is use their site to connect you to the site you would like to shop on. If that’s a step you would rather skip, you can always download their browser extension and save yourself a minute or two. There are benefits to going to the site itself, such as finding hot deals. Either way, using Rakuten is easy as pie.
- Variety of options: No matter what you’re shopping for, odds are you can find it through Rakuten, turning any online shopping purchase into an opportunity to get cash back.
- Cashback: The reason why we’re all here. Getting cashback can help you put more money towards savings or even paying off debt. Even stores that offer only 1% cashback can add up. Some stores offer up to 40% cashback, which can really help you beef up your cashback payout every quarter. Think of all you can do with that extra cash!
- Referral program: Many sites offer referral programs, but Rakuten’s is especially impressive. Offering $5 – $25 on your cashback by making referrals, Rakuten encourages you to spread the news to your friends so that they can start earning cashback too.
- Only pays cashback accruals quarterly: This can be a bummer if you want immediate gratification. Rakuten will also only issue a cashback payment if you have accrued at least $5, which is meant to encourage you to use Rakuten more often. If you don’t meet that minimum by the end of the quarter, you’ll have to wait until next quarter’s payout to get your cashback.
- Encourages impulse shopping: Even though you’re getting cash back, you’re still ultimately spending money. The appeal of cashback can lure people into making hasty online purchases, especially when buying is as easy as clicking a button. Make sure that you’re shopping intentionally and staying within your budget.
- Nearly all stores have products that are exempt from cashback: If you just got excited thinking that you could get cash back on the latest iPhone from Walmart, think again. Almost every store is going to have items that they do not offer cashback on, and these are likely to be their most sought after products.
- Rakuten can permanently disable your account without giving you notice: People have reported that Rakuten disabled their account and did not issue their final cashback check. It is unclear why certain people’s accounts were shut down, but Rakuten specifies in the fine print that they can do this without explanation. This is definitely something to keep in mind when using Rakuten.
Alternatives to Rakuten
When it comes to cashback or discount code sites, you can shop around and find the best deal. Here are some sites and services that are similar to Rakuten:
Capital One Shopping
Capital One Shopping is a browser extension that helps you save money by finding retailers with better prices and applying discount codes to your online purchases.
It scans the internet for better deals and any active discount codes that can be applied to your purchase. If you already have the best price it can find, it will let you know.
Capital One Shopping is a free browser extension and can help you save money with just the click of a button.
Capital One Shopping
Add the Capital One Shopping extension to your Chrome browser, and start racking up the savings with this free online shopping assistant!
SwagBucks is another cashback site that has been popularized in recent years. SwagBucks differs from Rakuten in that they pay in points that can be redeemed for gift cards. They also give you other ways to earn points, such as taking surveys and watching videos. This can cut down on impulse buying and steer you towards other means of earning cashback.
Swagbucks - Easy Online Reward & Surveys
Swagbucks is a legit money-making app where you can make money taking surveys, watching videos, and more.
So, Is Rakuten For You?
Rakuten is the real deal. It is free to join, and anyone over 18 can use their services. You won’t accrue any hidden charges by using them.
They are also accredited by the Better Business Bureau (BBB), which can help ease your mind if you’re still unsure. The holidays are a great time to use Rakuten, but it can also help you earn cashback on things you buy every day.