What is Ebates? Is Ebates legit? The commercials promise cashback for shopping. Does this online website deliver, or is this just an Ebates scam? I took my own look after a cousin of mine (an extreme couponer) asked if I knew anything about them. So, without further ado, here is my review of Ebates.
Does Ebates really pay cash back? The answer is yes, but it takes time and isn’t as straightforward as it may seem.
Ebates Scam Detector
As always, our first order of business is to sniff around for a possible scam, especially when an offer sounds too good to be true. First up, we check to see if Ebates is not free and is actually a trick to get you to sign up for something that costs money like those free credit score offers that turn into subscriptions for a monthly service with a hefty fee.
Fortunately, Ebates gets a passing score here. In order to sign up, you only have to provide an email address. As always, I recommend using a secondary, or shopping email address. You will get “periodic shopping-related emails” from Ebates and their partners when you sign up. That isn’t bad, but you need to know what you are doing.
During all my clicking around, I was never asked for a credit card number. This is another good sign. If they don’t have your bank information or a credit card number, then they don’t have a way to charge you money. Keep it that way. Don’t enter a credit card number while using the site.
So, what is Ebates all about then?
Is Ebates Legit? Review Time.
Unfortunately, many free things online come with terrible software or other clients that have to be installed on your computer. The Ask Toolbar is one of the worst (if you have this installed, uninstall it right away). Fortunately, Ebates doesn’t require you to install anything. The exception to this is if you want to use the company’s mobile app.
Next up when deciding if something is legitimate is seeing if you can figure out their angle, or how does ebates make money? While it is true that there are hundreds of venture capital backed websites and services banging around Silicon Valley without hope of ever earning a dime, giving away money is a tricky proposition if there is no revenue. As it turns out, Ebates has a fairly straightforward business model.
Whether your know it or not, many online retailers offer a referral fee or commission to websites that send business their way. The user doesn’t have to do anything. Instead the person that publishes the website includes a code in the links you click on. That code tells the retailer where you came from.
Amazon is famous for its Amazon Affiliates program which pays a percentage of purchases to website owners that send buyers to the company. Many of these retailers offer a higher payout for those who send higher volumes of customers. Ebates uses this same model to send customers to dozens of retailers, and then offers part of that referral fee back to its users. They keep the rest of the commission and that is the profit.
There are two tricks involved here that may make it look to some like Ebates is a scam.
First, any online retailer only gives credit to one website for any sale. So, for example, if you visited my website and clicked this link to shop for finance books at Amazon, it puts a cookie on your computer marking you as “my shopper.” For the next 24 hours, if you buy anything from Amazon I get credit for that and make some money. (Not a lot. Don’t worry this doesn’t make me rich 🙂
Here’s the catch. If you go to Ebates after you already have been marked as my referral (or someone else’s) then Ebates would not get credit for your shopping trip, and would obviously not give you any cash back. Even worse, if you have already been to the shopping site, they may also not count you as a referral.
For example, let’s say you go to Barnes and Noble website to look up some books. Then, you remember that you have Ebates, so you go to the Ebates website and click the Barnes and Noble cash back link. Depending upon the agreement between the two companies, that may or may not count as a cash back sale since you were already on bn.com and not actually referred over there. You can make sure that you get full credit by emptying your shopping cart (if you are logged in), and then starting a Private Browsing or Incognito Browsing session, and then going to Ebates first, and clicking through. (Private browsing prevents access to the cookies stored on your computer to track you.)
To avoid these problems, Ebates has certain procedures setup with some of the retailers that avoid this issue. For example, if you manually enter a referral coupon code, then that trumps my earlier automatic cookie that was set on your computer, thus giving Ebates the commission and you money back. However, if you did not use that coupon code, then no cash back. It’s not a scam, but it isn’t as clean as you might imagine.
One final detail about the fine print. Ebates debits your account $2.00 if your account is inactive for 12 months. This helps with accounting because they don’t have to keep track of your $1.32 for years while you don’t use the service. But, it also means that dropping by every few months is necessary to keep your account balance active.
Ebates Payout Timing
The other kind of tricky thing is that your cash back is dependent upon the retailer paying Ebates first; it can take a very long time in some cases, but that isn’t always Ebate’s fault.
How long does it take Ebates to pay cash back?
It appears that Ebates has negotiated its own agreements with many large retailers, so they probably get paid a little faster than us regular website owner types. My affiliate payments usually are added up for a whole month. Then, another month goes by before that amount is actually paid, in part so the company can adjust for any returns or fraudulent sales. If the store doesn’t pay Ebates, Ebates won’t pay you.
Ebates pays out in a similar fashion. Every three months, your purchases are added up, then you get paid a month and a half later. For example, purchases from January 1st through March 31st are counted as one shopping period. Any cash back you earn during this time is then paid out on May 15th. In other words, if you buy something in January, you won’t see a penny until May 15th. There is a minimum payout amount of $5.01, so you won’t get a check for $3.27.
Is Ebates Worth It?
Ebates is not a scam. It’s been around for a long time and it does pay out cash back. The catch is that those Ebates TV commercials make it seem like that Mom is collecting a sizable check on a regular basis. Remember that Ebates only pays out four times per year, after a minimum 45 day delay. Also, it’s easy to be seduced by seemingly large percentages. When you add it up, it takes some serious online shopping to earn much money, and you have to remember to always do it through Ebates.com
For Amazon, Ebates shows 4 percent cash back for most items, although certain specialty categories say “up to 8 percent.” (Always beware the “up to” part of any offer.) If you bought $200 worth of Christmas presents for a freelance writer at Amazon, you would earn $8. If that’s all you end up doing, it isn’t worth it. Even if you buy $200 per month worth of stuff, that’s still only $32 every three months. That’s not nothing, but it hardly, “helps make ends meet,” as the commercial says.
In the end, if you buy a lot of things online, and you are religious about shopping through Ebates, then you can really earn some cash back and make it worth your while. Otherwise, there is certainly no harm in collecting a little bit of money a couple of times a year, just don’t let those visions of thousand dollar payouts every month cloud your judgement.