If you’re like me, you probably buy stuff online on a pretty regular basis. Linens. Soap refills. Sneakers for the kids. A new computer monitor.
None of this is exciting, per se – it’s just stuff you’ve gotta buy. And if you’ve got a family or kids, you’re probably spending a few hundred bucks a month on these sundry items.
But you may as well be thrifty about it, and earn back a few dollars in affiliate money. Which is why I use Rakuten (formerly known as eBates) for most of my online purchases.
How Does it Work?
Rakuten is basically the OG affiliate portal — the company has been around for 20+ years, and used to be known as eBates. It has agreements with many major retailers — Nike, Macy’s, Sephora, etc — who pay it a commission on sales driven. They then offer you, the shopper, a percentage of the commission when you shop via their link. So, for example, Rakuten will offer you 4% cash back on all purchases made at Nike, but Rakuten themselves will be earning 10% back from Nike itself on the revenue they drive. The rates themselves vary from retailer to retailer — and from week to week — but you’ll typically earn 2% – 15% back at most major retailers.
The Chrome Button
Normally, I don’t like to clutter up my Chrome bar with buttons. But the Rakuten button is great for two reasons:
- You don’t need to start your shopping journey at Rakuten. You can simply go to the retailer itself, and then click the Rakuten button before checking out.
- The dropdown menu will helpfully show promo codes.
The Real Money Maker: Layering Discounts
In the example below, I’m buying a pair of sneakers. But here’s what I do first:
- Sign up for any site newsletters or memberships
- Install the Rakuten Chrome plugin
- Quickly Google for promo codes (or apply whatever Rakuten showed me)
- Shop via Rakuten
So in this case, there’s a 20% off sale for Nike members (free to sign up). So those $100 sneakers get knocked down to $80.
I then shop via Rakuten score another 8% of those $80, saving me another $6 on my purchase.
Now, will these $6 help me retire? Of course not! But if someone came up to you and offered you $6 for clicking a button in your browser on a purchase you were making anyway? It’s literally free money. For doing nothing.
In truth, there are many affiliate sites out there, and most credit card providers and airline rewards programs also have affiliate programs, but for the kinds of stuff I purchase, I’ve found Rakuten to offer consistently high rates.
Flaws but not dealbreakers
Rakuten is great, but there are a few hitches I’ve found:
- Gift Cards: You won’t always earn cash back on purchases made with gift cards. And purchases of gift cards themselves are almost always excluded.
- Long payback period: Rakuten holds onto your cashback for a full three months, which is quite a long time. (fun fact: this holding-onto-cash owed strategy is called a “float.”)
- Promo codes: Sometimes, though rarely, Rakuten won’t award cashback when you use a random promo code you found on another site. This doesn’t happen very often, but there’s no way to tell whether or not you’ll earn cashback until after you’ve made your purchase.
Ultimately, Rakuten provides a super-simple way to make money on purchases you were making anyway. Will you be able to buy a boat with your Rakuten cash? Definitely not. But a bike? Well, now we’re talking…
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