Another holiday shopping season is upon us. Black Friday is only a few short weeks away, but the stores, catalogs, and advertising industry are already in full swing, doing their best to separate YOU from as much of your hard-earned money as possible.
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Wouldn’t it be nice if you could get some of that money – YOUR MONEY – back into your pocket?
Are there really hacks I can use to save EVEN MORE money with Rakuten (formerly known as Ebates)?
In one word, YES!
As some of you know, I try to spread my holiday shopping throughout the year. It’s easier on my budget, and it helps me avoid the temptation to (over)spend throughout November and December.
The one exception to this rule is strategically planned “last minute” (for me that means Black Friday and Cyber Monday) deals on specific items. Things like electronics and travel gear, that I KNOW will be on sale around the holidays.
And a key part of this maximize-my-savings strategy is careful, planned use of Rakuten (formerly called Ebates). Because with Rakuten, I can get more money back into my bank account.
Want to know my secrets for making sure I get back every penny I can with Rakuten (formerly Ebates)? Then read on!
Originally published November 11, 2017; last updated November 2023.
Genius Ebates Hacks (Rakuten Hacks) to Save You EVEN MORE This Holiday Season
First things first: Sign up already, if you haven’t!
If you haven’t already jumped on the Rakuten/Ebates bandwagon, there’s no time like the holidays. Rakuten works like this:
- Companies pay Rakuten to get you to shop with them. (This is part of their advertising budget, just like taking out an online or magazine ad.)
- Rakuten then splits this money with you, in exchange for taking a few simple steps to let the company know that you’re shopping there because their Ebates advertising worked.
- The company gets your business, Rakuten gets a commission, and you get a percentage of the money you spent back in your pocket.
- And that’s not in “points” or in “gift cards” that you may or may not be able to use. That’s in the form of a check that gets mailed to you every quarter, that you can then deposit or cash at any bank. Win-win-win!
Why sign up with Rakuten (formerly Ebates)?
I signed up with Rakuten way back in 2012 (when it was still called Ebates), but didn’t start using it much until late 2014. In the three years from then until I first published this post, I made almost $350 back on the money I spent through Ebates links (now Rakuten links). I chose Ebates/Rakuten once upon a time (vs. other similar programs, like the now-defunct Fatwallet) because they offered the most money back.
Plus, it was actual money, NOT points or gift cards! Money back into my bank account. Money that I could then spend on other things (even boring things like paying bills).
So if you’re not saving with Rakuten yet, make this holiday season your year.
How do I sign up?
If you sign up HERE before November 30, and make a total of $40 in purchases within 90 days after signup, Rakuten will give you an EXTRA $40 back in your account, to thank you for signing up!
And if you’re a Canadian resident, click HERE to sign up for Rakuten Canada (Ebates Canada)! When you sign up and spend just $30 before the end of the year, you get an extra $30 cash back when you make your first purchase through Rakuten Canada before the end of the year. Win-win!
Now that you’re enrolled, on to the hacks that will help you save even more with Rakuten (Ebates) this holiday season:
1. Install the Rakuten cash-back buttons on your web browser(s)
Signing up for Rakuten is one thing, but if you don’t remember to activate the little bit of electronic code that lets Rakuten tell the company, “hey, we referred this customer to you, so you owe us $$$ to split with the customer,” then you won’t get any cash back. (This is why I didn’t earn much with Ebates until 2014, when I finally installed the browser buttons!)
Remembering to go to Rakuten first every time is a pain. So Rakuten has made a bunch of browser extensions and buttons you can install. That way, whenever you visit your favorite merchants’ websites, if they’re an Ebates partner, you’ll probably see pop-up in the upper right corner of your browser window. Click on the red “Activate Cash Back” button to “begin a shopping trip,” and you’re on your way.
If you use multiple web browsers (as I do), install this extension on EVERY browser you use. Then you’ll never forget. To install these buttons, go to the Rakuten homepage and click on “help” in the upper right corner. Then select “more features” from the menu at the left side of the page.
After that, click on “Rakuten Cash Back Button.” The next screen will show a bunch of help-related links; scroll down to the one listing the supported browsers, and click on the link for your browser to get to the browser’s add-on installation page.
For users of Rakuten Canada, go to the Ebates Canada homepage , click on “Help Centre” under the “Help” link at the top menu bar on the right, and then look for “Rakuten Button” under the Help Centre sidebar menu.
2. EVERY TIME you visit a company’s website, click on the “Activate Cash Back” pop-up
Once you’ve installed the Rakuten browser extension, a Rakuten savings button should appear automatically for most companies that partner with Rakuten. I just click on the button as soon as I go to the company’s page, even if I think I’m only there to browse. That way, I don’t forget to click on it before checkout.
Note, though, that some companies don’t allow these pop-ups. So if you don’t see the little pop-up in the upper right-hand corner when you visit a company website, look at the little Rakuten button above your browser window and see if there is a number or a tiny exclamation point next to it, which indicates that the company has a cash back offer and/or coupons you can use with Rakuten.
Or you can always just go to the Rakuten site directly (rakuten.com or rakuten.ca) and search for the name of the company you want to shop with. If you have to search for a store manually and its name appears in the search results, just click on it, then click on the big purple “Shop Now” button to activate your shopping trip with Rakuten. (That’s lingo for saying they’ll record your purchase, so you can get your cash back.)
3. Let Rakuten scan coupons for you
This is as easy-peasy as letting the Rakuten pop-up do its thing at checkout time. Once upon a time, using company-offered promo codes would negate your Rakuten cash-back earnings. (Companies usually only allow one promo code per order, and advertising with Rakuten was, like promo codes, part of their advertising budget.)
But many companies have started submitting special deals and coupons to Rakuten to use WITH their cash back! This means you can save even more than ever before by shopping through Rakuten.
You can always browse through the merchants section of the Rakuten website. There you can see what coupons and promos are currently active with a given merchant, if you like. (You can also see this info when you search for a particular store – just scroll down a bit.)
Otherwise, when Rakuten offers to check for special coupons at checkout time, just let it do its thing. If you’re lucky, you might save even more on your Rakuten purchases.
4. Complete your purchase ASAP, while you’re still in that browser – and reactivate your Cash Back as needed
Let’s say you’re a parent with small kiddos at home. You’re trying to finish a Christmas purchase when the baby wakes up from her nap. Or the kids come home from school. Or the phone rings and it’s something you have to deal with. Whatever it is, you’re about to complete your purchase – and next thing you know, a couple of hours have passed.
Or maybe you got otherwise distracted, clicked away from that open browser window, THEN went back to complete your purchase.
If you do this, you will need to REACTIVATE the Rakuten Cash Back button to get your cash back. Otherwise (as I’ve learned the hard way, more than once), it won’t count.
This is easy to do. You can click on the pop-up if it reappears in the top right corner of your browser window. OR, you can click directly on the Rakuten button at the top of your browser. When a Rakuten “shopping trip” is active, the appearance of the Ebates button at the top of your browser changes. For example, in Safari you’ll see a little checkmark next to the “R” when you have an active shopping session:
In Chrome, the button may not change for stores without pop-ups. But if you click on the “activate cash back” pop-up in Chrome, the “R” button will change from being in a purple box (cash back NOT active) to being a blue R with a little blue square around it (cash back active):
Before you finish checkout, ALWAYS MAKE SURE THE RAKUTEN BUTTON IS STILL ACTIVE!
5. Always save your confirmation emails!
Usually companies will send your cash back to Rakuten (and thus back to you) in a timely manner. Especially if you’re careful about following the steps outlined above.
Other times, a company may have a waiting period of up to 30 days. (Sometimes they want to make sure you don’t return your purchase before they fork over the money.) This is particularly true during the holiday shopping season, when cash back bonuses often double.
If the company doesn’t automatically credit your cash back to Ebates, you can request credit for that purchase. But in order to do this, you’ll need to have the purchase confirmation email from the company. This will help Ebates match up your purchase to an open “shopping trip” in their system for that day. Then they will know how much cash back to give you, based on that day’s deal with the company.
So save that email. Put a flag or star next to it, to make it easier to find later on. Then you can go back and request credit if needed.
6. Keep a running list of Rakuten purchases, and check back on it periodically
As noted above, I’ve realized that some companies aren’t as good as others at crediting your cash back to Rakuten.
This especially seems to be a “problem” during the holiday season. (Particularly if you end up making more than one purchase from the same company in a 24-hour period.)
When you sign up with Rakuten, you’ll give them your email address. Then they’ll email you every time you earn cash back. (And also send you lots of shopping advertisements.) Because I don’t want ads, I gave them a “shopping” email that I use to collect things like promotional coupons. I can check that email account for a specific coupon if I want, but the coupons don’t clutter my everyday inbox.
Since I therefore don’t see their regular “cash back” updates after I make a purchase, I login to my Rakuten account every few months. Then I can make sure I’ve gotten credit for all my Ebates shopping trips. If necessary, I follow up with Rakuten through their “Missing cash back” section under the Help menu. (For Ebates Canada, it’s called “Where is my cash back?”)
This is why I keep a running list of my purchases. As a Mac user, I have a Notes file where I do this. But any old text file, or note in your favorite organizing system, will do.
Whenever I purchase through Rakuten, I record the date, company, percentage cash back I’m owed, what I paid, and the order confirmation number.
7. Follow up with Rakuten if you don’t see the Cash Back that’s yours
If my Rakuten Cash Back summary doesn’t show everything on my Sticky, I submit a “Missing Cash Back” request. This is one option you’ll see after you click on the “Help” button at the upper right corner of the Rakuten home screen.
On Rakuten Canada, you’ll want to look for “Where’s My Cash Back?” on the Help page.
To submit a “Missing Cash Back” / “Where’s My Cash Back?” request, you’ll need to enter the store name, purchase date, order confirmation number, and amount spent. Then copy/paste the text from your confirmation email.
With everything but the email in my Rakuten Note file, it’s easy to enter this info, then find the email by date.
Sometimes Rakuten credits my account for the missing cash back immediately. Other times (e.g. if making multiple requests at once, or for larger dollar amounts), it may take a few days. Rakuten investigates your request, then emails you once they’ve credited your account. Every time I’ve followed up like this, I’ve gotten cash back that I otherwise would have missed out on.
So I don’t forget, I usually record the date I request cash back, so I can check back if needed.
8. Plan your holiday purchases strategically, and use Rakuten to help you decide how and when to shop
A lot of merchants now include Rakuten in their holiday marketing plans. This is partly because Black Friday and Cyber Monday are no longer as profitable for merchants as they once were. Therefore, offering you even more cash back through Rakuten is one way to regain your business during the holiday season.
What this means for you is that during the holiday season – especially around Black Friday/Cyber Monday – many companies offer EVEN MORE cash back than usual through Rakuten. Often double their usual rate, if not higher. This means you can save even more.
Even though I try to complete most holiday shopping by November, I know that certain retailers will offer their biggest percentage-off sales of the year during this window. Often in conjunction with their highest Rakuten cash back offers of the year:
And others will raise their Rakuten holiday cash back amounts so high that it makes sense to defer planned purchases (say, a new suitcase for use early in the new year, or purchases to give as Christmas gifts) until this window opens up around Cyber Monday.
Depending on what you want to purchase for holiday gifts, it can even make sense to decide WHERE you’re going to purchase that gift based on your Rakuten returns. A store with a bigger sale may look like the better option on the surface. But if you can save even more when you factor in a higher percentage of Rakuten cash back, you’ll end up with more money back in your pocket.
9. Save time AND money by rethinking everyday purchases with Rakuten
Our local home-improvement chain store is a mile from our house, and halfway between home and school/church. This means I have to drive by there multiple times a week anyway.
But if I need, say, new hardware for a shelving project, I DON’T want to add a long errand into my day. Especially if a) I know exactly what I want but DON’T know which aisle it’s in, and/or b) holiday shopping crowds will slow me down.
So instead of schlepping my kids through the whole store, I order online and request “in-store pickup.” When I’m ordering online, the little Rakuten “activate savings” pop-up reminds me to open an Rakuten shopping trip.
Then my 30-60 minute errand becomes a 10-15 minute one. The store staff pulls my order, and sets it aside at the Customer Service desk. I park in the spots reserved for online order pickup, grab my order at Customer Service, and I’m on my way,
Oh, yeah, and I also score Rakuten cash back on that purchase!
Give it a try. If you already save time with local brick-and-mortars through online ordering, Rakuten will help you also save even more money on every purchase.
And my final genius hack to help you save even more this holiday season with Ebates is a new one:
10. Use Rakuten’s program for saving on in-store purchases
One of the best-kept Rakuten secrets is the option to save money on in-store purchases, not just online ones. (Again, companies use Rakuten to attract customer dollars; Rakuten then splits their percentage with customers via cash back. Since brick-and-mortar stores are struggling to keep up with online merchants, it’s not surprising they now use Rakuten to attract in-store sales, too.)
I admit I still don’t remember to do this as often as I should. But the Rakuten website gives a super tutorial on how this program works. Learn more by clicking “Help” in the upper right corner of the Rakuten home page. From there, enter “in-store cash back” in the search bar, then click on the “In-Store Cash Back FAQ” link.
How about you? Have you used Rakuten to save on holiday purchases (or everyday purchases)? What are your favorite hacks to save even more with Rakuten? Let us know in the comments!
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