Do you like getting cash back whenever you shop online?
So do I.
Whenever I shop online, the first thing I do is see if the website I am shopping on offers any cash back savings.
Just as you might pay for any online purchase with a particular rewards credit card to get the most airline miles or cashback, online shopping portals help you get an additional cash reward.
The only reason they might not be as popular is that most people do not know how cash back apps work. Here is a closer look at how to save money on most online purchases.
TLDR: My Two Favorite Shopping Apps
My two favorite cash back sites are:
- Rakuten (formerly Ebates): Extremely easy to use, great customer support , and $5.01 redemption minimum
- TopCashback: Tends to have higher offers than Rakuten, no cash out minimum, but slightly harder to navigate
(I might earn a small commission from clicking on either of the preceding links and make a qualifying purchase. A huge thank you in advance if you do. Of course, you will earn a bonus as well if you make a qualifying purchase.)
There are many other rewards prgorams to choose from, like through your credit card or airline frequent flier program. But these two offer really good reward rates and have a wide selection of participating vendors.
How Do Online Shopping Portals Work?
To earn additional savings, you need to activate the shopping portal to track your order. If you purchase directly from the retailer without first interacting with the shopping portal your purchases will not earn any cash rewards.
Here is a step-by-step guide to earning your cash back savings:
- Visit the shopping portal app, website, or browser extension
- Choose the store you want to shop at
- Click the “Shop Now” button
- New browser tab will open to begin the tracked shopping session
- Complete purchase within that window to earn cash back on all qualifying items in your cart
Portals like Rakuten and TopCashback will reward you with cash back several times through the year. Other portals that might be operated through your credit card, airline, or hotel program will reward you with additional loyalty points.
For example, shopping online at Wal-Mart has a 2% reward rate. Using Rakuten will give you cash back ($2 on a $100 purchase), but using the Alaska Airlines shopping portal will give you 2 frequent flier miles.
Personally, the rewards portals tend to offer better cashback rates than the credit card shopping malls.
Note #1: Affiliate links are in this post for Rakuten, TopCashback, and Capital One Shopping.
Note #2: I originally wrote this post in 2016 but it receives periodic updates.
Best Online Shopping Apps
Here are my favorite shopping apps that I use to get cash rewards on almost every online purchase.
Rakuten (Formerly Ebates)
I have in-depth Rakuten review that tells more about this extensive online shopping portal.
For now, here are the highlights:
- Earn cash back at over 2,000 online stores
- Over 30 brands offer in-store cash back too (i.e., Old Navy, Dick's Sporting Goods, etc.)
- $5.01 cash out minimum
- You can receive quarterly payments
- Cash, check, or gift card rewards
- Amazing signup bonus: Get $30 on your first $30
Some retailers pay up to 40% cash back (usually magazines websites), but most retailers pay between 1% and 6%.
Amazon and eBay are the exceptions and are very selective on what earns a reward, especially Amazon. But these restrictions are for every portal and not just Ebates.
Plus, if you are in the market for a credit card. Rakuten also has a cash back credit card that pays 1% on all non-Rakuten purchases and 3% on all Rakuten purchases (in addition to the regular cashback rate).
Rakuten is free to join and pays a $30 bonus after making your first qualifying purchase. Cash back rewards are paid on a quarterly basis after earning $5.01 in cash rewards can be paid via PayPal or a “Big Fat Check.”
Rakuten Browser Button
The hardest part about earning cash back is remembering to activate the shopping session. This is why I installed the shopping portal browser buttons on my computer.
Each time I visit a site like Walmart, Kohl's, etc., the extension lets me know how much I can earn. I click the browser button and the shopping session is instantly activated.
Admittedly I was hesitant to add this button. I don't like “clutter” on the computer screen, but, this is one tool I use.
Plus when I do a Google search, it will also show the Rakuten cashback rate in the search results as well.
What I Like About Rakuten
- Wide selection of retailers to earn cashback from
- Free to join
- $5.01 redemption minimum
- In-Store rewards & credit card are great options for the “Ultimate Shopper”
- Browser Button lets you know when a site offers cashback & allows you to “surf” retailers without having to visit the Ebates website
- Displays additional coupon codes or promo codes for merchants.
- Comes in handy for sites like Shutterfly or first-time purchases at other online retailers
What I Dislike About Rakuten
- Doesn't always have the highest cash back rates (why I use Giving Assistant as well)
- Quarterly payments (even if you meet the payment minimum earlier)
- Minimal gift card options
I tend to find the highest cashback rates for the stores I shop at with TopCashback.
TopCashback highlights include:
- Cashback at over 4,000 online stores
- Regular bonus shopping offers (i.e., spend $10 and get $2.50 extra)
- No redemption minimum
- Cash and gift card payouts
- It's free
- Mobile app and Chrome browser extension
- Signup bonus: $10 bonus cash when you earn $10 in shopping rewards
In addition to the higher rates, I like that you don't have a payout minimum.
For example, you can cashout by PayPal or gift card with a $1 minimum if you wish.
Select gift cards also have a redemption bonus, so you get 5% more cash, for example.
What I Like
- No redemption minimum
- Many cash and gift card options
- Periodic bonuses and contests for bonus cash
- Many online shopping partners
What I Dislike
- Slow customer service for missing cashback
- Signup bonus can take several purchases to earn
Capital One Shopping (previously Wikibuy)
Capital One Shopping is best for comparing prices so you spend the least amount of money for the items you need. For example, you may need an umbrella stroller, clothing, or a smart device.
Once you find the best price, you can likely earn rewards points that you can redeem for gift cards. Also, this platform automatically applies coupon codes at the checkout screen.
Download the browser extension or mobile app to start saving money.
The best Capital One Shopping tools include:
- Online price comparison
- Price tracking history
- Redeem shopping rewards for gift cards
- Applies discount codes at checkout
What I Like
- Compares prices for many online stores
- Applies coupon codes
- Can earn gift cards
What I Dislike
- Search results are not always relevant
- Other programs have better cash back programs
- No signup bonus
I like Giving Assistant for several reasons.
One primary reason is that they donate a meal for every purchase made.
Another reason is that they pass on a larger portion of the sales commission to you, the shopper, which means they have larger reward rates on several stores compared to Rakuten.
Higher cash back bonuses (on average)
As we built our house, my wife & I had some very expensive shopping lists at Lowe's. So we used Rakuten and Giving Assistant to get some money back when we could place an online order for in-store pickup.
When you buy lumber, lights, ceiling fans, you are happy for any break you can get. So we got 1.5% back at Lowe's with Rakuten but 4% with Giving Assistant.
Unfortunately, we didn't discover it until closer to the end of the building process, so we didn't save as much as we could have. But, something is better than nothing!
Another example is the online picture website Shutterfly. My wife uses them every few months to make photobooks. The normal cash back rate with Ebates is 2% and it is 10% for Giving Assistant.
Giving Assistant Browser Button
I also have the Giving Assistant browser button installed to remind me to earn cash back. It is more limited functionality than the Ebates button, but it is still very handy.
You have to click the “Activate” button when it first pops up others it might not be readily accessible. It also doesn't have a built-in search bar like Rakuten does, allowing you to quickly compare cash back rates and jump to another retailer website.
Occasionally I have experienced when the Giving Assistant window doesn't pop-up at sites they offer cash back, but, usually it and the Rakuten one offers will pop-up at the same time in the top-right corner of my browser.
You might find it handy to go to Giving Assistant first to open the shopping session. It also gives you an opportunity to see additional discount codes.
Similar to Rakuten, the average cash back rate at most websites is between 1% and 6%, but magazine sites and other specialty retailers offer reward rates up to 40%.
Giving Assistant gives new users a $5 cash bonus after your first purchase that earns rewards. This bonus amount is lower than Rakuten, but easier to earn.
In regards to receiving payment, Giving Assistant will pay you via check on a quarterly basis or weekly via PayPal. The minimum reward balance has to be $5.99 to receive payment via check or PayPal.
What I Like About Giving Assistant
- Higher cash back rates at a number of stores also partnering with Rakuten
- Donates a meal for each purchase
- Pays weekly via PayPal or eCheck with a $5.99 reward minimum
- $5 welcome bonus when making your first purchase is made
What I Dislike About Giving Assistant
- Not as many participating retailers as some platforms
- Smaller sign-up bonus than Rakuten
I have found cash back portals an easy way to save money while shopping online. As long as you do not shop at Amazon, Rakuten or Giving Assistant will most likely partner with the retailers you usually shop at.
I also recommend installing the browser button, I cannot tell you how many times my wife & I have forgotten to activate our cash back savings because we forgot to visit Rakuten first. With the click of a button (literally) the browser button seamlessly starts the shopping session.
If you haven't used a cash back portal before, I recommend either of these two options. If you currently belong to one, either of these might be an option to consider. Or a reminder to start using your current portal again.
Do you use a cash back portal? If so, which one?
Josh founded Money Buffalo in 2015 to help people get out of debt and make smart financial decisions. He is currently a full-time personal finance writer with work featured in Forbes Advisor, Fox Business, and Credible.