Friday, May 30, 2014

SavingStar vs Ibotta vs Checkout 51 vs Shopmium: rebate apps compared and explained

One of my favorite ways to make a good deal a great deal is by taking advantage of what I call my "cash back apps."  There are several mobile apps (some are also available on the web for those with uncooperative phones) that offer you cash back on select items you've already purchased.  They're kind of like coupons, except you buy the item first, then prove you bought it.

What's especially great about these apps is that they don't count as a coupon, meaning when you're at the store, you can use other coupons on the item and basically "stack" your deals.  In some cases, this could mean that you get an item free -- or even get paid to buy an item -- once you get your cash back.  And it's so easy!

Here's a quick overview of the major players in the rebate/cash back space:

SavingStar

SavingStar actually links up to your store's loyalty card.  You select which offers you are interested in redeeming by "activating" them.  There are no limits as to how many offers you activate, and no penalty if you don't actually redeem them.  The stores periodically report your purchases to SavingStar (takes anywhere from 2 days to 2 weeks), and if you've purchased an item from one of your activated deals, they give you a credit for the amount.

Pros:

  • No app required -- while they have a mobile app that makes for easy activating of offers, you can also just as easily do it from their website.
  • No need to prove you purchased something.  The store does it for you!  SavingStar lets you know when they've processed something that earned you cash.
  • No minimum dollar amount to reach before cashing out
  • Multiple options for cashing out.  You can choose a bank deposit, PayPal, an Amazon gift card or a donation to American Forests if you'd like to give it to a cause instead.
  • You can also use their website to earn cash back from online shopping on select websites
Cons:
  • Limited stores. SavingStar only works with select supermarkets and drug stores that have loyalty cards.  You can find out which stores you have to choose from by entering your ZIP code.  SavingStar works with all the major supermarkets and drug stores in my area, but I really wish I could use it at Target.
  • Most offers rotate once a month.  There are occasional new offers that pop up during the month but most stick around.  That means you can only redeem them once during the month, and if you don't see anything you like, for the most part you're stuck.  The exceptions to this are the healthy offer of the week and Friday freebie.
My personal favorite part are the weekly rotating offers: the healthy offer of the week and the Friday Freebie.  The healthy offer changes every Tuesday and offers you a percentage off of a fruit or vegetable item.  Coupons for produce are not overly common, so this is a great way to get a deal on something truly good for you.  The Friday Freebie is an item that you can get completely refunded if you purchase it, and is only available from Friday-Sunday.  Usually the item's worth around $1 but hey, it's free!


Ibotta is considered the biggest app for getting cash back on items by scanning in your grocery receipt and the barcode from the eligible item.  They used to just be for grocery, but have recently expanded.  You can now earn rebates at many different types of stores, some online stores, and even a couple of restaurants (currently Chili's and Quiznos).

Note: If you sign up for Ibotta using one of the links in this article, you get the opportunity to earn a $2 bonus!

Pros:
  • There are updates to the offers every week.  Some stick around for a while, others don't, but you can expect to see new offers regularly.
  • They often have offers for generic items, like milk or bread, that you would commonly buy anyway.
  • There are bonuses you can earn for buying several items.  The bonuses vary and change regularly, but a common one is a $.50 bonus for redeeming the milk offer and two other offers.  So if you complete it, you earn the rebates for all three of those offers plus an addtional $.50.  There are also bonuses for completing a rebate every week for several weeks in a row -- the Steady Eddy bonus gets you $1 if you complete at least 1 rebate for 4 straight weeks.
Cons:
  • Only works at certain stores.  There are a decent variety of stores available for grocery, including most supermarkets, drug stores, Target and Walmart, but not smaller stores.
  • Some offers are only redeemable at certain stores.  It may be a product that you could buy elsewhere but the offer only applies if you buy it at the particular store.  These are called exclusive offers within the app.  
  • There is a $5 minimum to cash out.  This isn't terrible but if you go a few weeks without finding a rebate you want to redeem it can get a little frustrating to have some money just sitting there.
  • Multiple payout options but they're not very appealing.  PayPal is probably your best bet.  They also use a cash service called Venmo, and they offer a few different gift card offerings including Regal, Starbucks and iTunes.  I'm not sure why you would want to redeem for a gift card when you can just get cash through PayPal.
  • In order to get the rebate, you have to "unlock" it by completing certain tasks.  The tasks don't take long (watch a short video, take a quick poll, read a fact) but can be annoying.  Often it requires sharing the offer through Facebook, which I'm personally not a fan of because I don't like to spam my friends.  I get around this by posting it as a private post, so only I can see it.
  • You must use your mobile phone to redeem rebates.  There is no website component.

Checkout 51 is a newer app for getting cash back by uploading your grocery receipt.  It's similar to Ibotta but is more what they used to be -- primarily grocery offers only.

Pros:
  • You can submit a receipt from any store with Checkout 51.  Big supermarket, small local place -- they don't care.  So long as they can tell from your receipt that you purchased an eligible item, you're good to go.
  • The offers are updated once a week, on Thursdays.  Some offers stick around for multiple weeks but there's always a fresh selection.
  • There is very often a generic item, like milk, bread, or produce, among the week's list.
  • You can enter a sweepstakes every week just by submitting a receipt that totals over $60, even if you don't have any other offers to claim.
  • The offers they give you are somewhat personalized based on offers you've claimed in the past.
  • When you cash out, they send you an actual check.  No need to be signed up with PayPal or any other service.
  • Mobile phone problems?  You can also submit from their website and scan in your receipt.
Cons:
  • There is a $20 minimum to cash out.  This is the largest minimum of any of the services and can take a while to obtain.  Personally, I've yet to get there but am over halfway now.  This is by far the biggest negative of the service.
  • The list of offers isn't very big and there are often some odd items that aren't commonly purchased.  I've had an offer for a "vaginal odor treatment" for several weeks now.  Uh... no thanks.

Shopmium is the newest app for getting cash back and is similar to Ibotta and Checkout 51.  

Note: If you use referral code "GHAYAGWV" when you sign up for Shopmium, you get a free Lindt chocolate bar!  I didn't have a referral code when I signed up and missed out on my free chocolate -- I was so bummed when I found out!

Pros:
  • You can submit a receipt from any store, so long as they can tell from your receipt that you purchased an eligible item.
  • There is no minimum to cash out.  Once they've processed your claim they instantly send you the cash via PayPal.  You don't even have to request to cash out!
  • Mobile phone problems?  You can submit for some offers from their website and scan in your receipt.  Some offers are only available from the app, however.
  • Several of their offers tend to be for natural or organic products, which often don't see as many deals as their less-natural counterparts.
  • Sometimes they have multiple offers for the same product.  For example, they currently have offers for Chobani Simply 100 yogurt: $.30 off one, $.50 off two or $.75 off three.
Cons:
  • Shopmium has the fewest number of offers available of any of the options, and they don't rotate overly regularly.  I'm not sure if they have a schedule.  Most of the offers just say they're ongoing.
  • You sometimes have to watch a video before you can redeem an offer. 
  • PayPal is currently the only cash out method.
  • I've personally had issues trying to scan in my receipt with their app, so it's a little buggy.  Sometimes I'd get a black screen, and when I was trying to scan in a longer receipt with multiple pictures, it wasn't showing me the bottom part of the previous picture to know what section of the receipt they still needed.
So which one of these should you use?  If you're trying to save as much as you can, you should have all of them in your repertoire!  It can take a while to reach some of the cash out minimums, but it's worth it.  As you can see, each service has its own quirks.  Lately I've been a fan of SavingStar and Checkout 51, but I've found all four of the services to be useful to me.  Occasionally there are products available on more than one of the apps, so you can redeem them all and save even more!

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