Money at 30: Rakuten / Ebates vs. Dosh — In 2020 Which is the Better Cashback Tool?
The idea of earning cash back on your purchases for seemingly no reason is one of those “if it sounds too good to be true…” triggers for many people. For evidence of this, just type in “Is Rakuten…” or “Is Dosh…” into Google and notice how “legit?” is near the top of the autofill options. Let’s get this out of the way: yes, both Rakuten (formerly Ebates) and Dosh are legitimate services and, yes, they really can earn you cash back on items you buy every day.
With that said, you may be wondering which of these two platforms is better. As it turns out, that’s actually a very interesting question with a complicated answer — like, the kind that takes 2,000+ words to address properly. Luckily, I’m up to the challenge.
So, with Rakuten in one corner and Dosh in the other, let’s take a look at how these two cashback platforms match up in general, specifically for in-store shopping, and then for online shopping before I offer my final thoughts on which of these free services you should be using.
Rakuten vs. Dosh: An Overview of the Two Tools
Perhaps the most popular platform of its kind — especially when it was under its previous moniker, Ebates — Rakuten has been a go-to for many consumers in recent years. Plus, with the service recently running a round of television commercials, that fan base is likely to only expand. The idea behind Rakuten is simple: activate cashback offers from participating brands, complete your purchase as normal, and see your cashback added to your account afterward. Furthermore, Rakuten supports an impressive list of participating brands, making it easy to earn cash back on purchases you’d be making anyway.
With Rakuten users can earn what the site calls your “Big Fat Check.” This payout can either be a physical check or you can request to have funds sent via PayPal. Plus a relatively recent addition is the option to earn American Express Membership Rewards points instead of regular cashback. If you go this route, you’ll get one MR point for each cent of cashback — so $4.35 would be 435 points. Also Rakuten won’t convert any previously-earned cashback to points, you’ll just earn them from the time you activate this option.
The one downside is that Big Fat Checks (digital, physical, or in points) are only sent out on a quarterly basis. For example, if you made a cashback eligible purchase between October 1st and December 31st, your payout wouldn’t arrive until February 15th.
On the bright side, Rakuten rewards new users right away by gifting them with either a $10 cash bonus or $10 Walmart gift card after they sign-up and make their first qualifying purchase. To claim this bonus, you’ll need to use Rakuten on a purchase that totals more than $25 and do so within your first 90 days of joining the site. If you want to earn even more bonuses, you can also score extras by inviting friends and family to sign up as well. Currently, users can earn a $25 bonus when people they refer sign-up and make a qualifying purchase of $25 or more in their first 90 days.
Lastly, another great thing about Rakuten is their consistently upping their offers — especially during the holiday season, but it’s also something to keep an eye out for all year long. Just for example, right now Rakuten is offering 6% cashback at Macy’s, which is double the regular 3%. To stay up to date on these specials, make sure to pay attention to Rakuten e-mail updates and/or install the service’s Chrome/Firefox/Safari browser extension (which will talk about more in the Online Shopping section).
Here is my full Rakuten video review (from back when it was still Ebates):
While it may not have the same level of popularity (yet), Dosh has seemingly been growing like gangbusters since its initial launch. In that time, a variety of retailers have jumped on board to offer cashback to Dosh users. Current brands as of this writing include Forever 21, Sam’s Club, Old Navy, and many more. Plus, while in-store offers are front and center with Dosh, the app also hosts online cashback deals as well.
The basic idea of Dosh is that you link your various credit card and debit cards to the app and earn automatic cashback when you use those cards at participating retailers. You can view a map list of these offers on the Dosh app’s main screen, though there’s no need to opt-in to these in-store offers — just use one of your linked cards. I should note that Dosh does not currently support prepaid cards or Discover credit cards. Additionally, if you have cards linked to similar apps such as Mogl, you may encounter an error requiring you to unlink from the other app before adding a card to Dosh.
Unlike with Rakuten, Dosh applies applicable cashback to your balance pretty much right away. Within hours (or even minutes in some cases) of making a qualifying purchase, I’ve seen my Dosh cashback in my account. The only catch is that you’ll need to accrue at least $25 in cashback before you can request a payout. Payments can be sent via a linked bank account or via PayPal. You also have the option to donate your Dosh rewards to worthy causes and organizations.
Dosh also currently has a sign-up bonus, entitling you to $5 after you join and link your first card (reminder: you’ll still need to reach that $25 threshold to cash out). As for Dosh’s referral program, it can be a bit more complicated than Rakuten at times. Right now, the app is offering a $5 bonus for every person who signs up using your custom link and adds a verified credit or debit card to their account. Previous iterations of Dosh’s referral program have also required that referred users also make their first purchase in order for bonuses to be paid, but that no longer seems to be the case. However, be on the lookout for special promotions that will double this referral bonus to $10 or more as Dosh has been known to launch such offers in the past.
Speaking of enhanced offers, Dosh has also occasionally hosted bonus cashback events where the percentage you earn from certain retailers increases for a limited time. Most notably there have been certain weekends in the past when the typical 2% back at Sam’s Club jumps to an impressive 10%. So, once again, be on the lookout for e-mails and push notifications to be alerted to these deals.
Check out my full Dosh app review video below:
When I think of Rakuten, I think of online shopping. Despite this perception, the Rakuten app actually has several in-store cashback offers as well. Like with the online offers, cashback amounts do vary — although they also tend to be lower than their online counterparts. For example, while Saks Fifth Avenue typically offers 10% cashback online, the in-store offer is usually only 2-4%. Still, the roster of in-store participants is strong with brands like Bed, Bath & Beyond, JCPenney, Express, and many others on board.
Similar to Dosh, using Rakuten for in-store offers begins with linking an eligible credit card. Then, unlike with Dosh, you’ll need to activate offers in the app by visiting the “In-Store” tab and tapping “Link Offer” next to the retailer. Honestly, I’m not sure what would happen if you skipped this step and tried to use a linked card at one of the retailers, but probably best not to press your luck.
Interestingly, there is at least one store on Rakuten list that works a bit differently. To earn 1% back at Best Buy, instead of activating a linked card offer, you’ll instead tap the “Redeem Code” button (located in the same place as the other “Link Offer” buttons) and a QR code will display on your screen for the cashier to scan. Like I said, Best Buy is the only retailer in my area that operates this way but I suppose it’s possible that others may take this route in the future.
As I mentioned in my overview, in-store offers are where Dosh shines. Basically, once you link your cards, you can visit any of the participating retailers and earn cash back automatically — no need to opt-in. While it doesn’t take a ton of effort to opt-in with Rakuten, it’s nice not to have to think about it before you go shopping. You might even happen upon some cashback you weren’t expecting on those impulse buys
Another thing about Dosh’s in-store offers is that I’ve noticed some smaller retailers and restaurants joining the app as well. Just now I noticed that one of the local breakfast spots in my area was offering 5% on purchases on Dosh, and I’ve also seen several other smaller businesses listed as I’ve been traveling. While it’s possible that Rakuten might also host offers from these types of locations, I typically associate the site with much larger brands. Perhaps that’s just a misnomer on my part but, without living in a larger market to truly compare, that’s been my impression so far.
When it comes to online shopping, Rakuten is nothing short of a godsend. With a long list of participating brands and super simple opt-in options, the service really does make it easy to earn. This is especially true when you install the Rakuten browser extension.
There are many reasons I love Rakuten’s browser extension but the top feature has to be the cashback deal detector that comes built-in. Essentially, when you land on the site of a participating Rakuten partner and have your browser extension installed, a pop-up will inform you that you could be earning on your purchase. From there, all you have to do is click the opt-in button and you’re all set. As helpful as this is, the browser extension will also alert you to offers when you’re looking at search results, enabling you to not only compare advertised prices but factor in cashback offers as well.
If I had to nitpick about Rakuten online shopping deals, I’d mention that their cash back excludes things like taxes and shipping costs, meaning you’ll only be earning on the subtotal of your transaction. Additionally, while some cashback percentages are sitewide, other brands may assign different values to different item categories. This isn’t really Rakuten’ fault of course but it’s a bit of a bummer nonetheless.
Considering how much I love using Dosh for in-store purchases, it’s kind of amazing that I rarely use it online deals. The reason for that is simple: once upon a time, you needed to do your online shopping through the app in order to earn the cashback. However, Dosh has since changed this for many of its online offers.
When looking in Dosh, you’ll see an Online Offers section with brands that boast Instant Cash Back. With these deals, now all you have to do is use one of your linked cards at participating online retailers. In other words, Dosh has now aligned the way their in-store and online offers work and I couldn’t be happier about it. In fact, one could argue that this set-up now makes earning cashback with Dosh easier than with Rakuten. *Gasp*
I will say that, when the change to the new system first occurred, there was a pretty dramatic rollback in the number of participants. Luckily it seems things have rebounded as there are now several big brands that participate in Instant Cash Back online deals. In fact just the other day I was surprised to see that I earned cash back at Papa John’s, not realizing that this was one of Dosh’s online offers. Hey, I’ll take it!
By the way, Dosh now also has a section titled Mobile Offers. Notably these deals don’t display the “Instant Cash Back” label. Additionally, these seem to function in a fashion like the old version of Dosh’s online offers did, requiring you to open the website via their link and complete your purchase that way. Personally, I haven’t tried this new/old way of doing things but it’s worth noting the difference here.
Rakuten vs. Dosh: The Decision
I feel I need to state this once again: both Rakuten and Dosh are amazing tools that can essentially earn you “free money” on everyday purchases. Both platforms are not only reputable and legit but, as I can personally attest, they work. With that out of the way, I do have some thoughts about which I prefer in each medium.
For in-store shopping, Dosh is my hands-down favorite. I’m impressed with how quickly my cashback arrives after I make a purchase, I’m happy with the slate of participants (even if it does seem to rotate with some frequency), and I love how easy it is to take advantage of offers — plus, as a new Sam’s Club Member, I’m very much looking forward to earning 5% back. At the same time, Rakuten is also a viable option and, admittedly, has a stronger line-up depending on where you live and what you shop for.
Perhaps the reason that I don’t think of Rakuten in-store offers as often as I probably should is because they are so dominant online. The Rakuten browser extension is seriously like magic and has walked me toward cashback more than a few times when I would have missed out on the savings if I hadn’t installed it. To that point, I think what I love about Rakuten for online shopping is what I love about Dosh for in-store shopping: I don’t even need to plan ahead in order to earn.
As I mentioned, up until this point, I hadn’t bothered with Dosh for online purchases. However, with their relatively recent changes on that front, I definitely think it works well. Granted, Dosh has a long way to go to catch-up to Rakuten’s online retailer roster but, if they can expand their line-up and still keep their “just use your registered card” system intact, they could be a real gamechanger.
So which is better overall? Well, the beautiful thing is that you don’t really have to decide. This may sound like a cop out but it’s 100% true — in order to earn the most cash back, you should be using both platforms. Just as you might utilize multiple credit cards to maximize rewards, there’s no reason why you can’t use both Dosh and Rakuten (not to mention others like Ibotta, Visa Local Offers, and more) on a regular basis. Heck, that’s exactly what I do. As it turns out the real winner in this “battle” is you!
To drive home this point, while originally writing this article, I noticed that both apps had in-store offers for the cosmetics chain Sephora. Feeling curious, my wife and I headed to the mall to see if this double-dip would really work. Sure enough, within a few minutes of her purchase, I was alerted by Dosh and Rakuten that my cashback was on the way. But wait, there’s more — it turns out I also managed to trigger a Visa Local Offer at the same time, resulting in free Uber credits. To recap, that’s 8% from Dosh, 8% in credits from Visa Local Offers, and 4% from Rakuten (not to mention the 1% from my credit card). That’s a pretty huge win in my book.
In conclusion, both Rakuten and Dosh are legitimate services that are well worth your time. I’d definitely recommend downloading both apps, installing the Rakuten browser extension, and seeing which one you prefer. Regardless of which you choose, you’ll be earning cashback for things you were (hopefully) going to be buying anyway.
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Also published on Medium.