Taobao is back on Shopback

For two months probably, Taobao went missing on Shopback. Apparently, they were revamping the mechanism for tracking Taobao purchases through Shopback.

Previously, you had to search for the item you wanted to purchase through the search bar in Shopback’s Taobao page. The obvious disadvantages of this approach were you would not be able to filter nor sort the search results like you could on Taobao website. For example, you wouldn’t be able to find the seller with the highest sales volume, and you normally want to do that. Continue reading Taobao is back on Shopback

Visit to Shopback office

I was invited to visit Shopback’s office today. Anyway, let me clarify that this is not a paid advertisement, although i did get a free lunch on them.

I was surprised to find the office housed inside the premise of NUS Enterprise, a start-up incubation space. I was told quite a few of the company founders were from NUS, so in a sense, NUS is giving them a helping hand. It’s easy to justify such an arrangement (the word “subsidy” comes to mind), given that they are already a success story. Everyone needs a success story, right?

NUS Enterprise
NUS Enterprise

The company is already more than 80-strong, and I think they have a sure footing in this business. They went headlong into the market when few people understood the business model. I can imagine it would have been damn hard work negotiating with the merchants, so Shopback really deserves a pat on the back for the windfall they’re raking in right now.

One corner of the congested working space in Shopback office
Congested working space in Shopback office (everyone is in a presentation session)

In case you don’t know what Shopback is about, i have a very short writeup here. In essence, you’re rewarded for brand loyalty and accepting marketing content. Just about every business is giving cashback now, because consumers love the feeling of getting a “kickback”. Consumers are, themselves, the ones paying for it anyway.

If you haven’t signed up with Shopback, now is a good time to do so. You will certainly save some money (or possibly spend more money).

Many thanks to Ying Ying from Shopback for hosting me!

Save serious money on hotel bookings

I have just received S$166.16 in cashback for the hotel bookings of my recent trip, no kidding! Here’s how i did it.

Earn cashback through ShopbackSimple as that. Hotel booking websites take an average of 15% in commission from the hotel/accommodation provider for every booking done through their websites. Yes, that’s an awful lot of money! They’re willing to give you back 6% of that commission, so you better grab it! You can get this cashback if you do your hotel bookings through cashback websites, like Shopback.

Continue reading Save serious money on hotel bookings

Why i still use Ebates

There are 3 categories of spending for which Ebates works for me: eBay, US merchants and car rental. For everything else, there is Shopback.

Ebates rewards up to 5% for purchases on eBay, which is fantastic. In comparison, Shopback offers only 1% cash back for eBay purchases. The email notification pictured above tells me i have earned US$4.05 for a US$135 purchase, which works out to be a 3% cash back.

You may be wondering what is worth buying on eBay. Let me tell you – beauty product samples. Guys, don’t back away and think this does not apply to you. You have no idea how much money you may be saving when your spouse buys the sample instead of the full retail product. Even when you buy the full retail products on eBay, you’ll be saving lots compared to buying from the local store. What i do is to find those eBay sellers who have collected a large quantity of samples, where, often the total quantity is more or less the same as the retail product, but at a fraction of the price. Sometimes, you can find sellers with overstock items at less than wholesale prices (for the lower cost products only of course).

For other US branded goods, it is also great to use Ebates for cash back. There’s no stopping you from grabbing Black Friday deals, or clearance sales that happen every now and then, and earning cash back at the same time when you’re already getting a good deal. Shipping is easy, and relatively cheap (don’t use the shipping service offered on the merchant sites, they’re rip-off!).

Finally, there is car rental, for which i doubt Shopback will ever bother to offer cash back, because the demand is probably too little compared to the demand for car rental in the US. For my upcoming trip to Korea, i have two car rental arrangements with Sixt, and i’m earning cash back for the rentals, so the cash back actually works for worldwide car rentals. As you can imagine, car rentals easily cost hundreds of dollars each time, so the cash back, even at just a few percent, is very significant. Don’t lose out on such savings. Sign up for Ebates and get the cash back.

And as i have said before, for everything else, there is Shopback!

Shopback Payout

My second round of cashback on Shopback just became redeemable, a total of $81.61, woot! This is comprised of 2 Agoda bookings ($15 each), 2 Redmart purchases, 2 Groupon purchases and flight tickets purchased on Expedia (1% cashback).

Redeemable

Besides purchases, i also scored two bonus payouts totalling $29, which is a lot. I notice that they don’t offer such bonuses these days, only increased cashback. The customer base must be quite large already by now that they don’t need to offer this kind of incentive anymore. Oh well.

Bonus

The payout takes 7-14 working days to be credited. No problem, i can wait. It’s free money anyway. The only problem is my forgetting to do my purchases by going through Shopback, which still happens once in a long while.

Payout

If you’re still not on Shopback, what are you waiting for?

Critical steps to earn cashback

Today i received an referral email from a cashback website that i didn’t know about before. It looks like the cashback business is really getting hot these days. The business model of giving cashback is difficult to understand to most consumers. I like the way the perplexity is put across in this article – “Why are they offering me free money to shop at stores that I’m shopping at anyway?”. The article goes on to explain that the cashback business is about “affiliate marketing”.

Cashback sites does constant (daily) marketing of all the brands and merchants that have signed on with them. I receive an email per day from each of the cashback sites i have signed up with, and i actually don’t mind receiving these emails, since they tell you about good deals happening currently. Compared to advertisement emails from merchants which normally end up in your spam or trash folder before you even read them, well, affiliate marketing works. And some of these emails actually managed to entice me to spend. If i can fall for it (it takes a lot of convincing to make me part with my money), i can imagine a lot of people will fall for it too.

i had a look at this new cashback website, called Giving Assistant, and i think they have some pretty good deals – 5% cashback on items shipped and sold by Amazon (ebates only offers cashback for a very small range of product categories), US$2.25 on flight bookings on Expedia (vs US$1.25 on ebates, but Shopback is even better, offering 1% cashback). I think the idea is to mix and match cashback sites.

Anyway, I learned about 4 critical steps to earn cashback from the new cashback site Giving Assistant today, quoted below in its entirety:

  1. Start with a cookie free browser session.
  2. Completely disable AdBlocker or Privacy extensions on all websites. 
  3. Begin shopping with an empty shopping cart.
  4. Complete your purchase in the same browsing session within 24 hours.

Now that I am use 2 different cashback sites, and am adding a third, i have to be careful to ensure that only one cashback site is activated at any time, so step 1 above is a good suggestion. Either that, or i can use a different browser for each cashback site. Also, i do use AdBlocker, which i never thought could interfere with the cashback mechanism. Point 3 is an important point to take note. Instead of adding items to the shopping cart, i add them to the wish list first, and only add them to the cart when i have initiated the cashback shopping session. Even if you have been careful to follow these critical steps, i suspect some sites don’t track the cashback very well (whether intentionally or unintentionally), such as booking.com. I suppose you can treat any cashback you get as a bonus and not be too serious about it. Definitely avoid “spaving” (spending to save) as brought up in the article.

Shopback review

Now that I’ve received the first payout from Shopback, I guess I’m qualified to say something about them. The $25 payout consisted of $15 from an Agoda booking and $10 from the bonus given for signing up through Citibank and for updating the personal particulars.

Shopback Payout

The best part of Shopback so far is in getting $15 Cashback for making an Agoda booking. $15 is awarded for any booking that is above $50. If you do the sums, that represents a whopping 30% discount on a $50 hotel booking! With the cashback, it becomes more worthwhile booking a $50 hotel than a $40 one.

agoda

Shopback relies on cookies for tracking purchases made on merchant sites. It has worked every time (for Agoda, Groupon, Redmart purchases) I used Shopback except my latest Agoda bookings. I’m pretty sure I completed the booking within the same window I was redirected to from Shopback, but the cashback wasn’t registered. Thankfully, Shopback actually provides a feedback form for missing cashback. The cashback entry (with incorrect amount at this point of time) appeared in my account within 2 days of submitting my missing cashback request. It’s pretty amazing that Shopback provides this missing cashback form, since I can imagine that it will result a lot of workload, especially when it can be easily abused.

With the $15 cashback offer, the Shopback and Agoda combo is unbeatable. What’s more, Agoda has a tie-up with booking.com and offers some of the hotels on booking.com as well (at the same price) that would have been otherwise not found in Agoda itself. If you factor in the cashback, it is obviously better to book through Agoda than booking.com.

The only downside of Shopback, and most cashback sites, is the long waiting time to receive the actual cash. For Shopback it is typically 60 days after the completion of the transaction (for hotel or flight bookings this means completion of the trip), plus up to a week to process your redemption request.

All in all, i found that Shopback is quite intuitive to use, and it works. Extra cash is always welcome, right?

Update 14/11/2015: Shopback now offers only $10 cashback for Agoda. I noticed that some of the sites i frequently shop on have been added to Shopback’s merchant list, including booking.com ($10 cashback for $50 and above bookings, i,e. matching Agoda’s offer) and ebay (1% cashback). Shopback is making a lot of progress!

Cashback on groceries

Groceries must be one of the main categories of expenditure for any household. Many people should be aware that some credit cards offer a 5% rebate on supermarket transactions, but there is now a better deal if you do groceries shopping online on Redmart.com (Singapore only). They are one of the merchants on the Shopback.sg cashback portal, offering a 10% rebate. If you make payment using a Bank of China Shop! card, you get another 5.5% rebate (awarded for all online payments). So that’s a whopping 15.5% discount on your groceries!

The only problem for me is having to spend $50 or more to get free delivery from Redmart, which is usually not achievable in my case, since my groceries purchase usually consists of fresh produce in small batches. What I resort to doing is to wait for Redmart.com to dangle the $10 discount that they offer to customers who hasn’t done a purchase from them for some time (it seems to be every 4 months). It’s easy to chalk up $50 of groceries spending when I get a 20% discount outright. If I were to calculate the combined discounts and cashback I get, I’m actually paying only $33.04 for $50.10 worth of groceries!

Disclaimer: this article expresses my personal opinion and i am not paid to represent any of the companies mentioned above (the same applies to all my articles).

Update: Shopback no longer offers rebates for redmart.com. I’m guessing that Redmart loses out more than it gains through the cashback advertising mechanism, so they pulled out.

Update 9/10/2015: Redmart is back on Shopback

Update 14/11/2015: Now even Fairprice Online is on Shopback, though it is practically useless, offering only cashback only for S$150 and above spend. Buying through Honestbee might be a better idea since you get 9% cashback on Shopback (not anymore).

How to choose the hotel for your trip

Choosing a hotel could be a daunting task for a lot of people, because often times there are too many hotels to choose from. Here’s my strategy for choosing a good value hotel.

Hotel Booking Site
First, you have to decide on which hotel booking website to use. I mainly use booking.com and Agoda. When searching for the same hotel on various hotel booking sites, you will have to read the fine print carefully. Some sites include all taxes and service charge in their rates while some do not. booking.com and Agoda’s price tends to be more or less the same (after factoring in service charge and taxes). The hotel is probably obligated to offer the same rate when they signed up for listing with the booking sites. The exception to this is when a website offers a special discount. Agoda sometimes offer a special non-refundable option, while booking.com sometimes has a 10% discounts.

The choices of hotels available from hotel booking websites are largely the same for the more popular sites like booking.com and Agoda, but sometimes hotels.com may have additional choices. Some countries have booking sites that cater specifically to that country (e.g. travelking.com.tw in Taiwan) and more choices can be found on these, so for such cases you should go with the local booking sites. Chain hotels like Accor hotels have their own booking websites and are worth a look, though these are usually more expensive.

Cashback
These days, the cashback scheme has also infiltrated hotel booking sites. A cashback scheme is one that gives you cashback when you complete your booking by going through another website. I’ve written about one such site before – ebates.com. They offer cashback for many hotel booking sites, including expedia.com, agoda.com, booking.com, hotels.com, Hotelclub, Accor Hotels and many more. Shopback.sg is another cashback site (homegrown in Singapore). I found out that hotel booking sites (specifically booking.com) may not be all reliable when it comes to paying you cashback for your hotel bookings. Even though booking.com is supposed to pay 2% cashback, i have only received the cashback a few times, for probably more than 30 bookings done (Update: this was likely due to booking more than 80 days ahead). Expedia, on the other hand, is reliable in paying the cashback (for flights in my case, though i suspect it will be so for hotel bookings also). Hotel booking sites are forced to offer cashback since everyone else is doing it – or risk losing business to competitors. When booking hotels, keep in mind that the cashback could make one hotel booking site cheaper than another even if they have the same hotel rates. Agoda pays S$10 (S$15 when they run a promotion) cashback for bookings above US$50 through Shopback, which is a very significant discount to your overall booking rate. The catch is, Agoda charges the hotel payment to your credit card about a week before your stay there, so you won’t enjoy any credit card related cashback (ANZ gives you 5% cashback for expenses at a hotel), unless you use a credit card that gives you cashback for online transactions (e.g. Bank of China Shop! card). Don’t be misled by those sites that give you 6%-10% cashback – most of the time, their hotel rates are higher.

If you have a rental car
Often times, if you have a rental car, you can choose to stay in the middle of nowhere, where the accommodation is likely to be very cheap (with free parking too). I still recall staying in a remote place outside Amsterdam for 20 Euros per night (inclusive of 2 Euros tax). In many European cities, you can use park and ride (i.e. park at special rates at a car park at the edge of the city centre and take the metro) to tour the city without actually having to stay in the city itself. I do this when i don’t plan to spend more than one day in that city.

Use the map
For a city destination where I am going to use the metro to get around, i look for hotels near a metro station, and you can really only do this using the map. So when viewing the hotel details page, i would click the “Show map” link that points out the location of the hotel and check out the other hotels marked on the map that are also near a metro station. I usually don’t mind staying a little further away as long as the hotel is no more than 30 minutes away by metro to the city centre.

When i have a rental car, for those days when i just need a place to stay for the night while on the way to the next destination i am going to visit, i would use the map to find a hotel that is along the way (or not too far off the path) and is the cheapest. Use Google Maps to help estimate the driving time.

Read the reviews
Reviews offer you the first hand account of someone who has stayed in the hotel. You will have to read beyond the words and take into account if the reviewer is an overly fussy person, which is often the case. It is the norm for people to exaggerate the negative aspects of their experience. Look out for things in the reviews for things you absolutely cannot tolerate, such as a hard bed, sleezy neighbourhood etc.

Update 14/11/2015: I have just discovered why i am not getting my cashback for hotel bookings on booking.com, now that booking.com is also on Shopback. The terms and conditions for booking.com cashback states that no cashback is awarded for bookings done 80 days or more in advance. That applies to most of my bookings, so, i guess the trick is to re-do the booking if there is still vacancy in less than 80 days to date of reservation, or book with Agoda, if the price is comparable. No such condition is stated for Agoda.

Further cash rebate on top of credit card cash rebate

ebates

When you’re getting 5.5% – 7% of credit card cash rebate on online transactions, you’re probably folding your arms and telling yourself, “well done”. But wait, there’s more! You can get further cash rebate with Ebates for your online shopping. The merchants include popular online stores, hotel booking (virtually all the hotel chains are there) and car rental, so before you make any online transaction on a US site, it pays (literally) to search if the merchant is on Ebates. You will more likely than not find them there.

A sample of the rebates you can get:

MerchantCash Back
ebayUp to 5%
AmazonUp to 3%
booking.com2%
Agoda3%
hotels.com6%
REI2.5%
Oshkosh B'gosh2.5%
Gap4%
Newegg1%

So how do you get paid? You can choose to be paid via cheque or PayPal. You’ll only get paid every quarter if you have accumulated US$5.01 or more of cash back. I opted to be paid through PayPal since i do use PayPal to pay for online shopping.

In order to receive the cash back, one must first go to ebates.com, search for the merchant and get redirected to the merchant site from there. This is how they link your transaction with the merchant to your Ebates account. You must perform your transaction within that same browser tab in which you were redirected to the merchant site. This presents a problem when the merchant site launches new tabs upon your selection (e.g. this happens on booking.com – when you select a hotel, a new tab is launched to show you the hotel reservation details). To get around this, copy the url in the newly launched tab and paste it back into the original Ebates enabled tab.

Before you get used to using Ebates, i can tell you from experience that you will keep forgetting to activate Ebates first before you do anything else. Ebates provides you a tool to help remind you – the Ebates cash back button, which works on Chrome, Safari and Firefox.

So what are you waiting for? Start using Ebates.

Update 14/11/2015: Shopback is fast becoming my favourite cashback site, now that almost all the online merchants i patronize can be found on Shopback. I’ll likely continue to use ebates for ebay purchases though.

Get S$5 when you sign up for Shopback!