March 29, 2012
Recently reader John W tipped me off about a new cash back site named TopCashBack. He had found that TopCashBack offered the best cash back rates for buying and selling gift cards through sites like PlasticJungle and Cardpool. TopCashBack’s rates were so much better than the other cash back sites that I had to redo my entire “cheat sheet” showing how to buy and sell gift cards (you can find the cheat sheet here, or under the “Resources” tab on my site).
How do they do it?
TopCashBack has affiliate relationships with merchants (through affiliate networks) and so they are paid whenever someone makes a purchase after clicking through their site. Where they are different from other cash back sites (much different!) is that they give 100% of that money back to the consumer!
Impossible, right? I mean, they need to somehow cover their employee salaries, office space, and hosting costs. Right? I checked a couple of merchants who make their affiliate percentages public and found it to be true: In those cases, the amount the merchant pays their affiliates is the same rate given by TopCashBack. So, how do they do it?
“My prices are so cheap, I’m losing money on every deal, but I’ll make it up in volume”
-Car salesman Madman Muntz’s advertising pitch
Yes, they make it up in volume. Really. On Monday, I had a great chat with TopCashBack’s Natasha-Rachel Smith. Natasha is the head of communications and public relations for TopCashBack overall, and (as if that wasn’t enough) she is the head-honcho in charge of TopCashBack’s US site. You see, TopCashBack.co.uk started in the UK and has become quite popular there. Only recently (about 6 months ago) have they ventured across the sea to try to take over the colonies.
What I learned from Natasha is that TopCashBack earns money almost entirely from ads on its site. Each ad is accompanied by a disclaimer saying “Sponsored advert – Zero cashback.” After several years of losing money with this approach in the UK, they are now the top cash back site in the UK. They now get enough traffic on their site to make their revenue model work. Their hope and intent is to do the same in the US.
Testing the Service
I haven’t used TopCashBack long enough to actually deposit money in my bank account, but I do have over $60 pending. I have about $16 from buying gift cards at Cardpool, $14 from selling gift cards to Plastic Jungle, and $30 from “tell a friend” referrals. I also have 15 cents pending because I clicked through to a site called HotelsCombined and I searched for a hotel. I didn’t make a reservation or buy anything, I just searched.
Impressively, most of my pending transactions appeared the next day after I clicked through TopCashBack. Last night I made purchases at Staples.com and Drugstore.com. Those haven’t shown up yet, but hopefully they will soon. The Drugstore.com purchase was made using gift card credit I had left over from previous experiments. In those experiments I found that portals did not give cash back or points for such purchases. It will be interesting to see if the same happens here.
I’m Selling Out
TopCashBack isn’t paying me in any direct way to write this post, but they are paying me: Just like anyone else who signs up for TopCashBack, I get money back when I shop and I get $5 each time I successfully refer a friend. And, I now know the boss: I asked Natasha if she could add Staples to the site, and the very next day it appeared! Even better, after reading comments on prior Frequent Miler posts, she proactively began an effort to find out which merchants give cash back for gift card purchases! As that information trickles in, the site will be updated to make payout amounts more clear. This has huge implications for future gift card churning schemes! So, yeah, I’m selling out. TopCashBack has provided a path to help my readers save more money, and a way to make Frequent Miler schemes more lucrative. So, yes, I’m happy to help them in return by crowing about their service.
So, what do you think? Am I right to “sell out” here? Do you think that it’s in our best interest to help TopCashBack succeed in the US? If you’ve used TopCashBack, how has the experience been?
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