August 31, 2012
Online shopping portals are a great way to earn extra points or cash back for purchases that you plan to make anyway. Unfortunately, the customer experience with portals is often quite bad. Here are some common frustrations:
- Points / cash never posts: A lot has to go right for you to get your points or cash back. Your browser needs to pass along the correct click-through information. The vendor needs to report the sale, usually to an affiliate network that then needs to report the sale to the portal company. Along the way, a lot can go wrong. It almost seems like a miracle when it all works. Regardless of why things go wrong, though, the customer sees the portal as the villain who failed to pay them. This understandably leads to negative feelings about portals.
- Points / cash takes a long time to post as pending: Usually, portals show points / cash back as “pending” before the points or cash are actually available to you. Some portals show the pending information very quickly, others are much slower. Behind the scenes, the speed of this reporting is impacted by the speed of the vendor in reporting sales and the speed of the affiliate network passing along the sales information to the portal. Regardless of the reason, delays are frustrating to customers because they are left all the time wondering if they’ll ever see points or cash back at all.
- Points / cash takes a long time to become payable: Every portal seems to have different rules about how soon points and/or cash are actually available to their customers. Nobody likes to wait months for their rebates, but usually payouts are measured in months.
- Customer service stinks: Customer service varies greatly from one portal company to another. With some, you get great service. With others, complaints seem to disappear into a black hole never to be seen again.
FatWallet does it right
While many of us have been waiting impatiently for our 10X points from Sears via the Ultimate Rewards Mall, I had a great experience with FatWallet a couple of days ago. I wanted to by a LivingSocial coupon so I went through FatWallet to get 4% cash back. I ordered the coupon at 9:09 AM. Amazingly, at 10:12 AM, I received confirmation from FatWallet of cash pending!
Now, don’t expect this kind of quick turnaround with all of your shopping from FatWallet. This could only have happened if LivingSocial reported the sale almost instantly. Still, I find this amazing. Some portals don’t send email acknowledgments at all. Of the ones that do, I’ve never before seen one come earlier than the next day after a purchase.
FatWallet has your back
I don’t do a great job of keeping track of points & cash back from portals. Usually I treat it as a nice surprise when I get something (unless I’ve made a very big purchase). What I love about FatWallet is that they do the work for you. Whenever I click through from FatWallet to a vendor, FatWallet later checks to see if cash back was awarded. If not, they send an email like this one:
That’s awesome! If you get an email like this, but you know that you hadn’t made a purchase, you can simply delete the email — no harm done. But if you had made a purchase, it doesn’t get any better than this. Simply click the “CONTACT US!” link to file an investigation request.
Early in the year I was doing a number of double-dip experiments with Magazines.com, and I thought they had all failed since I didn’t see any points or cash back post from any portals I went through. However, when I received the FatWallet email shown above, I clicked through to file an investigation request. The very same day, I received the following email:
Months later, the cash back became payable and I received this email:
To me, FatWallet has solved three of the four common issues with portals:
- Points / cash never posts: Solved! FatWallet sends you an email when this happens and they make it incredibly easy to file an investigation report.
- Points / cash takes a long time to post as pending: Solved! Admittedly I don’t have a lot of experience with how long FatWallet takes with various vendors, but the fact that they reported my LivingSocial cash back in about an hour is incredible.
- Points / cash takes a long time to become payable: This is the only common frustration that is still an issue with FatWallet. Understandably, FatWallet waits for payment from the merchants before paying you. FatWallet has this to say about how quickly your cash becomes payable:
- “It depends on the merchant. Each merchant has a set amount of time to allow for reversals and updates to an order, and to pay us so we can pay you. Your account will show the Cash Back for the order as”Pending” during this time. Some merchants take longer than others to pay us, and we can’t pay you until they pay us! When the waiting is over, you will see the amount in your “Available Balance.” You can then request payment.”
- Customer service stinks: Solved! I love that FatWallet gave me the benefit of the doubt when I filed a report about Magazines.com. They immediately posted my cash back as pending. Awesome!
More often than not, portals like the Ultimate Rewards Mall and TopCashBack will offer a better deal than FatWallet. When things go wrong, though, neither of those options currently come close to FatWallet’s level of service.
In future purchases, if the FatWallet rebate is anywhere close to the best available, there’s no doubt I’ll go with FatWallet because there I’ll be confident in getting the rebate I expect. I believe the old adage “bird in the hand..” is appropriate here…
What are your experiences? Have you had good luck with FatWallet? Have you seen any other portal offer service as good as I’ve described above?