Bing Cashback to Close

June 5, 2010 · 0 comments

Microsoft announced yesterday that it will shut down Bing Cashback.

In a blog post entitled, “A Farewell to Bing Cashback,” Bing’s Senior VP of its Online Audience Business Group, Yusuf Mehdi, explained the reasoning for the decision and the technicalities of how they’re pulling the plug.

Mehdi said that the bottom line was that “after a couple of years of trying, we did not see the broad adoption that we had hoped for.”

Bing remains “committed to delivering great shopping experiences for you that help you make better shopping decisions, get great deals, and save time and money along the way.” How exactly they plan to do that is unclear, though Mehdi promised more details for merchants and advertisers “later this summer.”

Bing Cashback users can continue to use the program as usual through July 30th at 9pm PST, and they’ll have a year to redeem their cashback pursuant to the program’s terms (which means, I’d assume, that if you don’t get your balance over $5 by July 30th, you’ll forfeit your earnings).

So, those are the facts as best as I can discern. Now, my opinion:

Can we have Jellyfish back?

We had a great thing going at Jellyfish.com, then Microsoft bought it, eliminated the Smack Shopping feature (where products were put up for sale at a declining price until they were sold out) and its associated chatroom, eliminated refer-a-friend rewards, integrated shopping into their Live search, RENAMED it all to “Bing,” and then gave us a complicated system requiring a knowledge of how to use “hidden cashback” terms to get the best deal and requiring omniscience to know which merchants allowed the use of coupon codes.

And Bing tries to implement this complicated system WITHOUT offering its diehard fan/evangelists like me any kind of reward for referring friends…WHILE going head-to-head with traditional and easier-to-understand cashback programs firmly entrenched in the market for a decade or more: Ebates, MrRebates, Upromise, MyPoints, and Memolink.

Am I disappointed? Yes. Am I surprised? Not really.
What they were doing made no business sense. Bing made NO profit on Bing Cashback, as I confirmed last July: “Microsoft currently shares back 100% of your commissions directly to the consumer…”

Last fall, Bing had some major struggles with their Back to School cashback promo, which promised some rates it didn’t deliver, found merchants increasing their prices to account for the increased cashback they were paying, and the promotion was yanked early when Bing ran through its budget for the promotion too quickly.

Microsoft also filed a lawsuit last June
because of the actions of some unidentified parties to “obtain… cashback payments under false pretenses” over a one year period when the program was still called Microsoft Live Cashback.

Despite the program’s financial problems, Microsoft did make at least SOME effort to market the Bing Cashback program, including emailing millions of MyPoints members in an effort to bring in some of their shoppers and publicizing the program through a series of slick TV ads.

We knew some sort of changes were coming soon to Bing Cashback, when in March Microsoft’s CEO Steve Ballmer admitted that the program “hasn’t worked fantastically” and that they planned to “rethink it, morph it.” Then in April, Bing Cashback held a webinar to get feedback from members on how to improve the program. (I wasn’t able to attend, so I don’t know what was said, but I can guarantee members didn’t suggest, “Shut it down.”)

So, here we are: another day, another defunct rewards program. I don’t think we can extrapolate impending doom on the cashback industry as a whole from Bing Cashback’s failure because what Microsoft was doing with Bing is so different than what the other cashback shopping programs are doing. Bing Cashback was eliminating the middleman (the affiliate networks) entirely and directly contracting with merchants, allowing for varying commissions on a product-by-product basis. They were also doing search marketing on their own search engine. The traditional cashback programs, with a shopping portal website you log into and then shop through to receive a cashback reward for shopping, remain unscathed and even stronger from the elimination of competition from bottomless-pocketed Microsoft.

While there are no cashback programs *that* much like Bing Cashback, I can recommend these (with my refer-a-friend links provided where available):

MrRebates
: Outstanding cashback rates, monthly payment by PayPal or check once the $10 payment minimum is reached, and an exclusive $7.50 signup bonus courtesy of CompareRewards.com

Ebates
: High cashback rates, quarterly payment by PayPal or check once the $5.01 payment minimum is reached, and a $5 signup bonus

Upromise
: High cashback rates, request payment by check or transfer earnings into a 529 college savings plan

MyPoints
: Low shopping rates but earn points without spending a dime in various ways, payment within several weeks of requesting it by your choice of gift card (starting at $10)

Memolink
: Average shopping rates (in points per dollar), supplement shopping earnings in various non-spending ways, payment by cash or gift card (starting at $10)

And although it hasn’t been around as long as the above, Extrabux still has several years of operation under their belt and they provide a similar comparison shopping search engine to Bing’s, which provides prices ranked by final price after cashback and coupons from the different participating merchants.

Thoughts/feelings about the end of Bing Cashback? Please leave a comment! And, see my alternatives to Bing cashback here.

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