“What they really like is how careful and straightforward it is; they can e-mail us or get someone on the phone if they dont see their transaction tracked,” he said.
Athena Reizakis, a finance consultant and self-professed shoe addict, attests to that phenomenon. Since she discovered Ebates in 2001, she has done as much of her shopping as possible through Ebates, buying clothing, office supplies, schoolbooks and even seeds for her garden. She estimates she has gotten back about $5,000 from Ebates over the years.
Now, she said, Ebates helps her determine where to shop.
“For travel, when you run a general search on Orbitz or Expedia, they all have the same general prices, but if you go through Ebates, youll get money back,” she said. “I used to order textbooks when I was in law school, so I specifically chose stores that were on Ebates.”
Customers like the ease and simplicity that come with the site; it requires no clipping, no memorization of codes. Everything is searchable, including products and coupons. Instead of searching the Internet independently for deals at specific stores, Ebates aggregates all discounts and deals for any product or vendor.
Ebates is not the only Web site connecting shoppers with discounts online. Upromise.com also offers cash back on purchase made at partner Web sites, restaurants and grocery stores. But instead of sending the cash directly to the shopper, the money is added to a tax-free college savings account or to pay off college loans.
Microsoft’s search engine Bing enables shoppers to search for the best cash-back deals for a specific product on various sites.
“The idea is to give customers the best price and to bring them into a loyalty program like this by offering lower prices,” said Sucharita Mulpuru, eBusiness analyst for Forrester Research. “It’s not unlike a frequent-flier program for shoppers.”
Ebates reaches out to shoppers on social-networking Web sites such as Twitter and Facebook. On Facebook, 6,000 have joined the Ebates fan page, and more than 1,000 people follow Ebates on Twitter, often sharing links or new deals with friends. Customer-service agents even interact with consumers via these social networks.
When Dorie Schneider posted on the Facebook fan page that she was not able to get a discount for Reef sandals at Shoes.com, Ebates responded in less than 24 hours on the page, suggesting she try Shoesteal.com.
“There, you’ll find 20 percent off the entire site, and 4 percent cash back from Ebates. Use code STEAL. There are no brand exclusions as was the case with Shoes.com. Hope this helps!” said the post.
“We’re moving toward this trend of everything being online, couponing included,” Mr. Kraus said. “The younger kids wouldn’t be caught dead clipping coupons and going through the checkout line.”
But for those who prefer the traditional paper coupon, Ebates is beginning to cater to them, too. They offer a range of printable coupons, for stores including CompUSA and Lumber Liquidators. Mr. Johnson said they are hoping to expand to grocery stores in the near future.
As consumer spending in the U.S. increased modestly in July, up just 0.2 percent, according to the Commerce Department, Ebates saw a 60 percent increase in business.
“In tough times, people still look to spoil themselves: Lipstick is an affordable luxury, cosmetics are up this year,” said Mr. Johnson. “Right when the recession started, we saw the increase in cosmetics and home decor, people doing nesting at home — not trading houses, but sprucing up their own homes instead.”