4 Red Flags When Shopping With Rakuten, According to Retail Experts


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The adage "spending money to make money" has fueled business ventures since the invention of capitalism, but it's also the elevator pitch for Rakuten. The Japan-based e-commerce platform offers an alluring proposition: You buy products, and you get cash back. Of course, if you're hoping for a quick buck or even just a great deal, there are some considerations to keep in mind. "Shoppers shouldn't be skeptical of shopping portals like Rakuten, but there are some pitfalls that they should be aware of," Tana Williams, founder of personal finance blog Debt Free Forties, tells Best Life. Here, according to retail experts, are four things you should know before shopping with Rakuten.

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Your rebate could take a while.

If you're hoping to get cash on a fast turnaround, Rakuten may not be your best bet. Though it offers rebates on purchases made through more than 3,500 retailers (yes, really), the turnaround time on those rebates could take longer than you expect.

"Yes, you can earn cash back, [though] the process typically isn't as simple as it seems. One of the biggest complaints people have is the amount of time it takes to receive cash back," Carter Seuthe, CEO of Credit Summit, a financial advice firm, tells Best Life. "While Rakuten states that the amount of time it takes to receive your earnings could end up being as short as a few hours after a purchase, for most people it ends up being around three months."

In fairness, Rakuten operates on a quarterly payment schedule for certain purchases. You can see the full schedule here, and you can track your payment at this page (note: you'll need to log into your account for that link to work).

You don't get cash back on every purchase.
Oleksii Didok / Shutterstock

Rakuten's own site stipulates that purchases from some storefronts may be ineligible for the cash-back rewards. (You can check to see if a store is part of the program by viewing its dedicated store page on Rakuten's website or mobile app.) Be sure to read the fine print before every purchase.

"The biggest complaint about Rakuten is that it's not as rewarding as it seems like it should be," Rex Freiberger, CEO and editor of the shopping curation site Gadget Review, shares. "Not all online stores are even eligible for these rewards—the only stores that can apply are those based in the United States and Canada."

"Plus, the idea of this platform 'saving' or 'earning' users money is contradictory since they have to spend money first for that to occur," Freiberger adds.

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Customers say the support is unreliable.

"The complaints about Rakuten left on our review website show that consumers often can't reach the customer service for help," says Michael Podolsky, CEO and co-founder of the consumer advocacy platform PissedConsumer.com, which allows users to submit reviews of popular companies. (As of this writing, Rakuten sports a 1.8 rating on the site based on 227 user reviews.)

"In many posts, consumers share issues they have with accounts and often complain that they haven't received a referral bonus or cash back. At the same time, by attempting to call Rakuten customer service, consumers report being frequently disconnected."

Rakuten can sometimes miss your transaction.

Through a litany of reasons—whether it's tech issues, incorrect web browsers, or the omnipresent enigma of internet cookies—Rakuten doesn't always catch your transaction.

"Make sure that all of your transactions are acknowledged by Rakuten, and if not, follow up," Williams says. "They have an easy way to submit a missing transaction: It's a simple form, and you paste in your confirmation email."

To head off some potential errors, be sure you're using either the most up-to-date version of the Rakuten mobile app or one of Rakuten's approved web browsers: Edge, Chrome, Firefox, Safari, or Internet Explorer.

"Again, if the transaction is denied, follow up with additional information and receipts in a timely fashion. Waiting too long to respond means that they will close the ticket and not allow the credit," Williams adds.