The US-based cashback shopping pioneer Ebates is to be fully absorbed by its parent company Rakuten, in a full brand transition set to play out over the next year. 

Word of the decision was delivered to Ebates partners by CEO Amit Patel on behalf of the site’s “12 million members and 700 employees”, who said that it is now time to bring “the next phase of our growth strategy to life”, having been nearly four years since its acquisition for $1 billion in 2014.

Founded in 1998, Ebates has been considered a trailblazer within the rebate publisher space, claiming the title of “most popular meta-loyalty programme in the world”, and has paid out over $250 million to its members so far through its multiple sites and apps.

According to Patel (email available to view here), the full merge with Rakuten will allow the publisher to capitalise on the Japanese e-commerce giant and Barcelona FC sponsor’s continued investment in technology, entertainment, financial services and sports marketing.

Crypto-loyalty plans

The announcement falls shortly after Rakuten announced the launch of its own cryptocurrency Rakuten Coin at Mobile World Congress, which based on blockchain technology, would build on Rakuten’s Super Points loyalty programme. This is set to see the integration of all relevant holdings, including France-based PriceMinister (already rebranded to Rakuten), OverDrive, and Ebates.

Rakuten plans to use this currency to support loyalty services globally and to assist consumers in buying goods within its various services and products. The company saw $8.8 billion in revenue at the end of last year, bolstered by a “very active” loyalty programme; over one trillion Super Points have been awarded over 15 years equating to $9.1 billion, according to TechCrunch.

Patel didn’t confirm such detail in his email to partners, adding only that Ebates will be communicating details of the transition in upcoming communications “as we begin to execute our plans”.

In the meantime, he stressed that there will be no change to its current business model, programmes or pricing.

Early controversy

Rakuten’s purchase of Ebates in 2014 caused concern among the affiliate industry with many highlighting a conflict with existing publishers on the company’s own performance marketing network Rakuten LinkShare (now Rakuten Marketing). At the time, sources suggested Ebates could potentially leverage data and various insights from its Rakuten LinkShare-supported competitors for an “inside advantage”.

Claiming that “no publisher, owned by our parent company or not, has full visibility of another publisher’s actions”, the network’s CEO, Yaz Lida, discredited any substance to these concerns, insisting the purchase was made exclusively by Rakuten and was aimed primarily at optimising e-commerce.