Bountii blog

Negative Cashback from Bing Cashback

Posted November 23rd, 2009 by Samir

In a recent post that Microsoft made me take down, I wrote about some security holes in Bing Cashback.  While technical flaws are somewhat interesting to me, most Bountii users don’t really care about them.  Starting today, I’ll write about some non-technical flaws in Bing Cashback.

My biggest problem with Bing Cashback is a hidden “feature” that I’m calling “negative cashback.” Here’s a quick demo:

Step 1: Use Bing to find pricing for a fairly popular product, the Canon Vixia HV40.

Step 2: Expand the listing for Butterfly Photo.  The store price is listed as $758 with 2% cashback, giving a total price of $742.84.

Step 3: Click through to Butterfly Photo, and verify Bing has the correct price.  Yes, the prices matches.

Step 4: Open a different web browser or clear your cookies from butterflyphoto.com in your current one.  Go directly to their site and check the price.  $699!

So, if I go directly to butterflyphoto.com, I pay $699 with 0% cashback.  If I use Bing Cashback, I pay $758 with 2% cashback, or $742.84.  Using Bing cashback has actually cost me $43.84, giving an effective cashback rate of -6.27%.  Yes, negative cashback!  Is this legal?  False advertising?  I don’t know, but it’s pretty sketchy.

The problem doesn’t end there.  Using Bing has tainted my web browser.  Butterfly Photo set a three month cookie on my computer to indicate that I came from Bing.  Any product I look at for the next three months may show a different price than I’d get by going there directly.  Just clicking a Bing link means three months of potentially negative cashback, without me ever realizing it.  I’m actually afraid to use their service even just to write this, because it may cost me money in the future.  If you’ve been thinking about trying out Bing Cashback, you may want to rethink that.

To be fair to Microsoft, they aren’t offering negative cashback on every item at every store, but I know of more than a few instances.  Let’s see if/when they decide to remove this “feature.”  At Bountii, we do our best to make sure we always show the lowest available price at a store.  And if you happen to find a better price than we show for one of our stores, let us know by either emailing support@bountii.com or entering one of our price hunts.

Update: After being pointed to this post by a writer over at InformationWeek, a Microsoft spokesperson said, “With more than 1,000 retailers and 17 million product offers, the Bing cashback program aims to ensure Bing customers get the best available deal on the Web. Within the cashback program, each retailer sets the allocation of products and pricing of those products, which are delivered to Microsoft through a realtime data feed. We have tools that will catch discrepancies, and in this particular case, there was an error in the information delivered to us. When we notice an inconsistency or one is reported to Microsoft, we work with the merchant to correct the issue immediately. Overall, this case is an isolated instance within the larger Bing cashback and we are working with Butterfly Photo to resolve this specific issue as soon as possible.” At the time of this update, it appears the price of this camcorder at Butterfly Photo via Bing is the same as if you were to go to the site directly; however, the price being shown on Bing from the “realtime data feed” is still what we show in the screenshots.

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