Microsoft Kills Bing CashBack, A Great Idea With Gaping Loopholes

Microsoft said it will "bid farewell" to its Bing Cashback feature on July 30, 2010, citing lower-than-expected adoption. However, looking closer at the situation, it appears that the program may well have been a victim of its own success. Read on.

Bing Cashback logo.JPG

Disappointing Results?
In a post on Bing's official blog, the company said "we did not see the broad adoption that we had hoped for," and promised to deliver new programs.

Bing Cashback was launched in May 2008 in the hope of attracting more eyeballs to Microsoft's search engine but to this day, it remains third behind Google and Yahoo, who consequently lure advertisers to their shores. No wonder Apple CEO Steve Jobs last week said at AllThingsDigital's D8 conference that his company won't drop Google for Bing.

Bright Idea, Great Start
The idea behind the Cashback program was to give back some of Microsoft's advertising revenue to customers who made purchases through Bing. Although it attracted "over a thousand merchant partners," the initiative failed to "bribe" users to Microsoft's search platform, as TechEye puts it.

Bing Cashback page.JPG

Back in June 2008, just after the feature was launched, Center Networks' Allen Stern commented enthusiastically on the success of the Cashback operation. However, at that time, he did already warn that "the bottom line is that deal hunters would be the only ones to really take advantage of the service and that it would generate more of a financial loss overall."

High Click-Through Rates But Not Exactly Where Expected
What happened is that Microsoft gave ideas to other online discounters and businesses and drove qualified leads right through its site onto those merchants' interfaces, with no sale at all on Bing. Thanks to loopholes that Microsoft did not anticipate, it was possible for deal hunters to garner 35% rebates on other websites for the same product. There was no lead generation and yet, a financial cost to both Microsoft and the merchant partner.

You can see on Ben Metcalfe's blog post how to get such deals without ever actually purchasing anything on Bing while taking advantage of information provided by the search engine.

I quote: "For example, every time I've found something to buy on eBay I've noted the auction details, cleared my cookie, searched for eBay on Bing and clicked through. Performing that slightly but not terribly inconvenient task has netted me up to 30% refund on my eBay purchases... I've probably 'earned' (well, saved) over $2,000 in the last few years by doing this, sometimes by saving up to 40% off during special promotions. Thanks Microsoft!"

Now What?
Microsoft reaffirmed its intention to remain on the shopping "field" as it "remains one of the most important tasks people engage in while using search."

The company promised new programs to deliver "great shopping experiences for you that help you make better shopping decisions, get great deals, and save time and money along the way."

Last month, it already launched the social shopping experience by tying in Facebook, Twitter and email to Bing's platform, enabling hesitant shoppers to ask for friends' advices and ratings on a potential purchase. We had test-driven the feature but were not totally convinced.

So it's not a lack of interest that drove Bing Cashback to the exit door, it's a question of being a victim of its own success... in an unexpected way.

We have until this summer to find out about new programs and Bing Cashback users have a year from July 30 to claim their money from Microsoft.

What do you think are the next developments in the offing at Microsoft's?

About the author

Liva Judic joined Search Engine Watch and ClickZ in May 2010 as a news blogger. She has lived and worked across the globe in Madagascar, Switzerland, London, NYC, Asia and is now based in between New York and Berlin.

Her background is in government relations and financial media where she started out as a journalist at Bloomberg and became senior editor at AFX news (now part of ThomsonReuters). Prior to forming her own consultancy Judic was head of international PR for a head of state.

Judic focuses on facilitating brand and marketing transitioning for European startups moving to the US. She has been named one of the Top 50 Industry Influencers of 2014 by AGBeat