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Faster Forward: Microsoft ends Bing cashback rebates

By Rob Pegoraro
Friday, June 4, 2010; 3:28 PM

Microsoft is retiring Bing cashback, the rebate option it launched to try to boost the use of its Web search engine.

Back when Microsoft launched cashback in May of 2008--originally called Live Search Cashback--it seemed like a good idea. The business model went something like this:

Phase one: Microsoft gets retailers to offer rebates to buyers who make purchases by clicking through its search results.

Phase two: Web users shop at Bing, knowing they'll get money back there.

Phase three: Those users continue shopping at those retailers' sites.

Phase four: Profit!

I took the bait and wound up collecting $26.31 in 2008 and 2009 from five purchases at Circuit City (R.I.P.), J&R Electronics and Buy.com, with my rebates equaling from 3 percent to 5 percent of a product's sale price. I could have done without waiting for $5 of a cashback balance to accumulate in my account and then having to request a redemption, but otherwise I had little to complain about: The funds showed up promptly in my bank account and represented a real savings over prices I found at other sites.

But apparently not enough other buyers were interested in being bribed in this manner. In a posting today, Yusuf Mehdi, a Microsoft vice president, explained cashback's demise:

"In lots of ways, this was a great feature - we had over a thousand merchant partners delivering great offers to customers and seeing great ROI on their campaigns, and we were taking some of the advertising revenue and giving it back to customers. But after a couple of years of trying, we did not see the broad adoption that we had hoped for."

A frequently-asked-questions page explains that Bing searchers have until July 30 to make purchases under this program; after then, the $5 redemption requirement will be waived on any remaining balances.

I suppose I'm part of the problem: I haven't used Bing cashback in a few months--in part because I'd completed a round of electronics upgrades last year and was happy to let somebody else prop up that industry for a change. How about you? Did you use cashback? Did you find it worthwhile? Or is this post the first you've heard of it?

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