Wednesday, April 3, 2019

An In-Depth Review of Checkout 51: Does the "Accepted Anywhere" Mobile Rebate App Really Have an Advantage Over Competitors?

WHAT IS IT? 

Checkout 51 is, much like Ibotta, a free “coupon rebate” app that offers money back when specific items are purchased. The main advantage it has over its competition is that, unlike most apps that are only accepted at specific retailers, any of the offers in Checkout51 can be redeemed anywhere—even online! But does that make it a formidable opponent to the top rebate apps? Or is it a complete waste of your time? Read on for all the sordid details!

EASE OF USE 

The main screen. Simply scroll down to see and add offers.

If you have used other rebate apps, then you probably already have a good idea of how to use Checkout 51—which, in many ways, is even simpler! All of the available offers are accessed via a single page that can be scrolled through, and adding offers is as simple as pressing the grey “+” that appears next to each one. If you want to search for a specific item, that can be done via the search bar at the top, or you can browse for deals by category. Clicking on an offer will provide you with more details, though sadly there is no “scan UPC” function to verify an item in advance; this means you'll have to carefully read through the details to make sure the size/quantity you're buying is eligible for the rebate. It's a bit of a drag, but shouldn't be a dealbreaker for most.


Watch out for store-specific offers like the ones above, which can be kind of hard to see, especially on computers.

Also, even though a big selling point is that all offers can be redeemed anywhere, keep in mind there are still items only available at certain stores. These are denoted on the main page with “Select Retailers Only” above the item name if there are multiples, or with a single store name above the item if it's only valid at one. If the offer is good at multiple stores, you will have to click into it to read the list of specific stores where the offer is valid.

SELECTION

Not sure what you're looking for? Browsing for products by category is very simple.
On its own, Checkout 51 has a solid variety of offers, spanning just about every product category from “snacks”, to “baby”, to alcohol, and almost everything in between. However, once you really break it down, there are generally only around a handful of items per category. Whereas with Ibotta you can just do your normal shopping without consulting the app first, and have at least a decent chance something you bought is on offer, a majority of the items in Checkout 51 are things most people will intentionally have to seek out, with the sole purpose of capitalizing on the offer. 

This can be a good thing: It was this app that got us to try Icelandic Provisions Skyr for the first time, which is a pretty delicious (if overpriced) semi-sweet yogurt-style treat that we otherwise probably never would have gotten. But on the other hand, if you wander from your grocery list too often, or are on a tight budget, you might find that going out of your way to add additional, unnecessary items all because you’re promised a rebate in the future just isn't worth it.

Really, that’s the mindset that powers the app: brands pay these companies to have some of their items featured, in the hopes that the small discount will be enough incentive to get people to give it a shot. So if it happens to be something you normally get, that’s just an even better bonus!

I was excited by the proposition that Checkout 51 is accepted at any store, and while that's technically the case, there's a big black mark next to that notion: Aside from the first week you sign up, and your birthday (which was a cute, unexpected touch), you are never given offers on unbranded or generic items. That means every offer is only available on brand name products, shooting big holes through the perceived benefit of being able to cash in offers anywhere. So while you can submit a receipt, for example, from Aldi, how often do they have name brand items, and what are the odds they will have the specific item, in the specific size and/or quantity required, at the specific time that Checkout 51 is offering a rebate on it? In my experience, it happened once (for Bubba Burgers), and I didn't even buy it.

Moral of the story: Unless you’re doing a lot of your shopping around this app, or happen to buy products that consistently have rebates, don’t really expect to make all that much: I started using both Ibotta and this one around the same time (summer, 2018), and as of this writing in March, 2019, I have five times more in my Ibotta account than I do here, and none of the money in Checkout 51 came from Aldi, which was the whole reason I signed up for it in the first place.

(Note: As of March, 2019, Aldi is now an approved retailer in Ibotta, giving Aldi shoppers one less reason to even try this app in the first place. However, this also happened for a brief time back in 2017, before Aldi was unceremoniously dumped from Ibotta again, so who knows if it's a permanent thing this time, or just another limited run.)

REDEEMING OFFERS 

After you select your offers, and purchase them in store, redeeming them is as simple as taking a picture of your receipt, similar to other apps of this nature. Once you submit, it can take up to 24 hours for the balance to appear in your account, though it’s typically much quicker than that. 

A photo template makes lining up and taking images of your receipt quick and painless!

One big area of difference from other rebate apps is the timeframe you have to redeem your offers: all offers reset at midnight on Thursdays, meaning all receipts must be submitted by 11:59PM every Wednesday. This is much different than the 7-day rule used by other apps, and also a drag if you tend to do your shopping on Wednesdays, as you'll have to remember to upload your receipt that day. It’s an even bigger drag if an offer you were eyeing is valid again the following week—you still can’t submit receipts from the previous week-long period.

There are also instances where offers can expire before Wednesday, though they tend to be well-communicated: Most rebates have a certain number of times they can be redeemed; ones close to hitting that threshold will have a “Very Few Left!” note right below the title on the main screen, giving you an at-a-glance warning that you’d better hurry if it’s an offer you’re planning to capitalize on. Annoyingly, items that run out of redemptions are still displayed until the weekly reset, with a note that says “0 Remaining”. They can still be added to your list (though, obviously, they can’t be redeemed) so it’s a good idea to look things over closely so you don’t get shafted. 

Uh oh, hurry! Not many redemptions left on this one!
On the flipside, knowing a specific date and time when all offers expire (outside of those expiring via redemption), is nice, and allows you to plan a little better than other apps, where they may expire out of nowhere even before the specific expiration date specified. I’ve never had an offer expire out from under me with Checkout 51, something I can’t say about its closest competitor.

As I believe I mentioned earlier, Checkout 51 also allows you to redeem offers for items that you buy online, though I don't foresee many people using this function: Unlike other rebate apps, which offer a percentage back on your purchase for specific stores, Checkout 51's online offers are still limited to the specific items it's offering rebates on for that week. So I guess if you're one of the five people in the world that buy their Pond's Face Wipes from Amazon, then you can submit that receipt to get money back! Well, assuming the packing list you receive meets the criteria: Everything must be itemized, and include a store logo, date, prices for each item, and a total. Email confirmations and PDF receipts are not accepted, probably because they're easy to fake and/or reproduce. If your packing list meets these requirements, you can snap a pic and submit it just like any other receipt.

WEBSITE 

Since this is predominantly a mobile app, you may be wondering, “What if I don't have a phone? Can I still open an account?” If I just read your mind, I'm happy to say that the answer is yes! The mobile app is hands-down the easiest and most convenient way to search for offers, as you can source them while you're in-store, take the picture of the receipt using your phone's camera, and then submit it, all from within the app, with just a few screen presses, and from anywhere that has cellular reception.

However, if you're old as shit and don't have a phone, the Checkout 51 website has the same full functionality of the mobile app, allowing you to do everything you can do on your mobile device, right from the comfort of your own computer! It's also the only way to submit Walmart e-commerce receipts, so if you do a lot of your shopping from there, you'll have to hop on the ol' comp to redeem your offers.  
Submitting online follows the same principle...attach a photo file of your receipt, and voila!
I found the website to be overly slow and glitchy when I tried using it: The first few times, it wouldn't activate the pop-up that allowed me to sign in from Google, which is how I signed up. Even once I signed in, the site constantly froze as offers were loading, leading to jerky navigation and a frustrating experience that was the exact opposite of the smooth overall experience the app provides. But if you can't get the app, or just don't want it, it's still a feasible way to submit receipts (though you'll still need a digital camera to take and upload the photo files.)

GETTING PAID

Once your account hits the $20 threshold, you can request payment—in the form of a paper check. That’s right kids, no direct deposits or Paypal payments here, which is another big drawback. As a point of reference, I only have about $14 in my account after about 9 months of use, so I can't speak as to how quickly the checks arrive, but needless to say it won't be as quick as a balance transfer to a checking account or online payment processor.

OVERALL

PROS (+)

+Easy to add offers and submit receipts
+Offers end the same time every week (Wednesday at 11:59 pm)
+Offers can be redeemed at any store
+Simple navigation as all offers are on the main screen
+Bonuses for referring friends and redeeming certain sets of offers
+$1 bonus on any treat for your birthday, which was an unexpected surprise
+Offers broken down by category for easy browsing

CONS (-)

-All items are brand-specific (i.e. no private label or produce offers)
-Far fewer offers than competing apps
-Offers that reach their redemption limit and are no longer valid still show up in results
-Payment by check only (no Paypal or gift card options)
-Website is very slow to load (maybe this one is just me)

I really wanted to like this one more than I do, but Checkout 51 is a pretty worthless app, at least for my shopping style. The lack of private label or non-brand specific items (such as produce) pretty much negates all offers for stores like Aldi, where I do a bulk of my shopping. There are also far fewer offers than other apps, virtually requiring the user to intentionally go out of their way to buy items they're offering in order to get any savings (which is kind of the point, from their perspective, but other apps have so many you can go in after shopping and generally find a couple rebates, without having to change shopping habits).

I'm sure there are people that this app will suit very well, and if you think you're one of them, then go for it! From a technical standpoint, searching, browsing, adding, and redeeming offers on the mobile app is such a simple, straightforward process that virtually anyone can do it. Personally, I just don't find much use for it, and after hitting my first $20 and cashing out, I'm honestly not sure I'll ever go back to it again.

RATING: 3/10

If you're interested in giving this app a spin (and it's completely free, so why not?), it's available on the Google Play Store for Android users, or the App Store for iOS users.


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