Wednesday, April 1, 2020

A Rising "Receipt App" With a Great Community: An In-Depth Look at Coinout (Mobile App)

WHAT IS IT?

Coinout is yet another receipt-uploading app that pays you money for uploading receipts. Like Receipt Hog, it allows you to upload virtually any itemized receipt from virtually any store; unlike Receipt Hog, which only gives you “coins” (which can then be exchanged for gift cards or Paypal cash) for certain kinds of receipts, Coinout pays you instantly in cold-hard cash. It shot to nationwide attention in 2017, when the founder appeared on the hit show “Shark Tank”, and accepted an offer of $250,000 from one of the judges; despite this, I only heard about it recently.

(A fun fact that I haven't seen mentioned in very many places: its “pitch” on Shark Tank was completely different than the finished product. Originally, it was conceived as a way to avoid receiving coins, with the basic process functioning something like this: you go to a store, pay with cash, and instead of the cashier giving you change back--which you can easily lose or forget about--you would pull up the Coinout app, the cashier at the store would scan a barcode that appeared in it, and the change you would have received would go straight into your CoinOut account. From there, you could do whatever you wanted with it: let it accrue, transfer it to your bank account, invest it elsewhere, etc. It's actually a pretty brilliant idea, and I'm curious as to why that aspect was dropped, or if that is a feature that will eventually be coming down the pike. Either way, whatever.)

INTERFACE/NAVIGATION
This is the ugly screen that you're greeted with.
Quite simply put, the interface of Coinout screams “scam” right from the outset. To be perfectly clear, it's not, but it's very unattractive...it looks like the work of a first-year design student making his (or her) first mobile application.

Honestly, if you were to download this app with no idea what it is beforehand, figuring out its point would be pretty confusing: there are vague “buttons” in the middle of the screen, a large (relatively speaking) banner offering cash back at the top, and then an option to click on “All Badges”. Clicking on any of them will give you more details, but a lot of them are the spammy type of ads found on survey sites, requiring you to get a quote on car insurance, or sign up for a service in order to receive the offered payout (which is generally around a dollar). At least all of their offers are from legitimate companies, however, instead of the shady “Sign Up For a $1,000 WalMart Gift Card”-type offers found on other survey sites (Swagbucks and InboxDollars, I'm looking at you!)

Current savings offers...ouch.
There are also buttons for “Share & Earn”, which offers $.75 for every person you refer to their service, as well as one marked “Savings”, which simply shows you a rotating selection of savings accounts that it “thinks” you may be interested in. They don't seem to actually be targeted to the user specifically so much as just randomized options that are probably just masked advertisements, though to be fair, the options do at least tend to have high percentage yields. It's a pretty weird option to have on the main page, though, because how often do people really shop and change savings accounts? It's also weird considering you often get nothing for signing up.

The only thing most people will need to know is the large button marked “Scan”--this is where (almost all of) the magic happens.

UPLOADING RECEIPTS
CoinOut utilizes a pretty standard receipt uploading template.
The upload process is very similar to other sites, with markers helping you to align the receipt to the borders. One curious thing about the app that I learned the hard way, is that there are no options to take multiple shots of the same receipt—you have one shot to take a picture of the whole thing. This is weird for longer receipts, but as a workaround, the app suggests folding the receipt so that the name of the retailer, the date, and the purchase price are all displayed. This kind of strikes me as odd, considering many receipt apps want to see the specific items purchased in order to gather details on user purchasing habits, but I'm not going to complain about its simplicity.

In-store receipts are valid 14 days from the purchase date, which is about the average length for non-specific deal apps; it also means people just starting out can make a good chunk right away by uploading whatever receipts they've accumulated the past couple of weeks, which is a good incentive to get started.

Once you're done snapping the pic, just hit the large "Submit" button, wait about five seconds, and your amount will immediately be added to your balance. Sometimes, it will ask you a simple question related to your purchase, or hit you with a full-page ad related to one of their offers, but answering the question or backing out of the ad takes an extra three seconds, and you'll see your updated total right then and there.

The lack of processing time is another oddity with the app; you could conceivably upload the same receipt 50 times, or even something resembling a receipt (like a piece of paper), and get paid each time. Obviously, I'm not at all suggesting you do that - you'll get your account terminated when you go to cash out and must verify your info - but it's just weird that they don't do all those things upfront, and in real-time, the way virtually every other app works. It gives it a kind of laid back feel that's certainly a welcome change from the norm.

REWARDS SYSTEM
First, the good: Coinout's reward system foregoes "points" or "coins" or other fake currency in favor of one that displays the actual amount of money you have in your account at any given time. Thus, you are paid in actual money for every receipt you upload.

Now, the bad/just plain weird: unlike virtually every other “receipt reward” site, CoinOut doesn't have a set rewards system, meaning the amount you make per receipt is completely randomized, ranging anywhere from $.01 on up. This means exactly what you're thinking it means: that you could conceivably make more money from a receipt for a single item from a convenience store than your $348.68 receipt from the supermarket, which is pretty dumb when you think about it. But hey, at the end of the day, all of those pennies add up, and in theory, it should all even out in the long run. There are ways to boost your balance besides receipts, which we'll touch on later, but if you're just relying just on scanning (which I do, so I'm speaking from experience here), then it's going to be a slow slog to any meaningful amount.

Receipt amounts are completely randomized.
The biggest draw that CoinOut has over the competition is that virtually any receipt from a valid retailer is eligible for cash payment. So those gas-only receipts that only get you a sweepstakes entry elsewhere? Upload them here for immediate cash payment. That receipt from a clothing store that would only be good for a "spin on the slots" in other apps? Cash here. Electronics store? Cash. Restaurant? Cash. Thrift store purchase? I'm not entirely sure on this one, but I'm sure that's valid for cash back, too. As a general rule of thumb, as long as it's printed, itemized with a total amount, legible, and has a store name, it can earn you money. The only ones that aren't accepted are the obvious: bills, movie tickets, handwritten receipts, etc. are all invalid, which really shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone.

What is rather surprising is that they even take e-receipts, unlike many of their competitors. The process for claiming them is simple, but also rather bizarre: simply forward the actual receipt (not an invoice or other vague document) to receipts@coinout.com and you're good to go. A verification email will be sent once they receive it (which is generally almost instantly) and is a nice touch that let's you know it's safely in their hands. The first time you submit one, you do have to include the mobile number attached to your CoinOut account in the body section of the email, but after that you're given the chance to fill out a form that makes every submission thereafter automatic (assuming it comes from the same email address, I presume).

E-receipts are paid out in one lump sum every Thursday, and designated, confusingly, as a "gift".
Payout for these, however, is not instant: instead, all e-receipts are processed on Wednesdays, with the money appearing in your account on Thursday morning. There are some more specific rules as to when they must be submitted by in order to be processed that week, so visit the website for full details, but in the worst-case scenario, you'll just have to wait until the following Thursday to get the cash. The same rules as the printed receipts apply: must be itemized, with date, store name, and total clearly legible, but other than that, they'll accept them from virtually anywhere.

The only catch—and it's a fairly big one—is that online receipts must be forwarded to them the day you receive them. The reasoning behind this is unclear, but considering the process is even simpler than uploading receipts, getting into the habit of immediately doing it quickly becomes second nature. I did test this theory and uploaded some receipts a day after receiving them, and they still seemed to go through, but that's something that's liable to change at any time, especially as the user base grows and their rules get more strict.

COMPUTER FUNCTIONALITY
Like an ever-increasing number of apps these days, Coinout is limited only to mobile devices, with absolutely no computer functionality whatsoever. Some sites will at least let you sign up on a computer, then force you to download the mobile app to actually use it, but you can't even sign up on a PC here, making it a poor option for those without a smartphone or tablet.

HOW MUCH CAN I MAKE?
It's going to depend on a variety of factors, such as how many receipts you upload, and what your random payout is for each one, but either way, don't expect much. After making over $1 within my first week, it took me close to a month to double that total (and on probably three times the number of receipts), so expect a slow drag that's about on par with payouts on other apps.

As can be expected, there's a daily limit to how many receipts you can submit...but like many other things with Coinout, it's very vague. At one point, it was 25 (per day!) but users on Reddit have claimed that number has been quartered down to roughly six (I can't exactly vouch for this because I rarely, if ever, get that many in a single day). And if you think you'll get a clear answer from the company themselves, their own terms simply confirm that there is a daily limit, but that it varies by day, with absolutely no numbers given for reference. So I guess just keep scanning until you don't earn anything.

For those people into referrals, you can get $.75 for every verified user you add.
For a personal, real-world example, I signed up around mid-July, 2019, and as of mid-March, 2020 (about eight months), I had just shy of $16 in my account. That equates to somewhere around $2 per month, with an estimated average of one receipt per day uploaded. In the grand scheme of things, that's pretty good compared to similar services I've signed up for, and there's a good chance if you're in a bigger household, or get way more receipts than I do, or sign up for their paid offers, that your results will be even better than mine.

Honestly, once the payments dipped down to normal levels, I was seriously tempted to drop the app. And I would have, were it not for the wide variety of supported receipts, as opposed to other ones like Receipt Hog, where certain categories only earn you entries into their sweepstakes, or spins on their slot machine, or some other pointless low-odds jackpot. It's also nice to not have to worry about cashing out “coins” or other fake methods of currency, which can sometimes be a little frustrating to remember how many points equal what, especially when the conversion rates tend to differ across the board.

NOTE: For those people into referrals, click here for my referral link. I get a one-time payment of $.75. You don't get dick.

PAID ACTIVITIES
Beyond the receipts, there are additional ways to make extra cash, with more being added on a pretty frequent basis.

They've jumped on the eBates-style bandwagon by offering cash back on purchases made through certain retailers. I always forget to do this when buying things online, so I can't compare their cash back percentages against similar apps, but they're generally around 3% or less. I can't imagine them being much better than the competition, and the selection of stores is relatively small (around twenty, with many of the stores seemingly offered on a rotating basis), so this probably wouldn't be my first choice for a cash back app, but it's there in case you're in the market for something from one of the places on offer.

Rules for their "online rebates" program.
The downside to these offers are the vague terms of each; since there's only a small square dedicated to each website, that doesn't leave a lot of room for specific notes. Hence, you'll see things like the below picture, which doesn't really give you a whole lot of specific, useful information to go off of.
"Up to 1.2%"? Okay, on what categories specifically? And what are the "excluded items"?
While receipts and rebates are about the only two constants, they do occasionally have Ibotta-style rebates for specific items, cash for completing sign-ups, a cool monthly (or is it twice a month?) trivia, and plenty of contests and sweepstakes that help to keep things fun and interesting. 

CASHING OUT

Another advantage CoinOut has over the competition are the number of ways to receive your payout—and none of them involve waiting for a paper check to arrive. You can be paid out via bank account, Paypal, or Amazon gift card. Looking over those options might not seem like much, considering there are other places that offer gift cards to dozens of different shops and vendors, but being able to transfer the money direct to your bank account is a relatively rare option among many sites. Even more amazing is that there are no minimum balances for anything except the Paypal option (which is $10): Desperately want to spend the $.57 you have in your account? Transfer away! Want a $2.18 gift card to Amazon? Do it! There really aren't many other sites that give you that kind of flexibility, which is another win in its favor.

To be perfectly honest, I have yet to cash out my winnings (saving up to hit the $20 mark), but I will definitely update this section once that happens.

COMMUNITY/SUPPORT

As is standard for me in this category, I have very little actual experience with support; I guess I'm just an easygoing guy. The only time I did contact them was after signing up to a newsletter that promised $1 payout...and receiving nothing after about a week. Support was very friendly, I submitted photographic evidence of receiving the newsletter in my email, and the money was added to my balance within 72 hours of contacting them. That's pretty solid turnaround, in my opinion.

An example of their newsletter layout; just like their app, it's ugly and simple, but the tone is positive and endearing.
As for the community, I have to confess that their newsletter is the only one I consistently read from any app. It matches the design of their website by being pretty ugly to look at, but its simplicity, straightforwardness and laid-back tone are all infectious: There are no spammy, over-the-top surveys, or other shady, questionable offers that other earning sites bombard you with. Instead, there are usually several contests running that pertain to the time period in question, and that just make the site fun. For example, for fall they had a contest where anyone that uploaded a receipt with the word “Pumpkin” in it somewhere, would automatically be entered to win some extra cash, with the winners randomly selected. For another, people were asked to submit receipts from their favorite local spot, with winners once again selected from the pool and given extra money.

They also have a Coinout Facebook page where they run more fun competitions, as well as a separate "Coinout Insiders" group - run by the founder himself, who also posts and responds to inquiries - with even more contests and chances to win, only for group members. They also seek user-submitted feedback on offers and features, and take the responses into consideration. Say what you will about the app itself, but the people behind it are certainly good at cultivating the feeling of a tight-knit community around the group's users, with newbies received just as warmly as longtime users, and no one jumped on for questions or comments. This is an area where other apps should take notice...hell, this is an area where social media in general should take notice.

What makes the contests fun is that, instead of giving a large lump sum to one winner, there are generally anywhere from 10 to 100 people selected as winners for each contest. This results in much smaller earnings (I don't think I've ever seen anyone win over $10 for one contest), but also increases the odds for everyone to win at least something. I don't know why, but I find their upfront honesty refreshing, and more encouraging to keep going long-term.

But perhaps the highlight of every newsletter is CoinOut trivia, which (I believe) is done about once a month. This is the one contest where there is no set amount given to winners, and where everyone has a chance to win: the trivia consists of about five questions, with all of them having something to do with Coinout. Anyone who gets all of them right splits the pot of money, which is generally around $500, but occasionally reaches as high as $1,000! This is a pretty fun way to potentially earn some cash, while simultaneously learning about the app and company. I've won three times, and while my highest amount was around $.40, it's still fun to do and a cool little boost...look at it this way: that's potentially ten receipts!

OVERALL
PROS (+)
+Instant payment for receipts.
+Accept e-receipts.
+Wide variety of supported receipts; perhaps the widest in the business.
+Fun community, with a supportive Facebook group and a down-to-Earth newsletter.
+Responsive support, at least for me the one time I needed them.
+A wide, ever-rotating number of ways to make extra cash.
+14-day acceptance window for paper receipts.
+Instant cash payments for receipts.

CONS (-)
-Ugly interface.
-No PC functionality (app only).
-Receipt payout amounts completely randomized.
-Limited in-store cash back offers, with sometimes vague terms to boot.
-E-receipts must inexplicably be uploaded the day you receive them to get credit.
-Very few free offers; usually low payouts on paid ones.
-Duplicated receipts are not caught by the system upon upload, and can lead to account termination when you try to cash out.

On its own, CoinOut would probably be pretty worthless; even as it stands it's going to be a slow slog for those that are uninterested in the cash-back offers they rotate out (many of which are for paid subscription services or online bank sign-ups). However, the sheer multitude of receipts accepted (virtually anything that's itemized, dated, totaled and with a store name clearly printed), and the fun laid-back community help to make this an app that's at least worth checking out.

They do dabble in all sorts of cash-back possibilities (eBates-style cash back offers for online shopping, Ibotta-style rebates on purchasing specific items, paid sign-up offers, etc.), which for some apps would come off as a clear lack of focus, but here it gives the appearance of an app that wants to cater to its users as much as possible, in an effort to keep them engaged. Whether or not it has the long-term capacity to do so remains to be seen, but it's gotten consistent use out of me for the last eight months, so that certainly has to count for something.

RATING: 7/10




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