Saturday, July 25, 2020

Money For (Virtually) Nothing, or Just Plain Nothing? An In-Depth Look at Dosh (Mobile)

WHAT IS IT?
Dosh is yet another “money back” app, the likes of which seem to be cropping up every single second in this digital age. Yet, this one works a little differently than most others: You link your credit (or debit) card, and automatically earn money back on purchases from participating vendors. There are no specific items to buy, or offers to “activate”--just use your card as you normally would , and get some money back! It's a nice passive way to make some cash...at least in theory. Let's see if the execution follows suit, or leaves a lot to be desired.

INTERFACE/NAVIGATION
The main screen. Online offers on top, scroll down for local offers (if location services are enabled).
In this digital age where the mantra seems to be “more is more”, which leads to cluttered and packed interfaces and confusing user experiences, it’s actually kind of refreshing to see an app like Dosh start to gain traction. (And yes, I hate the name too; it’s a slang British term for “money”.) In order to start saving money, there are no menus or hoops to jump through (outside of linking your card for the first time): just use your location settings, or manually enter your zip code, and a list of all participating businesses pops up, from closest to farthest away. Or, if you prefer, you can rank them from highest percentage back, to lowest.

The "hamburger" icon gives you access to all of your specific account needs.
That's pretty much all I ever use this app for: the local cashback. However, they're pushing other features of the app, as well, so there are categories for “mobile offers”, “hotels”, and “online offers”, which you will have to get in the habit of scrolling past to get to the good stuff.

As is standard for this kind of app (and really any app these days), all of the "savings"-related stuff can be accessed with buttons running along the bottom of the screen, while the "administrative" things, such as account information, debit/credit cards, and support, can be accessed with an oddly-shaped "hamburger" icon on the top left of the screen. It's all pretty straightforward and, unless you just crawled out from under a rock that you've been living under for 15 years, should be easy for almost everyone to get the hang of.

SIGN UP PROCESS
Signing up is easy, but there are four big requirements that might be dealbreakers for some people: you must have a valid mobile number, you can only use the app through a mobile device, you must link a debit or credit card to the app (that's how you get cash back), and you must also link either a Paypal or bank account in order to cash out your earnings.

While two out of those four things might make some people uncomfortable, we're all being spied on and tracked at all times anyway, so why not voluntarily give it out so you can at least get paid for it!

Keep in mind that Discover, pre-paid, and department store cards are not accepted, which is fairly typical of these kinds of cashback programs. Assuming none of these things bother you, and you can meet each of those requirements, then you should have no problems getting yourself up and running.

THE IN-STORE CASH-BACK PROCESS
The process is where Dosh unanimously has my vote: no other app that I’m aware of makes earning the money back so easy. Just shop at a participating vendor, run your card (whether debit or credit) as “credit” at the terminal, and you’ll receive an email about your cash back earnings almost immediately. That’s it! There is no need to upload your receipt, or to “claim” an offer beforehand, or even to go shopping through a specific link: just go to that retailer, make a purchase, and wait for the money to roll in.


Target local shops with the "lightning bolt" icon as much as you can; your balance is credited almost immediately.
But I know what you’re thinking, because I was thinking the same exact thing: “Well some places won’t let me run my debit as credit,” at which point I just assumed you were SOL. After all, isn’t that how these apps tend to work? Didn’t claim an offer beforehand in Ibotta while using your loyalty card? Sorry, you're shit out of luck. Didn’t claim an offer in GetUpside before pumping your gas? Sorry, there’s nothing we can do. Sometimes it seems the hoops you already have to jump through just to save a few pennies in these apps are already getting smaller...then they light the hoops on fire until you just no longer want to participate.

This is another area where Dosh is pretty refreshing, because, contrary to my expectations, there’s an easy workaround for this: If it was run as debit, simply upload your receipt and upload it to the Dosh team. Once they verify it, they will add the cash back amount to your account. It’s an extra step, sure, but in their defense, debit cards are processed differently than credit, and it’s quite literally out of their hands. The fact they have a workable solution around this at all besides just telling you "better luck next time" is somewhat generous.

THE ONLINE CASH-BACK PROCESS
One area where I'm resolving to get better for the new decade, is to look for online cash back discounts. There are many sites that offer a percentage back, but I've never really paid much attention to them in the past. This is because I generally only shop at Amazon and eBay online, and they don't always offer a percentage back, seeing as how they're two of the biggest marketplaces in the world and don't really have to.

And, would you believe it if I told you that the process is almost exactly the same as in-person sales? Unlike virtually every other “rebate” program in the world, you don't have to make your purchase by following a link in the Dosh app—find a participating vendor, and make a payment through your connected card. It will “spot” it, and then you will receive your percentage rebate. That's it.

Now, similar to every other rebate program in the world, receiving your money back may still take up to 90 days (it's usually dependent on when the return window for your purchase closes), so it's not as “instant” is the in-store option. But it's nice not having to remember to follow through a link, which then opens up the possibilities of “stacking” your Dosh cash back with other link-clicking rebate apps (assuming your preferred provider doesn't use the same platform as Dosh), or credit card reward programs.

SELECTION


The "local offers" screen, which may vary wildly by area.
Here's one area where this app is going to be worth it to some, and a waste of time for others, depending on where you live and/or how much online shopping you do. Around me, in a suburban area neighboring a huge city, there are quite a few offers from local restaurants that we like going to, that offer 5% cash back. We typically only go to these places once or twice a month, and that only equals somewhere around a couple bucks per month, but hey, that's better than nothing!

However, not everyone will be so lucky, as some reviewers online claim that there are very few cashback opportunities around them at all. As a real world example from personal experience, I visited a somewhat older metropolitan city in Illinois, to visit my family, and there were no local restaurants on board whatsoever, leaving me with just a handful of Papa John's and Wendy's locations (and leading me to believe those are nationwide partnerships). So the potential for cash back can be severely limited by where you live, or where you are willing to shop. Although it is unfortunate for the consumer, it's really not the fault of the app, who would no doubt love to have as many companies on board as possible.

Another thing to keep in mind, is that the participating places and categories are always subject to rotating around, although I must confess it doesn't seem to happen as frequently as I thought it would. A few months before I signed up, they offered 2% back on purchases from Kroger. Sure, I hate that place, but my wife (inexplicably) likes to shop there, and I figured it would get added back to the rotation soon. Over a year later, and it hasn't yet; in fact, there are no participating grocery stores in my area, save for Costco, which technically isn't a grocery store at all. Truth be told, outside of restaurants, there's really not much around me; I did expect a lot more variety when I signed up. But again, not all this is within the app's control.

HOW MUCH MONEY CAN I MAKE?
This is one of those sites where the question becomes, “Well, how much money do you spend?” Unless otherwise specified within the offer (and it seems to be only the larger corporations that do this, at least around me), the cash back is usually limited to some absurd monthly amount (such as $2,000). So unless you’re constantly ordering stuff for your office, or some other large scale operation, you can shop at all of those places every single day, and get some cash back.

Again—and this is something that should be common sense, but that can sometimes get lost in the drive to earn money—since the “rewards” completely depend on your spending, so it’s probably not smart to go out of your way to spend twice as much somewhere you don’t normally go, just to earn a couple of bucks back.

In my case, I signed up somewhere around September, 2019, and have around $18 in my account, pretty much all of this from repeated visits to one local restaurant. It's not a lot, but it's something I wouldn't have had otherwise, and I'm pretty satisfied with it. However, the cashback percentages are often pretty low (probably 2-3% on average, up to 5% near me) so you're going to have to spend quite a bit in order to build up your balance.

CASHING OUT


Here are your cashout options...note the complete lack of gift cards!
Cashing out is one of the major issues I have with Dosh and other apps of its ilk. I'm not referring to the actual process of transferring a balance from Dosh to Paypal, or your bank account (which are the only two options, as of this writing), because, quite frankly, I've never reached the minimum balance for cashout. And that's what brings me to the main issue: Many of these services require a rather large minimum balance in order to transfer your savings at all, which can put people in a hard situation if a store that they've accrued a large portion of their balance from, is suddenly dropped from the app.

Dosh is no exception: in order to access your funds via Paypal or bank account, you must have a minimum balance of $25. That doesn't sound high, but just look at my example: close to a year in, and I only have $15. Other people may even worse off than that, with very few chances to even earn money back at all near them.

And speaking of oddities, another thing I don't like: Dosh won't even let you add any of your Paypal, Venmo, or bank account information until you actually have enough money to cash out. It's the only app I know of that's set up that way. I'm one of those people that like to have everything ironed out well in advance so that any problems or setbacks can be cleared up by the time I cash out. Plus, this opens the door for problems, like making people who think they have a valid account, wait until they have enough balance to find out that their accounts aren't valid, and that they can't cash out the money that should rightfully be theirs. While I can't see this really affecting all that many people, that's still a borderline shady business practice, and a rule that I can't see having any business being implemented.

Referrals can be a good way to get you there quicker, if you have a strong network of people who may be interested, as those can net you $5 every time someone signs up and makes their first valid in-app transaction using a linked card. However, keep in mind that no matter how many referrals you have, you can't cash out until you make a qualifying transaction yourself.

Referrals are a good way to boost your funds quickly; feel free to use mine.
This is definitely something that should be factored in when people are deciding whether or not to create an account here. Sure, they give you a "free" $5 for signing up, but that still means you have to actually earn $20 yourself before you hit the base amount and can put it to use. And, while Dosh seems to be on decent financial ground (PayPal is a major investor), there's always the possibility that the company could go bankrupt or lose money, especially in this uncertain year where it feels like anything can happen; at that point, you can kiss your balance goodbye.

COMMUNITY/SUPPORT

The support menu.
As seems to be standard for me in this section, I have not had a need to contact Dosh support (what can I say? I'm easy to get along with), so I can't vouch for their usefulness in handling inquiries. Based on a variety of reviews I discovered on the world wide web, the consensus is that Dosh support sucks overall (and that also gets mentioned in positive reviews). Lots of complaints involving “bait-and-switch” tactics with sudden changes to their terms of service that took away cashback on what should have been eligible purchases, with the majority of these cases involving a specific Staples offer.

Other complaints seem to focus on Sams Club purchases being hit or miss as to whether or not the rebates actually post to their account. Ditto that for online orders in general, with some users complaining they had to send over additional documentation to verify purchases made from online retailers before they were given any money.

They do have an “A+” with the BBB, but just a gentle reminder that the BBB are worthless scam artists who give higher grades to businesses that pay for a membership, and that they are in no way affiliated with the federal government, as some people believe to be the case. (And I'm not at all suggesting that Dosh's score should be lower; just giving some insight as to how the BBB works, since people tend to put way too much weight on their ratings.)

For the record, this is all just publicly available information I've found online from reviewers: In my experience I've personally never had an issue with anything taking longer to post than it should. Granted, as stated earlier, my transactions have all focused on local businesses that offer “instant cash back”, but it has certainly lived up to that terminology every time I've used them, with the verification email hitting my inbox usually before I even put my debit card back in my wallet.

OVERALL
PROS (+)
+"Instant cash back" establishments give you, well, immediate cash back.
+No deals to "claim" or links to shop through; just use your linked card and earn money back.
+Existing users can earn $5 per referral
+New users get $5 just for signing up

CONS (-)
-Widespread reports of virtually nonexistent customer service
-Very limited number of offers in some locations
-Minimum cashout balance of $25
-Most offers 5% or less
-Cashback for online orders can take up to 90 days to post
-Local offers seem to focus mainly on restaurants

Dosh has performed just as well as I've been expecting it to in the year or so since I've started using it. Even so, the trudge up to the minimum $25 cashout balance has been pretty slow, and there hasn't been nearly as much rotation of available businesses and categories as I was expecting (Kroger offered a percentage back shortly before I signed up, and thought another grocery store might step up to take its place, but that hasn't happened in the past nine months).

The percentages, especially for nationwide partners, are usually pretty low, hovering between the 2-3% range, while the highest I've seen is only 5%. Sure, it's better than nothing, but again, that cashout minimum means you'll have to spend $500 in order to see that money again.

On the plus side, using it is easier than most other apps of its ilk: just use your linked credit/debit card at a participating merchant, either online or in person, and watch the balance hit your account within seconds (if it's a local business that participates in the "instant cash back" program), or 90 days (if it's an online vendor). There's no need to remember to shop from a certain link, or "enable" an offer before you go. This reason alone makes it worthwhile for me, as there have been a few instances I've unknowingly shopped at a participating store, only to get a surprise email stating that I have a rebate on its way to my account. And you really can't beat that!

RATING: 6.5/10

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