Tuesday, August 11, 2020

A Slow-Slog Receipt App With a Huge Hidden Upside: An In-Depth Look at Fetch Rewards


WHAT IS IT?
Fetch Rewards is another entry in the seemingly-growing list of receipt-scanning apps, and is yet another one with a focus on grocery receipts. What sets it apart from many others of its ilk is that you don’t have to search through digital coupons and “add” your offers before you scan like some of their competitors…with Fetch, simply scan and upload your receipt and the app will automatically find and apply all applicable discounts. It couldn’t be any easier! But is it worth it? Let’s find out…

INTERFACE/NAVIGATION
The interface is very simple and straightforward—and made even moreso by the lack of a need to really do any prepwork beforehand. If all you’re looking to do is upload receipts, it can be accessed via an orange camera button from the main page, although you can also scroll through all the available offers if you want to plan your shopping trip around some.

Main screen at app startup.
Speaking of shopping trips, you can also select the “Plan” section to create your own grocery list, or to search from hundreds of recipes to get inspiration for your next meal. The recipe idea is pretty handy, especially for those times when we go to the store on a whim and don’t really have anything planned.

You can click on the “Scan” icon to see the breakdown of all the receipts you’ve uploaded (more on that in a special section below), click “Rewards” to see all the potential gift cards you have to look forward to earning, and click on “Me” to see your profile screen. And that’s pretty much it, making it very straightforward and simple to just pick up and use.

REWARDS SYSTEM
Fetch uses a “points” based reward system, which I personally despise, although I must say it’s at least pretty straightforward (why do these companies do that? Is there a law against using actual currency, or do they think it makes their systems more “fun”?): 1,000 points equals $1. The points you accrue can then be exchanged for gift cards from a wide variety of shops, both online and in-store, as well as donations to popular charities.

The minimum required to request a gift card is 3,000 points (which translates to just $3) and, while I would love to say that it fills up faster than it seems, it's quite the opposite: the default number of points per receipt (assuming you bought no valid items or brands) is just 25, meaning you would need 120 receipts just to hit the minimum $3 cashout amount. Ouch.

A handy search/browse feature lets you research participating brands in advance.
Now, if you're the type of person that favors name brands and buys them more often than not, chances are good you'll get points much quicker. This is because they've partnered with over 300 brands, many of them big names (such as Pepsi, Kraft, Klondike, and Doritos, to name just a few), to help boost your total. The brand deals fall into two categories, the names of which I'm making up on the spot: “item specific”, and “brand general”.

“Item specific” deals are along the same lines of those found in apps like Ibotta and Checkout 51, where you buy a specific brand name item in a specific size or quantity (i.e. a 32 oz. jar of Miracle Whip mayonnaise), and you get the specified number of points. “Brand general” deals are much more broad: simply buy any product from a brand in the included category (i.e. Funyuns) and you get extra points (which, in my experience, is generally 50 points per item from that brand).

They also have point boosts, too, where certain brands will offer you 8x the typical amount, for a limited time. So, for example, if you buy a product from Dove when it's on an 8x boost, you would get 400 points for each Dove item you buy (50 x 8 = 400). So, there are clearly some ways to increase your balance at a much quicker pace than mine generally moves, assuming you want to do a little bit of homework beforehand and target specific boosted brands and/or items. I just got sick of obsessively searching through Ibotta and/or Checkout 51 before and during shopping trips, and/or going out of my way to buy specific products that I wouldn't normally buy just to get an extra buck or two back, so on Fetch I stick to my (clearly failing) method of just shopping as normal, and praying something I get qualifies for bonus points.

SCANNING RECEIPTS

This uses a familiar template for uploads, with support for multiple snaps per receipt.
Scanning receipts in the app is exactly as it should be: easy. Just tap the camera icon from the “Scan” menu, line up the receipt with the edge lines (it will turn green once it approves of your job, but you can scan it whenever), and snap away. There is support for multiple pictures, so if your receipt is so long that it can’t be accurately captured in one shot, you can add as many as you need to make sure the entire thing is readable.

Once you’re done with that step, simply submit it, and it will attempt to “read” the receipt info right there. Usually, your points will be added almost immediately (within about 5 or 10 seconds) although if there’s an issue with the servers, or your connection, it could take up to 24 hours before the amount is added to your account.

And that’s pretty much it! If you feel the app missed an offer that you bought, you can always submit an adjustment request: you have three days from the day the receipt is scanned to make such a request. After that 3 day window, it’s set in stone and there’s nothing they can do. As I've said before, I rarely look through all the valid offers, and just take the app’s word for it, so I can’t say how accurate it is. In fact, now I’m wondering if I’ve left any money on the table by not double-checking their work. (However, not curious enough to actually start doing it, because then it’s the exact same waste of time that lead me to abandon Ibotta).

They did recently start accepting e-receipts, though, so if you do a lot of your grocery shopping on Amazon, or another online retailer, you can submit those for points. We never do grocery shopping online, so again, I can't vouch for how well that feature works, but that's another good way for households that do to increase their balance even quicker.

EDIT: A new update (effective May 29th, 2020) has started accepting receipts from virtually anywhere—not just grocery stores. However, the catch is that non-grocery receipts only "fetch" 5 points, making it a complete waste of time, especially if this counts toward your weekly receipt limit (which I'm assuming it does, but don't care to take the time to verify).

THE HIDDEN BRILLIANCE OF FETCH
Honestly, this app is pretty underwhelming for me overall, at least for its intended purpose: after an initial burst of action immediately after signing, where I hit about 2,000 points in a little under a week, it took me about 50 more receipts (over a span of several months) to hit 5,000 points which, as a reminder, is merely the equivalent of $5.

This is actually a better budgeting app than
a "cash for receipts" app.
Cashing out at $5 and deleting the app forever is what I’d typically do in this situation, but there’s one feature that might just save it for me: when you scan a receipt, not only does it find all of your offers pretty much in real-time, but it also categorizes all of your spending dollars, and breaks them down by store, creating an in-depth look at your spending habits.

You can also dig more into specifics, seeing how many receipts you submitted in a given month, how many points you accrued, and how much your total spend was. If you want to you can also drill even further than that, seeing how much you spent at a certain retailer within a certain time period, or even pulling up a specific receipt from months (or years, if you've been using the app that long) ago to see what you paid for a specific item.

Perhaps even cooler: it catalogs each item you bought, along with the price, so you can go back in time to look for specific products. There isn't a search feature (that I know of), so it's not as easy as it could be, but considering this isn't even the focus of the app, it's still pretty incredible that you can see what you paid for cantaloupes on your last shopping trip (or even five months ago!), with just a couple screen taps, and without having to keep a little filing cabinet full of old receipts.

As someone who’s pretty fascinated with statistics, this has become my favorite part of using the app, hands down, easily usurping the slow-burn reward aspects in favor of something that can be an incredibly useful insight into spending habits that are usually only offered by paid budgeting apps. It also provides a psychological excuse for me to justify the app’s shitty payouts: Instead of, “God, this reward app pays out so slow, it’s virtually worthless,” I kind of look at it as a budgeting/organizational app that pays me to use it, which is a much better, perhaps healthier approach.

HOW MUCH CAN I MAKE?
As always, I feel the need to preface this section by saying that there is no “one size fits all” approach to how much you can earn, that it will vary (perhaps wildly) by person and situation. Obviously, since this app is focused on driving purchases from specific brands, if you do most of your shopping at places like Aldi, or Trader Joe’s, you’re not going to grow your balance quickly. While I do pretty much all of my shopping at Aldi, my wife does her shopping at major grocery store chains; I’m also thankful that she frequently overspends by buying name brand items, which is what nets me a majority of my points. (Though, to be clear, even her $150+ spending sprees typically result in totals under 100 points each time.)

You can earn a little extra by using the app's built-in prescription card when you pick up your meds.
I signed up in July, 2019 and made over 11,000 points by the end of the year (equivalent of $11). So far, in June of 2020, I’ve made a whopping 5,000 points. That’s the equivalent of $5…in six months. Granted, COVID has taken a huge bite out of our purchases, essentially halving (or maybe even more) the number of receipts we get on a monthly basis, but even before that, I had a couple long streaks of earning the bare minimum on every receipt. It’s pretty frustrating, considering I’ve spent about 80% of what I spent last year, on 40 fewer receipts, yet have only banked 1/3 of last year’s points.

Oh, and something else that’s worth mentioning (that I just learned today): there is a 14 receipt limit per week (essentially two receipts per day). I’ve never personally hit that threshold, but it’s something to consider for larger families and/or households, and yet another way your potential earnings are limited.

CASHING OUT
Once you hit 3,000 points ($3), you can request a payout. This is the one area that really made me hesitate using this app at all, because “cash” payment (either via Paypal or Venmo, or bank account) isn’t an option: You have to accept payment via gift card. As much as I’d rather have the cash to use on whatever I want, there are at least a wide variety of options, with pretty much every popular place covered, and then some!

There are a wide variety of gift card categories to choose from, with only a $3 minimum required.
I’ve only cashed out once, but had absolutely no problems doing so: I requested a gift card, and am pretty sure I received the code within 24 hours; if not, it wasn’t much longer than that, and was much quicker than the average time for this type of sites. Now, if only it didn’t take half a year to make $3, that would be even better.

SUPPORT/COMMUNITY

The support page.
As is usually the case, I have not had to reach out to Fetch for any reason whatsoever, so I can’t vouch for their support, nor condemn it. Reviews online actually seem to be pretty positive overall (eerily too positive, if you ask me), with nary a mention of bad customer service. The only site where there does seem to be some issues is PissedConsumer.com, but that's kind of unfair considering that's where people go to blow off some steam; even then there are only 70 or so complaints, which is actually pretty small for such a large company. (And almost all are of the typical “My account was closed and I couldn't reach anyone,” a staple of any cashback site, and one that - and I hate to “victim blame”- usually falls on the user not reading the terms and conditions when they signed up).

Outside of this, though, Fetch is highly well-regarded virtually everywhere: it has a 4.5/5 on Facebook, 4.8/5 in the Apple Store, 4.3/5 on Google Play, 4.7/5 on appgrooves, etc. They're also very active on Facebook, responding to almost every review, so if you can't get in touch with them through the app or any other means, you could always try contacting them on there.

OVERALL:
PROS (+)
+Excellent receipt categorization and budgeting tools
+Simple and straightforward interface and multi-photo receipt scanning template
+Finds and adds offers for you direct from receipt, without need to research beforehand
+Good at virtually any store that sells groceries, even if it's not a grocery store or supermarket
+Generous 14-day window for uploading receipts
+Small 3,000 point ($3) minimum required to cash out
+Good variety of gift cards offered

CONS (-)
-Unless you buy name brands on a consistent basis, expect baby steps toward cashout minimum.
-Although a new update now accepts almost any receipt, the base for non-grocery receipts is a worthless 5 points.
-14 receipt maximum per week.
-No Venmo/Paypal/bank options for cash-out

As a “cashback” receipt-scanning app, Fetch is personally my least favorite one: this is simply because I tend to do my shopping at Aldi, and don't stock up on name brand items very often. Since the point of this app focuses on rewarding shoppers who buy specific brands (or specific items from specific brands), that puts me at a loss right off the bat.

However, where Fetch shines is in its categorization tools: Every grocery store receipt you upload is automatically logged by store, allowing you to break down all of your grocery store spending using a variety of filters. For example, you can see how much you spent at Target for the year, or how much you spent at Aldi in September, 2019 (assuming you were using the app then, of course). This gives you an advanced look at your money-spending habits, but without the expensive price tags of budgeting apps.

Personally, I can't recommend it for its intended use, but for statheads like me, it's fun to be able to see exactly what you're spending, and where, with just a couple taps of the phone screen. However, people who do a lot of shopping for name brand items, or who don't mind researching the item specific deals beforehand, will probably find it to be a lot more useful as a "cashback" app than I did.

OVERALL: 6/10.

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