So you bought something online – a laptop, shoes, a gift for your girlfriend – and a few days later you realize you could have gotten a better deal. Maybe the store announces a flash sale, a coupon pops into your inbox, or a competitor is selling the item for less. Whatever the reason, the result is the same: You’re kicking yourself because you could have paid less.
Realizing you missed a chance to save money is frustrating, but most people shrug it off, thinking there’s nothing they can do about it. But now you can get your money back automatically, thanks to a company called Paribus. After you create an account with Paribus, it starts scanning your email for receipts from online purchases. If it detects a price drop or finds a coupon you didn’t apply, it works with the retailer on your behalf to get the difference refunded to you. You don’t have to do anything other than sign up, link your email, and provide your credit card information (so you can receive your refunds). In exchange for doing all the heavy lifting, Paribus takes a 25% cut of whatever money back you receive.
The idea of getting a refund when the price of an item drops isn’t a new one. You can request one on your own if you shopped at a store that offers price adjustments or price matching. But actually getting that money back can be a pain. Every store’s price adjustment policy is slightly different, and you’ll need to comb through the fine print to see if your purchase qualifies and what documentation you need to provide to get your money.
Considering the amount of work involved to save a few bucks, most shoppers probably decide it’s not worth it to pursue a refund – if they even know they’re entitled to one at all. Plus, given how quickly prices change online, people may have no way to find out they’re missing savings or could have paid less for an item. That’s a problem, say Paribus’ founders.
“If you are eligible for money back, you should get it — plain and simple. So we made it happen. And it works. At our current rate, we’re saving people on one quarter of their orders, almost 10% per purchase – automatically,” said Paribus CEO Eric Glyman in a statement.
Glyman and Karim Atiyeh, the Harvard grads who founded the company, saw how retailers were using big data to squeeze more money out of consumers by constantly tweaking prices and showing you targeted adds. Finding the best deal was hard (if not impossible) for most shoppers. They realized that if they took a page from retailers’ playbooks, using data and advanced algorithms to detect price changes, they could save consumers money.
“Stores are collecting more and more data with each day to keep on driving up what we pay. Stores employ millions of algorithms to alter the information we see, influence our perceptions, and push us to pay more for less…[we] wanted to turn the tables,” Paribus said in its press materials.
Shoppers who can’t bear paying full price will likely jump on Paribus’ offer to help them save. Others may balk at opening up their inbox to a third party (though Paribus says it only looks at messages from merchants, not your other emails). You also have to be willing to share your credit card information and allow Paribus to send messages to retailers on your behalf
Paribus won’t save you money on all your online purchases. The site currently only works with 18 retailers, though that list includes some big names like Amazon, Best Buy, Newegg, Target, and Zappos. Users have been refunded as little as 50 cents and as much as $70 after making purchases from those sites, according to Paribus. Most people are getting between $3 and $5 back per month, said the founders in an interview with Budgets Are Sexy.
One big shopping category where Paribus won’t currently help you get your money back is travel. Many travel websites, including Orbitz and Expedia, do promise price adjustments if you can find a lower rate or fare with a day or two of your original purchase, but you’ll have to do the work to get those refunds yourself. And getting money back on airfare and hotel purchases can be difficult, as the Wall Street Journal has reported.
Still, ferreting out price adjustments and getting money back has the potential to save you big, whether you do it on your own or outsource the work to a company like Paribus. In some cases, you don’t even have to rely on the goodwill of retailers to get your money back. Certain credit card issuers, including Discover and Citi, will refund you the price difference if you find a better deal within 60 to 90 days of purchasing an item. Citi even automates the process through its Price Rewind service. In the first six months of 2015, consumers saved $1.6 million through Price Rewind, with an average refund of $34.70. That’s nothing to sneeze at.
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