Michelle Wood

Why a Robust Merchant Network Matters for Successful Cashback Rewards Programs

These days, with price increases at record levels, everyone is looking for ways to make their money go further when purchasing both necessities and non-essential items. Whether it’s immediate savings on a purchase, or by accruing rewards that lead to future savings, over half of American customers think loyalty programs are more important than ever to help them stretch their budgets in these challenging times.   

For many customers, a loyalty program offering cashback rewards for online shopping is one tool they have adopted as they seek out every cost-cutting measure they can find. 

For organizations, this heightened budget sensitivity represents an opportunity to be positioned to customers as a savings-minded shopping helper. Companies can assist their customers with a convenient tool that offers cashback rewards and discounts for shopping to help offset the cost of purchases and help with one facet of their financial health.

Cashback Rewards Platforms vs. Branded Loyalty Programs

As opposed to a single-brand loyalty program (say, Sephora or Starbucks), where customers earn points, product, or future discounts from that same store, most cashback rewards platforms offer a wide array of merchants in various categories.

In fact, it’s critical to have a huge breadth of stores available in any cashback shopping rewards program, so that customers can maximize their cashback opportunities at almost any store where they happen to shop.

Furthermore, consumers expect that cashback platforms will offer them rewards at the retailers that serve their needs the most. And oftentimes those needs change based on personal circumstances, employment, or even life stage.

None of us can forget how our consumer buying behavior changed dramatically during the pandemic lockdown. Rewards programs that offered consumers everything from essentials like over the counter medications or prescription glasses to food delivery or office supplies were incredibly important to consumers at that time. 

How Consumer Expectations Have Shifted for Cashback Rewards

While we have (thankfully!) since moved away from being on lockdown, the result is that there are now millions of consumers trained that it's far more convenient and often less expensive to shop online and have items delivered to your home than drive all over town to seek the best deal. Hello…  gas prices!  

Customers now simply expect that they’ll be able to have their needs met for everyday essentials as well as discretionary purchases, simply by shopping online. And with the broad need among consumers to stretch their budgets, the consumers that shop online using cashback rewards platforms will further expect that they’ll be able to earn cashback from any online store they visit.

A large merchant portfolio with a broad variety of stores from which to shop and earn cashback rewards or savings is just table-stakes for customers today.

Highlights from Wildfire’s Merchant Network So Far in 2022

We see first-hand the benefits of having an extensive merchant network to surprise and delight shoppers with cashback opportunities at thousands of online stores. Because of our massive merchant portfolio with over 50,000 merchant programs, plus the volume of transactions we process as customers activate cashback at those merchants, we have unique insights into shopping data reflecting shopping preferences and trends in consumer demand.

Here are a couple of interesting notes from Wildfire's data in 2022 so far:

  • While we have consistent consumer demand for large retailers like Walmart, Macy’s, and Ebay on our platform, we also see consumers looking for specialty retailers ranging from those offering unique items as well as staples at very steep discounts, such as Zulily and Dollar Tree.  
    • Both Zulily and Dollar Tree moved into our top 20 merchants based on gross sales as of June 2022, with Dollar Tree alone seeing a 5x increase vs. last year.
    • Zulily, as of early 2022, is a new merchant in the Wildfire merchant network - it’s impressive to see shoppers respond so favorably to this retailer and rocket them into our top 20 after only a few months.
  • We have seen demand for services like Uber Eats and DoorDash decrease recently, likely due to the summer season in the northern hemisphere bringing us nicer weather, so people want to go out to eat (as well as further consumer desires to “just get back to normal” since the height of the pandemic). 
  • Consumers still value convenience along with the ability to earn rewards on repeat purchases like pet food and supplies. Sites like Chewy, The Farmer’s Dog, and Ollie’s Pets offer “auto-refill” subscriptions for pet food & supplies, and are consistently popular with shoppers.
    • As a dog mom myself, I value not only earning cashback rewards, but I also receive the savings benefit of a “repeat subscription” - and plus we never have to dash to the store because we ran out of food. (My dogs appreciate never running out of food, as well!)    
  • Consumers can now freely enjoy shopping in-store for basic health supplies but there is still a preference to increase their savings potential by earning rewards online while benefiting from home delivery.
    • Organizations that offer a loyalty platform with cashback rewards to their customers will need to ensure they have partnerships with popular merchants that offer essential health items like eyecare and supplements. 
    • Thus far in 2022, eyecare provider Zenni Optical and online pharmacy/health retailer Walgreens have been very popular with consumers on our cashback rewards platform. 
    • In fact, Zenni Optical saw an increase in sales of over 10x compared to last year, and Walgreens has so far increased 30% year-over-year.
  • So far this year vs. 2021, consumer preferences continued shifting away from pandemic-driven interest in stay-at-home categories like food delivery and comfy lounge clothing. 

    • Instead, interest in “regular” clothing, plus travel and experiences, showed a marked increase.

    • Consumers so far in 2022 are definitely spending money differently, with large YOY increases in gross sales from merchants like Nordstrom, Loft, Priceline, TicketMaster, and Fandango - all of which is indicative of consumers spending money on clothing for the office, on travel, and on experiences.  

Cashback Rewards Should Be There, Anytime Customers Are

With a wide-ranging merchant network, a company’s cashback rewards program is positioned to just automatically be “available” when consumer demands shift (sometimes unpredictably - as noted earlier in the pandemic lockdowns example.) 

A robust merchant network with as many retailers as possible means a cashback rewards program is always ready to meet the needs of fickle shoppers whose preferences may change based on something as fleeting as a viral TikTok dance.

It is imperative that any cashback rewards platform meets those demands by ensuring there is a breadth of merchants across all categories. Consumers looking to maximize rewards are savvy and will expect that rewards will be offered anywhere they shop. Otherwise, they will have less confidence in, and participate less in offers from a platform that doesn’t meet their needs. Worst-case scenario, they may simply uninstall, and seek another platform.


Schedule a meeting to expand your loyalty and rewards program with our platform and merchant network.



Published by Michelle Wood August 2, 2022
Michelle Wood