We knew that a Cashback replacement was in the works but didn't know what form it would take. Now we do. Bing Rewards offers points for searching...1 point for 5 searches and 250 point for signing up. Points can be redeemed for prizes, gift cards or charitable donations.
There are a few strings attached. You have to use IE, and you have to download the Bing Bar...oh, and you have to conduct searches on Bing.
This is probably a better mechanism than Cashback which required the users to sign up, the merchants to sign up and was somewhat complicated and confusing to both advertisers and users. Cashback was also subject to abuse -- Cashback links posted all over the web which violated the Ts & Cs of the program and alienated users.
The Points approach is much much simpler which may encourage adoption.
Greg Sterling points out shrewdly that users earning the maximum point total per day (8 points) for a year will earn enough points to buy...a Scrabble board game. Don't get me wrong, I love Scrabble, but for a program set to expire at the end of 2011, the incentive to participate is, well, underwhelming.
Bing says the point is to encourage loyalty among folks who already use Bing some.
From a business perspective it's probably more sustainable than Cashback which seemed financially ruinous for Bing. They don't give away much, and if it succeeds, the extra ad revenue will probably pay for the rewards.
But if all they're after is more loyalty from their existing customers -- and clearly the incentives aren't enough to do anything else -- that's kind of a sad admission.
If The Decision Engine provided a materially better search experience than Google they likely wouldn't need to offer incentives for loyal use.
For Bing to gain material share the point of this program has to be to convince folks to try it for the first time. That may require bigger incentives and lower barriers to entry -- requiring folks to both change engines and browsers (wont work with Firefox, Chrome or Safari) is a bridge too far -- and holding that share will require them to offer a truly better search experience.
"I don't care too much for money, money can't buy me love..."