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This startup will give you money when you shop on other apps

And it thinks it has solved the big tech obstacle to making that happen smoothly.

Jason Del Rey has been a business journalist for 15 years and has covered Amazon, Walmart, and the e-commerce industry for the last decade. He was a senior correspondent at Vox.

Ibotta isn’t well known in Silicon Valley, but it probably should be.

The startup, which is based in Denver, lets shoppers get cash back via the Ibotta app when they buy certain products at participating grocers and retailers. It may be unsexy — no “on-demand” or subscription here — but it is currently in the Top 20 free shopping apps in both the Apple and Google app stores.

In recent years, however, Ibotta wanted to start playing a role in e-commerce rebates, too. Two years ago, it tried sending its app users to the mobile websites of retailers to complete purchases, but it killed the experiment because the experience had some kinks.

Now, it just added a selection of popular shopping apps to its cash rebate program — ones like Groupon, Jet and the Costco-like grocery app Boxed. The app gives rewards — say, 5 or 15 percent cash back — just for shopping on these apps, with the apps giving Ibotta a referral fee for bringing sales to them. Ibotta says it drove $1 million in sales to its app partners in the first week of the program.

To make the program function on the tech side, Ibotta is working with deep-linking startup Button, which lets shoppers click from one app to a specific point or product page within another app. After a purchase, the Ibotta user quickly is notified of their cash reward. If an Ibotta user doesn’t have one of the partnering apps on their phone, Button works behind the scenes to help them install it.

From a technology standpoint, the program is miles ahead of the experiment it tried two years ago when it partnered with retailers’ mobile sites, according to CEO Bryan Leach.

“You’d have to pinch and zoom and you wouldn’t get immediate feedback that you had earned anything,” he said.

On Button’s back end, the shopping apps can set rules to determine different sized rebates for different customers; first-time users of their app may get 40 percent cash back while existing customers only 5 percent.

This approach, which he called “dynamic segmentation,” has largely been ignored in the world of affiliate networks in e-commerce up to now, Leach said. As a result, retailers are sometimes giving big discounts to customers who were going to shop with them anyway.

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