With the recent airing of the first advertisements for the cashback element of Bing, Microsoft has clearly publicised the inclusion of cashback as part of the Bing proposition. If you haven’t seen the ad, have a look:
So yes, this is not new. Cashback has been around for a while, but the overt link between cashback and searching is interesting; it certainly raises a number of issues. There are those who would deem this almost inappropriate, a ‘bribery’  of users. Claims may be made that this will lead to users who would otherwise proceed immediately to the end product’s website and convert, may now navigate through the cashback service instead, thus hijacking the sale. But this ignores the fact that this is not a new phenomenon. Cashback has indeed been around for a while (a lot of affiliate networks would be a lot poorer if it were not for the sales derived from this medium); and it will remain.
As indeed it should; it is a great way of rewarding customers for their choice of your service. Be it in the form of airline miles, credit card cashback, or in-store points, these are proven tools for retaining and growing a client base. For hard-pressed consumers who need to make their dollars go further, the growth of cashback is a blessing. And when it comes to search, does it not seem fair to reward users for their choice of engine?
In terms of what this means for the search engine battlefield, this appears to be a good move from Bing. Although the actual conversion cost for a user to shift engines is nothing, the effort it takes to familiarise oneself with a new search engine is beyond most. Previous articles have mentioned that users will simply be unwilling to change engines, despite the relevancy of its results. Hopefully this is exactly the kind of carrot that users need to try something new.
In terms of advertisers concerned about ‘sales hijacking’, this can to some extent be addressed through good tracking. By analysing the cross-search engine landscape, and monitoring user behaviour prior to purchase, advertisers will be able to see if users are indeed making a real switch to Bing.