Just as you’re gearing up your ecommerce business for a busy fourth quarter, your affiliates are going through the same exercise for their own audiences. Many affiliates step up their promotional activity for the fourth quarter, with increased communications to their consumer base via newsletters, special placements on their site such as gift guides, and holiday promotions such as increased cash back or giveaways.
In this article, I’ll help you assemble a holiday toolkit for your affiliate channel, as well as provide a few points of consideration to ensure profitability.
Advance Notice of Black Friday and Cyber Monday Sales
Black Friday and Cyber Monday (the Friday and Monday, respectively, immediately following Thanksgiving) represent the kickoff of the holiday season. This weekend is perhaps the most important seasonal event in ecommerce for all types of affiliates. Coupon and deal sites have dedicated Black Friday and Cyber Monday portals that list out sale specifics. Bloggers and content sites put together special posts highlighting the best deals. Search affiliates try to anticipate what the hot trends will be, and will build campaigns in anticipation of increased search traffic over these few days. And they’re all prepping their respective tools right now.
Many retailers balk at the idea of releasing Black Friday information to affiliates in advance. The thinking is that if the information leaks, competitors will get an advantage, and consumers may delay full-price purchases. However, affiliate marketing is similar to at-will employment. Retailers can end a relationship with affiliates at any time for any reason, and affiliates can drop a retailer from their site at any time as well. As such, when it comes to sensitive sale information, a retailer can embargo the information and include repercussions if the information is leaked. If an affiliate ignores the embargo and leaks the news, a retailer can simply stop working with that affiliate. There’s little reason for affiliates to leak the information because by doing so, they risk all potential future commission for the entire holiday season.
Many affiliates are now putting together their Black Friday pages and posts, and retailers stand a better chance of inclusion if they provide sale details early. Right now, you can let affiliates know that you will be running Black Friday specials. This way, they can anticipate your participation in their promotions. Then, perhaps one week ahead, reach out to your affiliates again with specifics.
Several affiliate networks also offer Black Friday specific tools, such as RSS feeds, APIs, and directories that aggregate Black Friday deals across their member retailers. Getting your promotions included in affiliate network communications gets broader distribution of your deals and could potentially net you additional affiliates in advance of the holiday season. So be sure to contact your network representative soon to see what opportunities are available to you.
Gift Card Policy
Gift card purchases increase in the fourth quarter, and many affiliates put together lists of gift card retailers so that consumers can refer to a single source for purchase decisions. The challenge here, for merchants, is ensuring you’re not double-paying commissions on gift card purchases. This can occur if you’re paying commission on the sales of gift cards, and on sales in which a gift card is redeemed. So for example, let’s say an affiliate sells a $10 gift card, and you’re paying 10 percent commission. That affiliate earns $1. But then what happens if a consumer clicks through an affiliate site, and uses that same gift card to complete a purchase. Will the affiliate earn commission on that transaction as well? You already paid commission for that $10, you shouldn’t pay commission twice. Typically, I advise retailers to pay commission on gift card purchases, and then to limit transaction commission on the sales amount net gift cards. Most shopping carts should be able to report this amount to the affiliate-tracking pixel.
“Ship by” dates are one of the most important pieces of information to disseminate to affiliates, especially if you are able to accommodate and guarantee last-minute holiday shopping. For example, “Ship by December 23 and select one-day shipping to guarantee delivery by Christmas.” As critical holiday dates approach, many affiliates will run posts or placements detailing where consumers can go to buy last-minute gifts with guaranteed delivery by Christmas Day. As with Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals, your affiliate network may maintain a database of these days as well, and if so, be sure to ask about inclusion.
Many affiliates will also have a special section or post on their site that consolidates free shipping deals. Free shipping is one of the most popular promotions during the holiday period, so if you plan to offer free shipping to your consumers, definitely ensure your affiliates know about it.
Inventory moves at a rapid pace in the fourth quarter. Many bloggers and shopping sites will focus their promotional efforts on specific products, so it’s helpful to provide these affiliates with insight into your inventory levels. Let them know what products you expect to be bestsellers, and when a product is getting close to sell-out, give your affiliates a heads up and let them know of any good substitutes. This will ensure any traffic they have going toward a sold-out item can be re-routed to a replacement.
The best way to keep your affiliates in the loop about your fourth quarter promotions is via an email newsletter. Put all the information they need in one place, and send it out. For larger affiliates, definitely take the time for a personal phone call, and while you’re at it, request a fourth quarter media kit. This document will detail various paid placement opportunities that you might want to consider. Paid placement could ensure inclusion in a post, newsletter, or featured section on the site, and if you are looking for increased exposure, you should definitely look into paid placements. In some cases, you can negotiate fixed fees by offering increased commission rates.