Merchants can achieve growth through affiliate marketing by learning from the successes and failures of others. In this “Affiliate Marketing Report Card,” a new quarterly series, I will critique an affiliate program by focusing on three areas: the affiliate networks, the infrastructure, and the management style.
For the first installment, I’ll grade Jane, an online boutique marketplace for women’s fashion items, home décor, and children’s clothing. Jane was ranked 263 in the Inc. 5000 2016 list of fastest-growing privately-held companies in the U.S., with revenue at $83.8 million.
Jane offers hundreds of deals each day. The company’s goal is to provide competitive prices on quality products, before a coupon — there is no coupon field in its checkout, in fact. Since Jane is a marketplace, sellers control the deal cost and the shipping. Jane suggests deal ideas to sellers based on the competitive landscape, but, in the end, those decisions are up to the sellers.
Jane uses two affiliate platforms: Impact Radius (since 2014) and ShareASale (since 2012). Maryellen Garasky, a finalist for the “Manager of the Year” Pinnacle Award at the Jan. 2017 Affiliate Summit, has been Jane’s affiliate manager since April 2015, leading the program to triple-digit growth since then.
Garasky inherited the use of Impact Radius and ShareASale. She considered consolidating into a single platform, but she has found that the current balance is good for growth. Moreover, while corporate affiliates would likely follow a migration, Jane’s other affiliates, when polled, were adamant about their platform preference. The coupon and loyalty affiliates preferred Impact Radius, but the content affiliates overwhelmingly chose ShareASale, mainly for its promotional tools.
Using Impact Radius allows Garasky to save money on network fees and reinvest those funds back into paid placement campaigns for select partners. Impact Radius is a digital marketing platform, not a traditional affiliate network. It charges a flat fee for the use of the technology and does not take a cut of the payouts.
Jane does not appear year-round in the ShareASale Top 100 Power Rank because Jane’s program statistics are split between the two networks. (The program has been listed in peak seasons, however.)
Affiliates in both programs are subject to advanced attribution rules through third-party attribution software. This technology gives Jane the ability to make recommendations on commission structure. Each quarter, Garasky reviews the plan and makes changes based on the algorithm and on the knowledge of individual affiliates and how they promote the products. Based on their history of driving sales, content affiliates are paid a higher commission than coupon or loyalty affiliates.
Jane pays a base commission of 10 percent to content affiliates for returning customers and 11 percent for new customers. The company has a 15-day tracking gap cookie. Jane offers VIP — Very Important Person — commissions and VIP cookies based on performance, effort, and personal relationships.
At the time of writing, Jane’s reported average conversion rate listed in the approval email to its program is 5.21 percent. Jane’s average affiliate sale is $25. The reversal rate, from returned products, is near 3 percent.
According to the ShareASale affiliate interface, Jane’s traffic breakdown is 70 percent mobile and 30 percent desktop. Jane invests heavily into iOS and Android app development and maintenance.
Jane’s affiliate agreement is comprehensive, with 18 bullet points. Affiliates are not allowed to bid on trademark or “trademark plus” terms, such as “Samsung discounts.”
Jane did not, unfortunately, send email promotions between August 2016 and March 2017, but it has been aggressive in sending them since April.
The Jane team is adding as many as a dozen of the best product deals per day in its deals and coupons database. That’s why Jane works with coupon sites. The deals don’t require codes but visitors to those coupon and loyalty sites are still looking for daily discounts on top brands.
Successful affiliate programs typically have dedicated employees, like Garasky and her team. She credits the support from management for giving her the resources and freedom to develop the channel as she chooses. Garasky says that she is data driven and that as long as she has the data to back up requests to her bosses, she can move the program forward.
A key to the program’s success is the internal support from Jane’s data scientists. They continually monitor visitors’ search and shopping habits, and then use that data to enhance the shopping experience. This increases conversions, which helps increase commission for affiliates.
Jane takes seriously its compliance of F.T.C. affiliate disclosures. Bloggers and influencers are a huge part of the program’s growth. Once a month, Garasky’s team pulls a report of performing affiliates and audits the referring URLs, sites, and social media, to ensure F.T.C. disclosure requirements are met.
Content affiliates can earn quarterly bonuses based on a direct invitation from Garasky. The bonuses range from cash payouts to shopping sprees on the site. This relationship building keeps affiliates happy and it helps Garasky stay on top of the program’s promotions.
A pet peeve of mine with affiliate programs is an email or web page signature that merely says “team.” Jane’s program summary, the affiliate agreement, and the outward facing communications all say “The Jane Team.” But, thankfully, the application message has Garasky’s name on it and personal communications from her and others are personally signed.
Jane’s affiliate program gets an “A” — the top rating. The attribution protection between the networks with the third-party software vendor was the extra credit the program needed. The infrastructure and the management style are excellent.