Merchants Too Busy To Do It The Right Way

Some merchants are just too busy (or is it too lazy?) to do affiliate marketing the right way. From the setup of their affiliate program [see my yesterday’s post] throughout the very life of it, some merchants just refuse to pay attention to important things… And, at the end of the day, they are the ones that reap the negative outcomes of such attitude.

I will not talk about adware and other types of unethical affiliates today. Neither will I talk about improper affiliate program management styles. What I want to blog about here is something that may seem insignificant to some, but it has proven to be a cause of an end of a promising affiliate program. I won’t mention the merchant’s name, but, in my practice, this scenario has repeated itself more than once, and with different merchants too. Some made the right conclusions, but this particular one has been too “busy” to learn/change.

The question is one of the merchant remembering to clear their browser’s cookies if they are clicking affiliate links and also using the same machine to key-in customer orders received through other marketing channels. Yes, something as harmless as this (in comparison with all the other things I write about) can bury an affiliate program. Upon looking over my correspondence with this particular merchant I see that over 7 months I have been explaining to them that when they click an affiliate link one day, and then place through a non-affiliate-referred order on the same machine a few days later, the commission gets credited to the account of the affiliate whose link was clicked last, and there is nothing strange about this. This is how the tracking system works, and to avoid situations like these, you, as a merchant, want to clear your browser’s cookies. I have even put together a separate “how to” page on How to Clear Browser’s Cookies providing step-by-step instructions on how to do it both in Firefox and Internet Explorer… But some merchants are just too lazy to learn! Over the course of 7 months I have been receiving e-mails that read:

I am very concerned… I want to make sure the last six weeks of transactions are confirmed as legitimate referrals from you. This is very alarming. I would like you to look over manually and make sure we are paying on actual referrals as I do not understand how this error could have happened…


A friend ordered this [Details of Transaction]. [Name of Employee] took this manual yet it went in as an affiliate-referred order.


I just placed this order online for my friend. Can you explain why it
went through here? This is so strange…

And every time I patiently explained that it is the cookie that is set on the company machine that is triggering it, and pointed to the instructions on how to clear them. You will be surprised to see the replies I got from this merchant. Here are just a few of them:





Many just do not know how to do this…

I know, but ignoring the instructions won’t fix the issue. It is exactly because many “do not know how to do this” that I have put together this page — to make it easier for you to learn “how to do this”. The whole process takes less than a few minutes.

Unfortunately, the merchant has just never found the time (and we’re talking 1-2 minutes!!) to learn. As a result, the current affiliate program’s reversal rate had gone over the 60% mark, and it is just not looking like they care.

Too busy, or too lazy, the main concern is not about the choice of adjective to use here. The main point is this: merchants should never ignore their affiliate program, thinking that things that require their involvement will just work out somehow on their own. Your affiliate program is your marketing campaign. Run it like one! If you do not have the time to treat it seriously, it can lead to all kids of negative consequences for your company and your brand (just like any loosely managed marketing campaign will).

5 thoughts on “Merchants Too Busy To Do It The Right Way”

  1. Something else that can be upset by the merchant or their agent ‘forgetting’ the cookies is a PPC campaign. I don’t do PPC and those merchant cookies are the reason. I have no way of knowing what happened to my clicks, and it is an extreme coincidence but I can only know what the AM told me.
    Toward the end of 2007 I took a host’s $50 AdWords coupon and signed up at Google to see what it was about. Of course it would take much more time than I spent trying it out to learn all the ins and outs, but I quit using it because for the two weeks that I ran my campaign my SAS account showed sales that followed the volume of clicks. At the end of the year the AM asked if any affiliates would like a report of what was sold through their links. My report said I had sold nothing at all. I got paid commissions for 26 sales that all occurred during the time of my campaign, my quality score was good or excellent and I had thought, “this isn’t great but it could be improved”.
    I had to stop using AdWords during the holidays as my own interests were taking up 110% of my time. I was ready to start another campaign when that report just about knocked me down. I contacted the AM and asked about the sales in question, and was told, “I guess I forgot to clear my cookies after visiting your site”. The commissions were not reversed but it totally removed any meaning from the results. If my efforts produced zero results than that meant I threw away a good chunk of money and learned nothing. (Except to leave PPC to those with the time and inclination to do it.)

  2. Hi Geno and congratulations for your blog which gives out valuable information on affiliate program management,

    I’m on the verge of starting a career as an affiliate marketing manager for an agency. Employees in the companies I interviewed in tell me that their job consists of 20% affiliate program management and 80% of merchant education.

    Does it get frustrating and how do you cope with it ? Also what is the single most valuable advice that you would give to an Affiliate Marketing Manager newbie like myself ?

    By the way I just realized that you are the author of the book I bought your “A Practical Guide to Affiliate Marketing” a few months ago. Can’t wait to use it in a professional situation!

  3. Issam,

    Thank you for your kind words and glad you’re finding my blog of help.

    The 20%-80% distribution you’ve mentioned is interesting. What kind of “affiliate marketing managers” were interviewed? It sounds like you’re referring to affiliate and sub-affiliate networks’ “affiliate marketing managers.”

    No, it does not get frustrating when you’re doing what you love and sincerely care about. My “single most valuable advice” would be: learn from the mistakes of others.

  4. Actually I interviewed for an Affiliate Marketing Manager position at an agency that manages affiliate programs for merchants who don’t have the competencies to do it in house.

    The other affiliate managers sort of complained how they constantly had to educate merchants who don’t know anything about affiliate marketing when they rather spend their time focusing on performance.

    I’ve worked affiliate marketing jobs before and loved it as well! but I never had to deal with “merchant education” issues.

    I’m just making wild assumptions but to me it might be what’s going on here: may be it’s not that they didn’t find the time to learn a simple cookie deletion procedure but may be they never bothered because they figured they could just cancel the sales at the end of the month. They might not understand why a high reversal rate is bad for their program. Hence the need of “merchant education” on affiliate marketing.

  5. In my opinion, basic “merchant education” should be accepted by the affiliate manager as one of his/her duties, but you are right — some merchants just do not bother understanding the significance of the things they do not deem to be of importance, which can result in skewed metrics (e.g.: the reversal rate you have mentioned) and other problems that effect the development of the affiliate program.

    Vicious circle: [uneducated merchant] -> [problem occurs] -> [merchant refuses to learn from it] -> [metrics get affected] -> [program’s growth stalled]

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