Affiliate Marketing in China: Affiliate Networks and Programs

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affiliate program management chinese

China was one of the first places where I delivered a keynote speech on affiliate marketing in 2011. Two years later, Chinese ended up being the first language into which my affiliate management bestseller was translated. The Chinese version was called “70-Days’ Affiliate Advertising Combat”. Don’t ask why.

Several days ago, a client had asked me about the top affiliate networks in China and off I went into my research on the subject. The results of what I was able to find out, I’d like to present to you in this blog post of mine.

Historically, the Chinese government always kept a close eye on the Internet and how its citizens are using it. Interestingly enough, however, the world has been open to shopping with Chinese e-tailers. A couple of facts exemplify this well:

  • In 2009 Alibaba, one of China’s top e-tailers, conceived and organized what ended up becoming “the biggest commerce day in the world” — the Singles Day. In 2018, in 24 hours the gross value of merchandise sold reached $30.8 billion, with the first $1 billion hit in just 1 minute and 25 seconds. Should you be interested, this interactive dashboard can give you a feel for Alibaba’s international commerce segment.
  • In a case of one particular affiliate network, admitad, in one year alone, nearly $500 million in sales were generated from cross-border CPA (cost-per-acquisition) sales driven by affiliate marketing programs.

The “cross-border” tendency, actually, goes both ways. Just as the world shops with Chinese online stores, so do the residents of China (and especially the quickly-evolving Chinese middle class) happily shop globally. Cross-border online purchases by China’s online shoppers grew from less than $2 billion in 2010 to more than $200 billion in 2017. The 100 times growth is nothing short of amazing.

But what about affiliate marketing in China? What platforms are available (for advertisers and affiliates) there?

Based on what we see today, affiliate marketing opportunities in China can be roughly split into three categories: (i) affiliate networks, (ii) sub-affiliate networks, and (iii) individual affiliate programs. Let’s dive into each of these below.

Traditional Affiliate Networks

An affiliate network is, essentially, a technology provider that facilitates the tracking and reporting in affiliate marketing programs. There are a few affiliate networks to consider in relation to China-based e-commerce businesses.

CHANet

CHANet is an abbreviation which stands for “China Affiliate Network”. Following the success of its sister network in Japan — JANet (short for Japan Affiliate Network) — which was launched in 2002, CHANet claims to work with more than 300,000 affiliate websites and hosts/supports affiliate programs for numerous Chinese (and Western) brands.

CHANet Chinese affiliate network

If you are looking to enter the Chinese market, this is a platform worth including in your due diligence.

ChineseAN

ChineseAN (which, of course, stands for “Chinese Affiliate Network”) — originally started in Hong Kong but present in Mainland China and Taiwan too — positions itself as “the only global Chinese affiliate network” working with advertisers “from over 15 countries” helping them “scale up in the region.” Priding itself on the flexibility to customize advertiser solutions, this affiliate network supports pretty much every performance-based model out there: CPS, CPL, CPC, CPM and more.

Chinese Affilaite Network

Anyone interested in tapping into the “Greater China” market should consider these guys seriously.

Non-Chinese Affiliate Networks

Based on our research, multiple China-based advertisers run affiliate programs on West-oriented affiliates networks. This goes well in line with the tendency for cross-boarder e-commerce. The desire of Chinese brands to reach non-Chinese audiences is often effectively satisfied by tapping into non-Chinese affiliate networks. Here are just a few examples of notably successful affiliate programs run by Chinese brands on Western affiliate networks (with the respective affiliate networks listed in parenthesis after each):

  • SheIn (CJ Affiliate, ShareASale, Pepperjam, admitad)
  • ZAFUL (CJ Affiliate, Rakuten Affiliate Network, ShareASale, admitad, LinkConnector, Webgains, and more!)
  • LightInTheBox (CJ Affiliate, TradeDoubler, Webgains, admitad)
  • Wondershare (CJ Affiliate, Rakuten Affiliate Network, ShareASale, LinkConnector, etc)
  • RoseGal (CJ Affiliate, Rakuten Affiliate Network, TradeDoubler, Pepperjam, Commission Factory, AvantLink, ShareAsale, and more)
  • Fairy Season (CJ Affiliate, Rakuten Affiliate Network, Commission Factory, Webgains)
ZAFUL Chinese affiliate program

There are many more Chinese brands that employ the approach of casting a wide net in non-Chinese affiliate networks – in hopes of reaching their target audience. Sometimes this approach works, sometimes it doesn’t (see point #3 here).

Sub-Affiliate Networks

Sub-affiliate networks leverage the networks of sub-affiliates that work with them. The sub-affiliate network would join a brand’s affiliate program on a traditional affiliate network – to, then, let their army of publishers/websites market the brand, splitting the commission with these publishers.

Duomai

Duomai is well-established Chinese network which seems to operate on a hybrid model: having both direct relationships with advertisers, and often operating on a sub-affiliate model – working as an affiliate promoting merchants that operate their affiliate programs through other affiliate networks (e.g.: Awin, Chinesean, Glopss, and others)

Duomai affiliate marketing network

Yiqifa

Yiqifa is a fairly large Beijing-based pay-for-performance network, operating in China’s market since 2004 and cooperating “with 600,000 website owners” to market both Chinese and foreign brands. Just as Duomai above, Yiqifa seems to be open to direct relationships (besides numerous sub-affiliate ones that they have with brands).

Yiqifa affiliate marketing network

Individual Affiliate Programs

There are also a number of Chinese businesses that run their affiliate programs on their own platforms (or solutions like HasOffers and similar), not operating through any of the above-mentioned affiliate networks.

Amazon.cn Associates Program which pays “up to 7% commission” is a classic example

Finally, if you are looking at the Chinese market as a Western advertiser, you may also want to consider:

and

  • China-oriented affiliates — like BorderX Lab — to help you build a bridge to your potential customers there

Conclusion

If you are looking to tap into China’s quickly-evolving market, consider the above-mentioned local networks and platforms. If, on the other hand, you are a Chinese business, looking to grow your revenues through exporting, consider building an affiliate program on Western affiliate networks (as exemplified in the “Non-Chinese Affiliate Networks” section above).

Also, I am sure that, with time, there will be many more facts and players worthy to be added to this compilation. If, based on your affiliate marketing experience in China, you have something to add to the above-listed, please do chime in with your comments, using the respective area under this post.


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6 thoughts on “Affiliate Marketing in China: Affiliate Networks and Programs”

  1. So useful article Geno! Just a view from personal experience. Many advertisers struggle to enter China’s market due to language gap between internal stuff and Chinese account managers. When you prepare an RFP or your goto China market plan, it’s important to look for partners/affiliate networks that have at least excellent communications in languages you feel comfortable with, in my case English.. Just to share that for CN market ignite-vision.com, they work with ChineseAN.com, had adapted to English speakers, while CHANet don’t even have their website available in English.

  2. Great comment, Theodosis. Being a linguist (by my first “trade”), I couldn’t agree more. So, based on your experience, which other affiliate networks (besides ChineseAN) are English-friendly in China?

  3. Thank you Geno 🙂

    If we had to remain strict to CN region only, then, unfortunately, none! At least from my experience and for the niche I made the search for, which was FinTech. I would expect a region like CN to have a network like A8.net (Japan), that has EN dashboard and other features to support English speakers across all functions (Affiliates, Advertisers and B2B). Luckily for me, we have partners in CN and JP region and we can handle Asian Affiliates now after setting up a team, and all relevant SOPs adapted to their market. Adjusting was really hard since there is a huge gap in mindset and promotion methods compared to EU/USA tactics and also differences in regulations and legal issues.

    For other niches, Duomai and Yiqifa as you already mention, Duomai is friendlier to English speakers, but they still have things to do (translate their dashboard for start). The mentality/feature of Sub-Affiliation for CN market is very common, so this in my view, is not a problem if we keep it to few levels deep…

    Any way to skip my personal S@@t and provide some findings to AM Navigator audience, depending on which side you are, there are enormous opportunities for CN market. I’ll only mention the ones I spotted for Digital Agencies and OPMs, in my view, it will add huge value to any advertisers to hire an OPM that speaks the Asian language of his preferred market (CN,JP,KR,etc) and with help from a Network that has a good affiliate base within region and niche to move forward.

    The Asian Region is huge and anyone that believes that they can navigate there on their own, soon they will found out, with the hard way, that it is very easy to start feeling like Tom Hanks on Cast Away 🙂

  4. Once again, excellent points, Theodosis! This whole post (on affiliate marketing in China) was, actually, born out of a research that I did for a client who is looking precisely for what you are talking about – a comprehensive solution (agency + network) to help them enter the Chinese market. If anyone reading this, runs an agency that can help or may be interested in collaborating with AM Navigator on this, hit me up.

  5. Thank Geno for the great article! This is Jessie from Brandreward, a monetization solution company based in Shanghai, China. As I am operating the Chinese market and Southeast Asia markets as well, I can tell that there is a huge difference between Chinese affiliate marketing and that of the mature western world. From my perspective, the most important thing is the shopping behavior of the Chinese people. We rely too much on the 2 e-commerce giants in China-Taobao and JD.com. Most of the Chinese people tend to buy things directly from them. Only a small portion of people will buy foreign stuff from its websites, plus we have more strict regulation on cross-border e-commerce and logistic problems. It’s becoming more difficult for foreign brands to do CPS model in the Chinese market.

    But if they try to sell products through Chinese social media platforms, like Wechat, it can be a good way to be explored. Just some comment from my real experience.

  6. Jesse, thank you for chiming in! Feedback from someone who is “in the trenches” is always invaluable.

    Do you have any data on how much of the market these two e-commerce giants currently own?

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