How To F*#! Your Affiliates: Black Friday to Cyber Monday Edition

Merchants often screw over their affiliates (see Got My Panties.com In A Bunch). Sometimes they know what they’re doing, and sometimes they just aren’t thinking clearly. Sometimes they play dumb, and sometimes they just really are dumb.

Last Thu, Nov 28, 2013 at 2:31 PM (for those of you not reading this the first week of December, 2013, last Thursday was Thanksgiving, and at 2:31 I was enjoying dinner at my Mom & Dad’s house), I received a commission change notice from Cellars Wine Club:

Commission Change Notification

In case you think that table is useless and doesn’t tell you anything, you’re right. A few hours later:

Non-commissionable Coupons

So I emailed Cellars, but the person who put these rules into effect wasn’t in the office. I guess he, too, was having Thanksgiving dinner with his family. But someone else did get back to me:

This is just so our new customer targeted coupon codes can’t be combined with an affiliate commission.

After another email back & forth, I was finally told three codes which would be non-commissionable (but there’s 4, 0% commission actions listed). We had none of these on our wine club review site, so it wasn’t a big deal.

However, after checking our stats this weekend, we noticed we had some sales that resulted in a $0 commission. Looking at their site, we see:
Cellars Wine Club Promo Code

There on the landing page is one of the non-commissionable coupons!

So let’s review the process:

  1. We refer users to Cellars Wine Club, expecting a commission on the sale
  2. Cellars Wine Club displays their non-commissionable promo code, which the user applies
  3. The user makes a purchase
  4. We get $0 commission

I understand not wanting to pay a commission and apply a coupon to a sale, but then don’t show the coupon to the user if the affiliate cookie is set!

Now, going into the busiest shopping season, we’ll be referring customers to a merchant, and racking up $0 commissions.

That’s how to F*#! your Affiliates: Black Friday to Cyber Monday Edition.

Update: Brian Littleton, CEO of ShareASale (where this program is hosted) is stepping in to make this right. Thanks, Brian!
Update 2: See comment from Mark. Coupon code was only supposed to be shown to existing customers, not everyone. I just checked, and when clicking through our link, I do not see the coupon code displayed on the site any longer. In addition, our $0 commission sales have been updated to give us the credit we deserved. Actually, no matter what I do, I can’t get the code to appear. I use Pingdom to monitor merchants, and will set up a monitor to make sure the code does not reappear on this page.

This problem started days ago with some emails, and quickly escalated to the point of having to write this blog post for resolution. It’s a shame affiliates have so little power, but in situations like this, we cannot be ignored.

I personally reached out to every wine club affiliate and informed them of the situation, and others spoke up as well. This is the perfect situation where a niche affiliate community would have helped; if you’re a leader in a niche, I encourage you to start one now. When (not if) a merchant makes a wrong decision, accidentally or not, you’ll want your competition to help fight for what’s right.



Bluehost Affiliate Program

I was working with one of my new clients who set up her site on WordPress.com, which severely limited what I could do for her, so I recommended she signup for Bluehost. Bluehost offers ssh access and is only $4.95 / month, and I hear about a lot of affiliates who use it for their own sites. Awesome – that was my recommendation in my email.

Bluehost - Pricing

Price Increase

Of course, if I’m recommending a hosting provider, I want my cut of the deal. So after logging into CJ, I got my Bluehost affiliate link and tested it out (I always test my links before sending them). Imagine my surprise when the price went from $4.95 / month (without an affiliate cookie set) to $6.99 / month with the cookie set!

Bluehost.com from affiliate link

Big surprise there! As affiliates, we explain to shoppers that buying through affiliate links doesn’t cost them any more than if they bought directly from the merchant. But, this isn’t the first time this has happened, either (FTD – affiliate links cost more – thanks Tricia for the tip).

This is where I excel as a human, and fail as a businessman. I didn’t use my affiliate link when referring my client to Bluehost. I’d rather them save a couple of bucks, than me make a $90 commission. What’s also interesting is that going Incognito in Chome and making sure cookies were cleared still showed me the higher rate, and this…

Disclosure on Merchant Site

Another thing that surprised me was a statement on the Bluehost website when I (the shopper) was tagged as an affiliate-referred visitor:

Since you landed on this page of our site, we want to let you know you visited one of our paid endorsers while researching your purchase.

We’ve talked about Affiliates needing to disclose their relationships, and we’ve talked about OPMs needing to enforce it, but this is the first time I’ve seen a merchant disclosing the relationship.

So bravo to Bluehost for disclosing the relationship with your affiliate, but shame on you for charging more when affiliate links are used!

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Amazon Changes Course – Allows Affiliate Links on Twitter

Amazon AssociatesNot too long ago (July 7, 2009 to be exact) there was a story out about an Amazon affiliate (or, Associate, as Amazon likes to call us) who was denied their affiliate earnings because they distributed their affiliate link via Twitter. Amazon’s reasoning, they argued, is the link was not distributed via the affiliate’s website. Shawn Collins took the extra step and added Twitter to his Amazon Associates profile, so he could share affiliate links via Twitter (but, nice many Twitter users don’t use the web interface, do you have to add every Twitter app, too?).

Today, in a complete 180, Amazon today announced Amazon Associates Now Integrates Directly with Twitter (and at the same time single-handedly creates one of the longest filenames I’ve ever seen at 130 characters).

Amazon StripeAmazon Share on TwitterOnce you’re logged into your Amazon Associates account, you’ll see a nice toolbar on top of any page you are browsing at Amazon.com. This toolbar now includes a Share on Twitter button. Click it, and you’re taken to Twitter’s web interface with your status pre-filled with some sales copy (Great deal on Amazon), the product title and a link. What’s lacking here is any disclosure (ala SponsoredTweets #ad hashtag)

Twitter Update

I was hoping to see the ability to change the default sales copy in my Site Stripe Options, but that’s not yet available.

In addition, bit.ly is used as the default shortener, but without the option to specify my bit.ly account information, the only stats I have are from Amazon themselves.

This is a great move by Amazon and based on the simplicity of the implementation, should have been done a while back. However, kudos to them for getting it live before the holiday rush.



oneNetworkDirect Welcomes New York Affiliates

oneNetworkDirect LogoIt’s always a pain when a merchant doesn’t allow you in their program because of the NY Advertising Tax (Amazon Tax, Affiliate Tax, etc). But when an entire network doesn’t let you even apply, it’s a real pain.

oneNetworkDirect is a network that previously closed their doors to all NY affiliates. However, today, that changed!

I am pleased to announce that as of September 2, 2009 Digital River has filed in the state of New York. Because of this, we are now free to accept affiliates into oneNetworkDirect who are residing in the state of New York.

I’d like to invite you to create a new account at www.oneNetworkDirect.com and get started today. We have several new programs and promotions, and a pipeline full of new merchants. I also encourage you to watch the blog for new program launches, product revs and special promotions here.

If you’re promoting any type of software, you need to check out oneNetworkDirect.

This is great news for NY Affiliates – thanks, oneNetworkDirect!



FTC on Economic Stimulus Scams

I just listened in on the FTC call regarding Economic Stimulus Scams. While I don’t promote these “grants”, I wanted to listen in as this is a step by the government in regulating the affiliate marketing industry. Here’s what’s going on:

This was a press conference warning consumers that these are scams, and announcing that the FTC is working with media companies to stop these ads. The ads show photos of Obama or Biden informing the user to get their grant money to payoff their mortgages, debts, etc. They mention the economic stimulus plan, which consumers think they can get money from (wrong!). The ads direct users to commercial sites, not government sites (official government sites end in .gov).

Sites that were called out include presidentobamagrants.com and jessicasmoneyblog.com. They charge $1.89 or so, but then will charge the card $99 plus $49.95 / month for access to this debt information, and also enroll the user in a debt website, which also starts charging the card. In 1 year, the card will be charged over $1,000.

Consumers need to know the US government does not charge for grant applications, and does not charge to give access to a list of available grants. If you’re looking for a list of government grants, visit grants.gov.

So Facebook had reps there, and the FTC spokesperson specifically mentioned Facebook and Google as advertising networks working with them by pulling ads. Consumers who see these ads are urged to report them to the FTC and / or the ad network.

The second topic was phishing / spam messages, where users fill out a form, or download some software (malware) and end up having their identity stolen. Simply put, don’t open these emails, don’t download anything, and just delete the messages.

For information on the stimulus plan from the source, visit recovery.gov.

Into the Q&A: are there any legal actions being taken? No comment.

If the small print is there, is this illegal? Well, illegal & deceptive are 2 different things. The FTC is reviewing these on a case-by-case basis. Deceptive marketing techniques will be challenged by the FTC and the courts will decide if it’s illegal.

What’s going to happen to deceptive sites? Either: don’t do this, don’t do this & other things, shut down the website, or give money back.

Finally (well, before I hung up), Facebook mentioned users may report these deceptive ads by clicking on the thumbs down icon by an ad, then selecting if the ad is “misleading” or “objectionable”.

It’s been mentioned before, but if the affiliate industry doesn’t self-regulate, the government will step in & regulate things for us.