December 8, 2017

Lessons in Affiliate Marketing: Six Ways to Stand Tall in an Increasingly Amazon World

As an Amazon alumnus, anytime someone in either my personal or professional life finds out I worked at Amazon, I can always expect one or both of the following questions from them:

  1. Was it really as hard to work there as I have heard?
  2. How can I compete?

While number one isn’t really related to this article, I can’t just leave you hanging. So my answer is, while it was challenging to work there, I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything and I really enjoyed that time in my career. Number two is a trickier question, but probably one of the most critical for any business, including yours, to answer since Amazon’s strategy is either already impacting your business, or has you in their sights long term. And while everyone in retail is already feeling and seeing an impact, services will be a target as well. So let’s set an expectation at the outset: You cannot compete directly with Amazon. Amazon is unlike any other company out there in that they got their retail business right, and used that as a foundation to hire the best and brightest and successfully thread their way in every direction imaginable.

A great recent example was when the slightest hint of them entering the pharmacy business sent shockwaves through Wall Street, with repercussions felt in Walgreens, Rite Aid and CVS stock prices. Etsy is another example of a successful company whose longevity was questioned by the entrance of Amazon Handmade.

Can Amazon be challenged? Walmart and Target are some of the more high profile competitors who have chosen to fight Amazon’s online dominance. Walmart used its vast war-chest to buy Jet and build a best-in-class shopping app that has many reviewers raving, along with amazing in-store functionality as well (like avoiding the checkout line). Google Shopping teamed up with multiple big box stores to fight Amazon. Nordstrom is highly competitive in online fashion sales. Plus, it’s important to note that ship-to-store and free shipping options are no longer good to have, but expected by online shoppers.

But major retailers aside, smaller, niche retailers can also be successful in an Amazon world. Sure, somewhere close to half of all product discovery searches happen on Amazon, but that leaves a lot of greenfield where the niche retailers can still get in front of shoppers. Let’s look at some common sense practices to help:

  1. Be a part of the affiliate landscape – having an affiliate program is not only essential to retailers and service providers these days, but in most cases it’s one of the most cost-effective customer acquisition channels around. Content monetization platform Viglink recently published a study showing online content publishers made most of their revenue from Google Adsense and Affiliate marketing. And if you have an affiliate program, double down on it and drive an even greater ROAS.
  2. Be influential by partnering with Influencers – Anyone in affiliate knows all the talk is around quality content sites, and no sites are more highly sought than the holy grail of influencers. Influencers are niche websites and people that typically focus on a category (i.e. sneakers, fashion, finding deals) and have a loyal following that takes actions on that advice. Finding inroads to these influencers that promote your category of product is an effective top of funnel technique to generate more awareness and interest in your company’s offerings, and ultimately steering a click away from Amazon and to your site. If you’re interested in learning more about this through our REACH service offering, let’s chat.
  3. Offer free shipping – this was mentioned earlier but bears repeating: free shipping is a must in this culture. Build it into your margins if you need to, but offer free shipping. A Walker Sands future of retail report in 2016 confirmed with results that 9 out of 10 surveyed that free shipping was the most sought after incentive in online shopping. Retailers will repeatedly lose sales to Amazon if they charge for shipping.
  4. Understand the desires of customers – Virtually every study ever done on online shopping behavior shows that offering deals, coupons, promotions, and integrating with loyalty programs like Ebates are among the most effective ways to appeal to the desires of almost every online shopper.
  5. Don’t forget to do the housekeeping – No one can imagine how many sales are lost due to common product and advertising hygiene tasks like having a detailed product description with reviews, focusing on fast page load times, offering multiple shipping options and using your best keywords in SEO. These simple hygiene tasks are so often overlooked. Recent studies showed that 88% of online shoppers trust an online review as much as a personal recommendation, while another study showed that slow shipping deters the majority of Amazon Prime shoppers from making a purchase.
  6. Don’t beat’em, join’em – Marketplaces like Amazon are a great place to sell your products. So to combat the fact that such a high percentage of product searches originate on Amazon, what better place to get your share than by being a product on Amazon, right? While you focus on the above tasks to catch half the non-Amazon product searches, why not battle for the other half as well by setting yourself up in the Amazon marketplace?

Not enough time in the day? Still unsure of where to begin? Hire a good agency and outsource the task.

The investment pays for itself and then some.

Feel free to drop me a line at if you have any questions or just want to chat.

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