Ecommerce Growth

Why Your Affiliate Program is Not Driving Sales

While building your own eCommerce affiliate program isn't the easiest, there's nothing a little strategic thinking can't solve––read on for a list of relevant ideas.

Why Your Affiliate Program is Not Driving Sales

In the US alone, affiliate marketing is one of the fourth largest sources that earn eCommerce orders – it accounts for 16% of all eCommerce orders. 

Among eCommerce businesses the affiliate marketing route has become even more legit since the Covid-19 pandemic.

The primary reason for this is that affiliate marketing allows businesses to market their products without a high budget and lots of effort or time. 

Typically, eCommerce businesses have the choice of depending on one or few established affiliate marketing programs (think Amazon Associates) or creating their own affiliate program. 

In this piece, we’re going to throw light on challenges that eCommerce businesses typically face around establishing a robust affiliate program and steps they could take to make it happen. 

1. Your affiliates are using shitty/copied content

According to a 2020 report by Awin, 40% of affiliate sales in the US owe their contribution to organic content like blogs. 

So if your affiliates are going astray with the wrong kind of content––copied, misrepresented or otherwise––you’ll have to step in. 

Trust and credibility take time to build in affiliate marketing, and when you drive original content as a non-negotiable, your affiliates have no choice but to adhere to that framework as well. 

Here are a few methods we’ve found to work well:

Focus on UGC

Think reviews, testimonials, images and videos

The more you leverage original content shared by customers, the better––this way your load of producing original content from scratch comes down. 

If you have the budget for it, offering incentives like discounts in return for UGC is also a good idea. 

Go the hashtag route to cull out the best of your UGC that can eventually be used towards your affiliate marketing efforts. 

One eCommerce brand that’s known to leverage UGC to have interested buyers click on affiliate links is Wayfair

Wayfair utilizes UGC to promote their affiliate marketing links

Use email to promote content across channels

This literally means you’ll be curating the content that’s already present around your category or product niche, and sending out to a captive audience. 

Follow the attention > interest > desire > action pathway to introduce your affiliate links as CTAs and have people act on them. 

Here's an interesting email example from Modcloth.

Modcloth uses emails to promote brand content
For more, go ahead and read this.

Focus on usability and benefits

This means that if your affiliate marketing content has to stay original and enriching, it must push less of the products you want to sell and more of what those products can do to change a shopper’s life. 

Find content gaps in what your competition is offering

Research points to the fact that 8 out of 10 brands run their own affiliate marketing program. 

This means it’s highly likely that your competitors will be engaged in content optimization efforts as well. 

To drive originality, then it makes sense to notice what the competition isn’t covering: the angle, the narrative, the experience that’s promised etc. 

Here's an interesting read: 14 eCommerce content marketing mistakes (+ their fixes)

2. Your affiliates don’t have enough product knowledge

62% of shoppers read reviews in an in-depth way to understand which purchases they should be going ahead with. 

As a business, you can fail to capture this high number if your affiliates are misrepresenting your brand and products because of faulty product knowledge. 

The good thing is that you do have all the say in how they promote your products and what messages they communicate. 

Here are some areas you’d want to focus on if you want your affiliates to be precise about their product knowledge:

Convey the USP & UVP of the product

Understanding the unique selling proposition (USP) will give them a fair idea about what is different in the product they’re promoting in relation to a similar product by a competitor. 

On the other hand, knowing the unique value proposition will bring them closer to why buyers prefer this product over other competing products. 

Communicate about your target audience/market

Take them through the customer personas you’ve created.

Elaborate clearly on the demographics, psychographics and interests that led them to prefer this particular product over others. 

Give them access to use the product

In combination with conceptual knowledge, affiliates are often seen to do well with experiential understanding. 

So, if you’re having them promote specific products, ensure they have access to samples first, and get to know each product first-hand. 

One eCommerce brand that’s known to carefully curate awareness and knowledge about their products for affiliates is Missguided – a brand that targets young women who identify with a trendsetting brand of styling. 

Apart from a strong social and referral strategy, the brand has come up with an affiliate strategy that pulls in influencers who’re looking for deeper ways (like promoting content beyond their scope) to engage and promote. 

The company supports the affiliate’s efforts through up-to-date awareness and marketing-related material. 

Missguided features a robust affiliate marketing program
Deep-dive with: eCommerce Product Launch: The Most Comprehensive Guide Ever

3. Your affiliates aren’t aligned with business expectations 

A lot of times an eCommerce affiliate program can run into problems because the brand behind the program and the program’s affiliates aren’t aligned. 

This impacts how the brand ends up relating to its affiliates and in turn, the latter perceive the brand in ways that don’t help promotions or long-term, mutually rewarding engagement. 

Here are a few ways that can ascertain that your affiliates become more aligned with your brand:

Create a document on affiliate success stories

It might sound overwhelming at the outset, but in the long-term such a piece can create the right expectations and alignment in affiliates. 

You could think of answering a set of probable questions affiliates might want answered, when they’re looking at inspiration:

- How were these affiliates onboarded?

- What resources/support were they offered to be more successful?

- What were these people encouraged to do, to deepen alignment with your brand?

- How did you measure and reward their success?

You could consider placing this document as a downloadable on your affiliate signup page. 

Consider the information you’ll showcase on the affiliate signup page

This is crucial because the signup page is where all new affiliates will arrive to see if they’re a good fit with your brand. 

And this means the information you put on this page will make them understand the terms, conditions and brand expectations clearly. 

Here are a few to-dos:

- Spell out the eligibility criteria clearly (including how much experience you’re looking for, if your affiliates should have worked in specific niches, if at all age is a criteria etc.)

eCommerce brand Mamaearth, for example, makes it clear what kind of media affiliates can use and what kind they can't.

Mamaearth clarifies what media affiliates can and cannot use

- Offer information specific to the affiliate program (what resources you provide––is it just links or would they also have access to banners etc., how much commission they can earn and if there’s a tier structure to it)

- Exhibit examples of promotions (for example, blogs written by other affiliates and offer an estimate on how many times affiliate links were opened through these pages––this can offer potential affiliates an idea of what kind of performance you expect from them as a brand)

You'll love reading: 31 insanely powerful online sales promotion ideas for eCommerce

4. Your brand messaging gets diluted in the affiliate marketing context

Pull in affiliate marketers one too many to promote your brand and you run the risk of your core brand message getting diluted. 

What this demands is for you to step in with a set of measures that’ll help to keep your affiliates closer to your brand and its guidelines. 

The way out is to create a process where the following is made room for:

How the company/brand should be portrayed in the promotional material

For example, if you’re going with a policy or strategy where your affiliates need to dedicate a line or two to your brand’s vision, mission and values, then that needs to be clear. 

What steps affiliates can take to get you to approve promotional content

This is crucial because only upon proper approval, can you weed out mistakes and glitches from the promotional material. 

Preferably, have your internal brand custodians do this job – and also declare a checklist that affiliates can use as self-help for correctional purposes. 

What resources and tips affiliates can access to reflect your brand correctly

Consider sending a mail listing out easy-to-refer tips and links––affiliates can then access these when they successfully get through your sign-up process. 

What activities your brand does not align with or even prohibit

For example, you may want to state the kinds of events your brand looks forward to associating with and the kind of events that are not aligned with the core principles of your brand. 

For more brand inspiration, read: 10 eCommerce brands winning at Social Commerce (+ Lessons we can learn from them)

5. You’re not regularly monitoring key affiliate metrics 

Studying certain key affiliate metrics will offer you a glimpse into customer behavior patterns, which you might not know otherwise. 

Affiliate metrics are the gateway into understanding affiliate performance, including:

- which products are doing well

- which geographical locations are working well for your brand

- what content is driving traffic 

- which affiliate links are converting customers consistently

To make the most of your monitoring efforts, here’s a list of metrics you’ll need to focus on:

Number of conversions

This will essentially tell you how many clicks across your affiliate links have converted into a purchase. 

To make your link assessment deeper, you may want to create different affiliate links for the header, sidebar, ebooks and emails

Tracking conversions across days, weeks and months will also let you realistically measure the success of your affiliate program. 

Conversion rate

You can calculate the conversion rate by dividing the number of people who convert by those who visit a landing page.

For example, if 50 people convert on a said page while 500 visited it, then the conversion rate would stand at 10%. 

In combination with the conversion rate, studying the click-through rate (CTR) can give you an idea about how your keywords and ads are doing.

CTR is the ratio between how many people see your ad and how many actually click on it. 

Average Order Value

If you divide total revenue by the total number of orders placed, you’ll arrive at AOV

Why this is important in an eCommerce affiliate marketing program is because it helps assess several other topics in the background: 

- content driving traffic and conversions

- pricing and discount strategies

- product recommendation and bundling methods

Recurring revenue

This is an especially important metric for subscription-based eCommerce businesses. 

Analyzing which of your bundles or products are bringing recurring revenue (calculated by dividing the total amount of revenue over a period of time by the amount of time), can give you clues on how to:

- Optimize discounts

- Run flash offers

- Announce segmented offers & rewards

- Price more efficiently compared to competitors

Partner activity & engagement

This metric helps you in understanding which of your affiliates are active in generating revenue for your business, which ones are trying but not successful and which ones are idle. 

There are a number of aspects you can study to understand partner activity:

- Email open rates (who is opening, who is responding etc.)

- Affiliate portal logins (you can measure this short-term and long-term to observe trends such as spikes in seasonal behavior as well as extended periods of no activity)

- Traffic (which affiliate pages and links are generating this traffic, how consistently etc.)

- Content (which of your affiliates are crafting content about your products and brand, which channels are they sharing/making mentions on etc.)

eCommerce metrics on your mind? Read: The only 10 metrics eCommerce founders should track

6. You’re partnering only with high-commision demanding affiliate marketers

Tying up with affiliates who work only on high commissions can be a double whammy if your conversions have been low to average.

Sometimes businesses seek out high-commision demanding affiliates because of their inherent perceived value (reach, mentions on social media etc.).

However, this can break your bank in the long run. 


Consider creating a tiered commission structure

While most brands prefer going with a flat commission rate, nothing is stopping you from exploring this strategy––it can also be an added impetus for affiliates to bring in more business. 

Announce seasonal rewards/higher commissions

When you strategize this, let’s say, in alignment to peak selling season, it becomes inspiring for affiliates. 

The seasonality also allows you to not constantly lean on high commission spends. 

7. Your “affiliate thought process” is stuck in 2015

Once upon a time, affiliate marketing may only have been about having your affiliate link mentioned by your partners and then tracking if people bought from that link or not. 

Fast forward to 2023, and affiliate marketing is a heady mix of getting together the right technology, using existing channels to promote your affiliate program and carefully considering which affiliates to work with. 

To bring your affiliate thinking up-to-date:

- Align your affiliate program with the other strategies you have (social media, marketing etc.)

- Study competitors (both primary and secondary) and see what they’re doing on their affiliate programs

- Target customers based on their journey (discovery, awareness etc.)

- Attract existing customers to become affiliates (and tell them why this would be worthwhile for them both monetarily and otherwise)

People also ask questions like:

1. What are eCommerce affiliate programs?

eCommerce affiliate programs exist to connect affiliate marketers with brands that are looking for people to promote their products. 

More recently, eCommerce companies have begun to come up with their own affiliate programs in order to promote their own products and get past the limiting nature of external affiliate programs. 

2. How do I start eCommerce affiliate marketing?

You can start either by joining an established affiliate program (think Shopify or Rakuten) or by developing an in-house affiliate program. 

In the former, it’s easier to tap into an already established network of businesses, affiliates and audiences. 

In the latter, the competition is lower so that businesses can look at strategizing content and marketing material combined with affiliate knowledge to reach out the target audience. 

3. Why is eCommerce affiliate marketing so popular now?

Much of eCommerce affiliate marketing has come to be about existing customers turning into affiliates for a deeper engagement with a brand they like. 

When this is combined with decent commissions and promotional resources, affiliates see value in generating revenue for their favorite brands and getting paid well in return. 

But wait, is your site ready to convert all that affiliate traffic?

98% of visitors who visit an eCommerce site—drop off without buying anything.

Why: user experience issues that cause friction for visitors.

And this is the problem Convertcart solves.

We've helped 500+ eCommerce stores (in the US) improve user experience—and 2X their conversions.

How we can help you:

Our conversion experts can audit your site—identify UX issues, and suggest changes to improve conversions.