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How to Solve All Your Problems With Coupon Sites Save One

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First, thank you all for the well wishes on our new baby. 

Second, we have enjoyed and laughed at the many meme submissions received so far for our ongoing contest. There is still time to submit yours and win $1,000 cash — check out the details here.

Third, thank you to everyone who came out for my presentation at Affiliate Summit West last week. The turnout was better than expected and I appreciate all the feedback, mostly positive, some critical. Here is a recap:

  • Customers love coupons. According to Statista, 8 in 10 shoppers in the U.S. used a coupon last year. Correspondingly, coupon and reward sites are quite popular.
  • These sites, which are usually affiliates, can be associated with troublesome patterns: bad or disallowed content, cannibalization (“would have bought anyway”), and negative brand associations. 
  • Given these issues, merchants are concerned about margin erosion (less money in after discounts, more money out in commissions), poor user experience and abandoned carts, and the time and effort it takes for compliance.

The aforementioned problems have ready solutions, except in one situation:

The affiliate manager must understand and accept market conditions — i.e., customers love coupons, competitors have them, and affiliates provide them for search engine rankings and their user communities, even if they’re expired or fake. Better to feed, rather than fight, the beast. 

Furthermore, it is the affiliate manager’s job to clarify and communicate the rules, to monitor for compliance, and to configure the program. The latter is especially important and particularly underused. Most if not all major tracking platforms have time- and category-based rules. If you feel a commission has not been earned, you can programmatically change it. If you don’t use these tools you’re lazy, incompetent, or powerless.

The exception: If you have no relationship, you have no leverage. For example, years ago Mary Kay Cosmetics sued RetailMeNot, which finally put up a disclaimer and took down codes but still shows up in search results … along with dozens of other sites. 

In short, an active, empowered manager can readily handle all challenges except this last one. I believe that this Tragedy of the Coupon Commons costs our channel many millions of dollars a year because users decrease their time spent shopping after too much disappointment. The appropriate agent here is the network, though that is a topic for another day.

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