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2010: challenges and opportunities for online retailers and affiliate marketers

Sarah Escott Approved Lo Res

2009 has been a challenging year for retail but at the same time has provided opportunity by contributing to the increased popularity of online retail. We’ve seen further growth of voucher discount codes as consumers increasingly look for smarter ways to shop in the tight economy. This trend was particularly prominent leading up to and after Christmas day. 2010 promises to be another tight year wrapped with uncertainty and this once again presents opportunity for online retailers and affiliates. To gain success in these conditions, retailers will need a sales strategy that reaches and messages their audience individually. They’ll need to ensure that the affiliates they work with add value to their offering by being able to fit into their segmentation plans. As the online retail space grows affiliates will need to get even closer to their audience and leverage their relationships with online retailers. Understanding each other’s focus and direction will certainly help them succeed but above all else understanding audience will be key.

Online retailers will become more selective about affiliate partners

With the development of online retail coupled with the tight economy of 2010, consumers are fast becoming smarter shoppers. They are treading more cautiously and spending more time researching products and expecting more from their online experience.  In 2010 we may see online retailers working with fewer affiliates, implementing greater segmentation for them to sell different products or at different times of the year. At the same time online retailers will need to ensure their messaging remains consistent across their on and offline channels and carefully manage their costs. Being creative coupled with an awareness of which social media tactics are appropriate for integration into their approach and understanding the significance of advocacy will be key to standing out. Simple things like encouraging advocacy through link sharing and recommendations will all contribute towards a stronger offering.

Affiliate marketers need to understanding of social media as well as being even more proactive strategically in expanding their network

Getting closer to the various stakeholders will be key. This includes the online retailer as well as the audience. As mentioned above the online retailer will be looking to strengthen existing relationships so demonstrating that you have an understanding of their direction and goals will be key to being more proactive in strategically expanding ones network. Social media has allowed affiliates to become more connected with consumers by finding out about satisfaction levels, product information required etc. As mentioned, consumers spend more time researching prior to purchase, a significant part of this research involves reading user generated comments and sometimes asking questions. Therefore those affiliate marketers that are in tune with basic social media tools in order to aid listening to the conversation and building relationships with their audience and other affiliates is also key. This coupled with creativity to personalise their message to the more demanding consumer will help to build sales.

Search will be key for audiences

Of significant importance for affiliate marketers and online retailers is the understanding of the audience and how they go about finding the product, in this case discount vouchers. Exploring the voucher space, the audience, influenced by the economy, is shifting from bargain hunters and savvy online shoppers to more mainstream, mirroring the shift in the types of products and services available as well.

Consumers are reporting a mixed experience when searching and redeeming discount vouchers online, in most cases they use organic search to find their preferred retailer or brand. Many of the links in their search results click through to expired offers or generic pages which serve to confuse them so they either move on, get distracted and go to a different retailer / product. Their experience with paid search is generally with broad matched voucher terms so again not delivering the desired search result. Therefore understanding the relationship balance between organic vs. paid search and correctly identifying key words is an essential element of being able to reach your audience.

Looking at the outlook for 2010…

Listen, engage, strengthen and leverage relationships and work towards quality partnerships. For some this may mean being more selective and working with fewer parties in order to deliver a more targeted message and approach. The state of the economy although a challenge, is an opportunity for online retailers and affiliates, as too is the technology and social media advances. As consumers continue to become smarter in the way they shop and availability of items continues to spread beyond traditional online purchase items, it will be key for online retailers and affiliates to continue to understand each other’s priorities. An integrated approach is needed to engage and leverage their partnerships (potential and existing), target messaging, use search, create advocacy and get closer to the audience. I would be interested to hear your thoughts on this from an affiliate marketer, online retailer or audience perspective.

Sarah Escott is the UK Director of Retail Partnerships at Savoo.co.uk, one of the fastest-growing voucher code sites, which features offers such as Dell discount codes and Apple promo codes. Sarah’s commercial development expertise includes over twenty years’ experience at some of the UK’s biggest media organisations and working with leading, online retailer brands, including Hello! Magazine, BBC Worldwide, ValueClick and TradeDoubler.