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  1. #1
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    What should merchants do about affiliates who profit by promoting expired coupons?
    Okay, I've made an interesting discovery after analyzing one client's log files and affiliate transaction data. I found it strange that the average time from "affiliate click" to "order submission" was incredibly short, usually 1 to 3 minutes. After investigating, I found that most affiliate sales were being credited to "coupon affiliates" who promote either long-expired or non-existent coupons. (The merchant has no currently-active coupon codes, and has always included expiration dates with all past coupons.)

    What's happening, of course, is that the consumer (let's call her Connie) is brought to the merchant's site somehow, perhaps through a natural search engine result, or a PPC click, or another (non-coupon) affiliate. Connie browses around the site and puts stuff in her shopping cart, and then clicks to check out. At some point in the checkout process, Connie sees a prompt for a "coupon code" (or discount code, or promotional code, or referral code), and she realizes that maybe there is a coupon "out there somewhere" that she can use to save money on her order. Connie goes to Google and searches for "merchantname coupon" and up comes a list of sites. She clicks on one of these links, and goes to a site which mentions some kind of coupon (perhaps 10% off or free shipping, whatever), and she clicks back to the merchant site from the coupon site. That link, of course, is an affiliate link, so that Connie's subsequent activity is credited to that coupon affiliate.

    As Amazon recently demonstrated, some merchants believe that these "coupon affiliates" don't deserve a full commission from such transactions, but let's set that question aside for a moment.

    My immediate concern is that there are "coupon affiliates" who do one of these things:

    (A) They post coupons without showing the expiration date, and don't delete the listings after the coupons expire.

    (B) They post "coupons" that don't actually exist.

    (C) They don't show any "coupons" but they do maintain a web page with the title or headline "MerchantName Coupons" which draws traffic from consumers via natural or paid search.

    (Although I'm not actually writing about QuoteProducts.com, you can easily see some examples of this by searching for "QuoteProducts coupon" on Google.)

    The problem is that these affiliates cost the merchant sales!

    Let's go back to Connie. She was ready to check out and buy stuff from the merchant, but the merchant (perhaps foolishly) prompted for a coupon code, thus making her think she could save money; suddenly the price that seemed so good a moment ago isn't so attractive any more. Connie does her search and passes through the coupon site. But then she can't find a coupon code, or she is told that the coupon code she got is invalid. Now she's mad. And she abandons her shopping cart.

    Of course, occasionally, Connie goes ahead and completes the order, which is credited to the same coupon affiliate who just drove away other customers! So the affiliate is occasionally rewarded with a commission, for driving away many more sales.

    What do other merchants do about this? My immediate reaction is to recommend that the merchant change their terms & conditions, providing that affiliates must remove coupon listings when the coupons expire, and that affiliates may not maintain pages with titles or headings like "MerchantName Coupon" if there are no current coupons offered by that merchant. But this is somewhat expensive to police, and penalizes an affiliate who does legitimately post a coupon code but then innocently forgets to update the page. If the merchant must first "warn" affiliates that expired coupons are being displayed, then the cost to enforce the policy would escalate. Such a policy might also reward those unethical folks who create zillions of affiliate accounts and web sites in order to try to sneak some transactions through.

    Yes, I know some of the most obvious suggestions: give affiliates coupons that don't expire, or make sure you always have some active coupons for the coupon affiliates to promote. Or remove the "coupon prompt" from the checkout page. And create a page at the merchant's site with the title and headline, "MerchantName Coupons," explaining that there are no currently-valid coupon codes. But as I know from my recent experience with QuoteProducts, you can't easily remove the coupon prompt from the Yahoo Store checkout. And even if the merchant says there are no valid codes, some consumers will search anyway and click back from an affiliate site. And some merchants do decide (correctly or not) that coupons aren't an effective marketing strategy. And some merchants want to offer coupon codes or gift certificate codes, but not through affiliates.

    Advice? Thoughts?
    Last edited by markwelch; June 11th, 2007 at 01:06 PM.

  2. #2
    Grandma broke her coccyx! Uncle Rico's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by markwelch
    (C) They don't show any "coupons" but they do maintain a web page with the title or headline "MerchantName Coupons" which gets draws traffic from consumers via natural or paid search.

    Advice? Thoughts?
    Hold up there a minute. What's wrong with a page that is titled "XXXXX Coupons" even though it may not have any current coupons? Coupons from merchants expire all the time. Are you suggesting pages like "XXXXXX Coupons" should somehow go "offline" or change the title or heading to "No XXXXX Coupons" when there are no coupons available from XXXXXX merchant? Maybe they should change the page title to "Sometimes XXXXX Coupons"?

  3. #3
    Lite On The Do, Heavy On The Nuts Donuts's Avatar
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    You understand the situation pretty much as I do, I think. The problem is affiliates who purposely post fake coupons or aren't diligent enough to remove (or automate removal) of expired ones - they are the problem. Other than that, if you have real, unexpired coupons and let your affs promote them, there are no other problems here. I think you need to police things. You can just watch sales and see which coupons affs are breaking the rules - this shouldn't be that hard to police. Make sure your policies are clear, send a warning the first time, then can them if it's willful.

  4. #4
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    SB, I agree that option C is the "least objectionable" of the three shown, if the merchant has offered coupons in the past.

    However, your suggested solutions are worth considering.

  5. #5
    Lite On The Do, Heavy On The Nuts Donuts's Avatar
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    (A) They post coupons without showing the expiration date, and don't delete the listings after the coupons expire.
    If you happen to manually approve partners, taking a look at their site should solve this issue.

    (B) They post "coupons" that don't actually exist.
    Burn them.

    (C) They don't show any "coupons" but they do maintain a web page with the title or headline "MerchantName Coupons" which draws traffic from consumers via natural or paid search.
    The merchant creates this situation, I'm not sure what you expect the affiliate to do if they intermittently post coupons to their affiliate channel. For people that are visiting the coupon site to shop (which is the real traffic that you want from these partners), what are they supposed to do when there's no active coupons for a particular merchant?

    The value of coupon affiliates is a different discussion, in my mind, than the problem you've described here. Fake coupons or expired ones that don't indicate that they've expired (they should post expiration dates and also get automatically removed via script / code once expired) are affs you want to boot, or never allow in.

    A bigger problem, that's harder to police, are couponers that use adware to pop over the site during, or just before, checkout.

    Anyhow, I think you know well the possible pool of answers that you can implement, so good luck finding the right balance here Mark.

  6. #6
    ABW Ambassador Snib's Avatar
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    Here's a thread from a couple months ago that hits on a lot of the points being made here:

    http://forum.abestweb.com/showthread.php?t=85115

    - Scott
    Hatred stirs up strife, But love covers all transgressions.

  7. #7
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    What about prhibitting your affilaites from biding on the PPC term "MerchantName Coupons"? If they don't actually have any coupons for that merchant their conversion rate should be poor for the same reasons stated in your example of the disgruntled Connie above, so they may not miss the keyword all that much.

    On the down side, affiliates in a competing merchant's program could bid on that same term to siphen sales away on the perception of a better value.

    I don't see too much of a problem with a page titled "Merchant Coupons" that has no coupons, so long as they say something to the effect of "No Offers at this time." Your merchant is stoking this fire just a bit by not offering coupons, but providing the option to enter one at checkout.

  8. #8
    Life is Supposed to be Fun! Rexanne's Avatar
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    *sigh* - I've thought about this a lot after instigating the above mentioned thread on coupon sites nailing sales that were initiated on my site because of these circumstances.

    I think the real issue is with the merchant and adding an "enter coupon code" box in the shopping cart. This is going to prompt a lot of shoppers to go looking for a coupon whether one exists or not.

    It's a tough call. Merchants want to offer coupons, SOME sites don't do the coupon thang so there's conflict. If an affiliate does not offer coupons on their site, they need to be aware that others do and some consumers are hell bent on getting a discount and will go looking for a coupon code which is not something we non-couponers can get pissed about. It's part of marketing and competition.

    I think either a merchant offers coupons or doesn't. If not, this issue will not come up as there won't be the "enter code" prompt on the check out page. If they do, there should to be a system in place to protect the original affiliate's cookie if the original affiliate's cookie was in place when the sale was initiated.
    Peace,

    Rexanne

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  9. #9
    Moderator MichaelColey's Avatar
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    I have very little tolerance for coupon affiliates who act in a deceptive manner. They reflect very poorly on the niche as a whole, and there are many legitimate players in the niche.

    Another problem that usually goes hand in hand with those who display expired (or fake) coupons (and it's usually done intentionally, not out of neglect) is that they often force clicks, trick visitors into clicking, make the visitor click to see the code, or other such things. You shouldn't tolerate any of those behaviors, either.

    Most of those who are doing these things know exactly what they're doing. It's intentional. It harms the merchants. It is detrimental to affiliate marketing as a whole. It reflects poorly on coupon sites. Do you really want to do business with these types of affiliates? I wouldn't.
    Michael Coley
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  10. #10
    Lite On The Do, Heavy On The Nuts Donuts's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by BG4512
    What about prhibitting your affilaites from biding on the PPC term "MerchantName Coupons"? If they don't actually have any coupons for that merchant their conversion rate should be poor for the same reasons stated in your example of the disgruntled Connie above, so they may not miss the keyword all that much.
    +You'll still have the seo problem, which is bigger than the ppc part of the fake coupons issue. If people see no ppc, they will go straight to the seo results, you'll make the seo issue worse and won't solve anything.
    +You'll be harming your ppc affiliates who don't cheat with fake coupons.
    +You'll leave your coupon ppc open to others (who aren't promoting your merchant), as BG4512 said.
    +You'll needlessly add to the things you need to enforce / police.
    +You won't stop the fake couponers with a prohibition, they're already breaking the rules and their intent.

    If they fake / lie about the available coupons, burn them.

  11. #11
    Lite On The Do, Heavy On The Nuts Donuts's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rexanne
    I think the real issue is with the merchant and adding an "enter coupon code" box in the shopping cart. This is going to prompt a lot of shoppers to go looking for a coupon whether one exists or not.
    I agree. If you want to promote coupons, move the box out of the check-out process. If you send out a direct mail piece for instance, give them the code and the page to redeem it (www.merchant.com/mailer) or whatever.

    But you'll still have to police the one's that promote fake coupons (because they can still set a cookie regardless if the coupon is real / authorized or not).

  12. #12
    Lite On The Do, Heavy On The Nuts Donuts's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by MichaelColey
    Another problem that usually goes hand in hand with those who display expired (or fake) coupons (and it's usually done intentionally, not out of neglect) is that they often force clicks, trick visitors into clicking, make the visitor click to see the code, or other such things. You shouldn't tolerate any of those behaviors, either.
    No matter what else they may do, expired and fake coupons are enough to condemn, in my opinion.

    I do agree that the one's that fake also go to great lengths to employ deceptive tactics to get the click. If the coupon is real, is not expired, is authorized, there's no deception or trickery at all employed to force a click, I don't see the evil in enticing your visitors to click.

    I'm reluctant to say that though because it gets into a gray area where "entice" is hard to define. However, with the evolution of seo and even ppc landing page scoring, those sites that don't provide what is advertised, are at a disadvantage for costs and even entry in the marketplace - so I tend to think the line continues to shift affiliates towards the ideal - which is to give the consumer what they want in as few clicks as is possible.

    But this again, has nothing to do with those who deceive consumers with fake or expired offers - those folks are not only costing the merchant unearned commissions, but they will also increase the merchant's abandonment rate slightly as well. The harm is clear and so is the behavior, burn them.

  13. #13
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    Rexanne wrote: > "I think either a merchant offers coupons or doesn't. If not, this issue will not come up as there won't be the "enter code" prompt on the check out page." <

    It is still a problem for merchants who are stuck with a shopping-cart solution (like Yahoo Store) which includes the coupon-code prompt in the checkout sequence and doesn't provide any reasonable way to disable it.

  14. #14
    Lite On The Do, Heavy On The Nuts Donuts's Avatar
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    Mark, same topic from you in February:
    http://forum.abestweb.com/showpost.p...60&postcount=9

    If this is an ongoing issue for you, definitely move away from Yahoo storefronts.

    These developers work on customizing Yahoo Storefronts, might ask a couple of them if some workaround can be programmed:
    http://developernetwork.store.yahoo.com/

  15. #15
    Affiliate Manager MINDsprinter's Avatar
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    I second, or third the suggestion to get rid of that box. Applying coupons automatically when a user clicks through a coupon link is the best way. They arrive on the shopping cart page and see a message that tells them the coupon has already been applied. Another solution might be to change the label on the coupon box. Instead of labelling it "Coupon Code," prompting customers to go searching for coupons, label it something like "Group ID," and make sure you use that language on the creative. That way, people who see the coupon first will know what to do, and people who don't won't be prompted to go looking.
    Jason Rosenbaum
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