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  1. #1
    Member TruthToPower's Avatar
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    Question Best Methods of Detecting Merchant and/or Network Fraud?
    Hi everyone,

    I'm looking for some advice to a complicated problem.

    I'm an affiliate like most of you, but I promote more of a niche product that doesn't lend itself to the typical testing that one can use to detect rogue merchants or networks taking advantage of affiliates. In other words, because I deal with products that are area or territory specific, such as telephone service, cable television, or high speed Internet, I cannot always make a test purchase through my own affiliate link(s) if I am not in that area or territory. Plus, NONE of these merchants allow us to place order on our customers behalf! I used to think this practice was simply because it was not good form or against merchant policy, but now I believe it is more geared towards not allowing the affiliate to catch on to uncredited sales.
    Every time we've raised this issue in the past with the network or merchant they want the "evidence" or digital receipt - you know, that information that their policy says we CAN'T or SHOULDN'T have, and if we did provide this information, then they would say we violated TOS and placed the order on behalf of the customer!

    So we are just supposed to trust the network or merchant that this kind of behavior is not going on when there are too many signs pointing to the contrary? This policy certainly seems like they want us running in circles!

    Obviously if I am aware of this, the network & the merchant know as well. I'm afraid that with this knowledge one of these entity's is taking advantage of this situation. Over the last year I've watched sales deteriorate while increasing our traffic, SERP positions, clicks, and CTR. We've even been deploying new and innovative sites with extraordinarily high CTR's and yet our total sales are in decline!

    I've managed to gather some evidence that points to this sort of behavior taking place, but again, I'm not sure what to do with this information. Who can I trust? I've had conference call after conference call with the merchant & network AM's, and while they have admitted to me that there have been problems, they always end our conversations or emails with the promise that they will get to the bottom of it. Yet somehow they always forget to get back to us, switch AM's so we have to start explaining everything from scratch again, or simply ignore us entirely! I've tried going to the network in the past, but after giving them volumes of information on ordering errors or false errors that take the customer to a merchant page with a phone number to call in the order (thus removing the affiliate from any transaction, even though the customer came from our site!)
    I am beginning to believe the network simply uses information (evidence) provided to make it more difficult for myself and other affiliates to detect the underhanded practices of the merchant/network.

    Any insight, help, pointers, or information would be greatly appreciated, I'm really just about at the end of my rope!

  2. #2
    Member blizzard's Avatar
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    I'm very interested in the more experienced affiliates' takes on this as well.

    IMHO, sales not tracking (intentionally or not) is an inherent and infuriating problem in the affiliate model.

    You could possibly get other people to make test transactions for you, and then reimburse them, but even this data won't 'prove' absolutely than everything tracks.

    Probably those in the best position are high-volume affiliates, because any sudden change in tracking will be far more obvious to them.

    Maybe the best way to deal with this problem is to figure non-tracking sales as a fact of life, and pay more attention to revenue per impression or click. If your site has direct advertising value, you can always compare your earnings to other models, and decide whether or not your commission/conversion rate is satisfactory.

    For those sites that do not have direct advertising value, my suspicion is that affiliate marketing will be less and less viable as the 'net evolves.

  3. #3
    ABW Ambassador simcat's Avatar
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    I sympathize with you. With all the variables involved its hard to verify anything without some kind of test purchase.

    I used to have a site with two similar pages, each devoted to a different sat-tv merchant. Very similar products. All organic clicks, no ppc.

    One page made 7 sales on around 900 clicks, the other made 0 sales on about 1100 clicks. (later that program folded, lol)

    And then there are those merchants (that for example) have a $50 or $100 minimum payout and maybe a $35 commision on each sale. You get your first sale rather quickly, start to really promote the site............and that 2nd sale never comes...

  4. #4
    Lite On The Do, Heavy On The Nuts Donuts's Avatar
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    diversify and you'll get a feeling for how things should convert - if it seems not right, check around with your competitors and ask - i've done this in satellite tv and other areas and have made some good friends.

    when you have 500 competitors, chating with 3 or 4 won't hurt you - you've got to reach out and see if others you trust are seeing the same.

    and try and work with some merchants that compete with the one you're working with - to see how they convert.

    i know test purchases are difficult, but you can find ways to do them and still meet the terms of your agreement - if you can't, find some one or way that does - if it's impossible, that's a lot of trust - you'd better know these people personally and know some people that they know as well...

    good luck!

  5. #5
    Member TruthToPower's Avatar
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    Thanks for the replies blizzard, simcat, and Donuts (love that avatar btw).

    I was worried most people would avoid this thread because I don't post often (but I do read this forum regularly) and because the subject is of a touchy nature with most affiliates.

    I do appreciate your insight and thoughts. I feel its important to point out that I'm not a newbie to marketing in this niche, my apologies if my post came off sounding that way. I've actually worked for companies that have had direct contracts with many of these large merchants, and I've been on my own marketing these same large merchants for over 3 years now. That's why I'm in here bringing this issue up, because comparing sales to the last 3 years, they just aren't adding up.

    Donuts you bring up a good point about conversing with competition, I've actually tried that in the past, with little success. I'll admit that I should get back on the horse and try that route again, I'm sure there are other affiliates out there promoting these products that wish they could talk to a competitor as well, now I just need to find them. After all - what do I have to lose? Sales are a mess as it is, it's not like I have to worry about losing !

  6. #6
    Member TruthToPower's Avatar
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    It's kind of sad to see that so many people are scared to post about this.

    Guess we should all just continue to ignore the elephant in the room?

    Just bare in mind, that if this can happen to me it can happen to anyone of you to....

  7. #7
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    Why would people be scared to post about it? You can test purchase, talk to others using the same merchants, search on them and then there are your stats. What else can you do? And then work with who you're comfortable with.

  8. #8
    Member stellarseller's Avatar
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    Red face
    I would say a good start would be site stats and IP addresses. Maybe stating the obvious. Can it be that simple?

  9. #9
    Advocate mellie's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by TruthToPower
    It's kind of sad to see that so many people are scared to post about this.

    Guess we should all just continue to ignore the elephant in the room?

    Just bare in mind, that if this can happen to me it can happen to anyone of you to....

    Not ignoring the thread and not at all scared of posting. Many of us only post when we have something useful to add to a topic. Donuts & others said it all.

    If you can't do a test purchase and you are not getting sales you need to talk with others and listen. Are others experiencing the same thing?

    If you have proof of a problem shout it from the rooftops, especially if you are being ignored.

    I don't really promote phone services, tv, internet so I have nothing more to add.
    Melanie
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  10. #10
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    Great topic.

    The fact is that someone is not paying. I'm not a regular poster either but I read this forum pretty regularly. Uncredited sales has been on my mind since becoming a CJ affiliate. First I thought I was just paranoid but now I know it's a fact.

    I have 4 major test purchases I've made from all different ip's and not one of them showed up. I did the test after I had a seriously huge jump in traffic to my site. I noticed clicks and sales were just the same as they were before I was getting huge traffic so I started investigating.

    I know for sure that I'm not getting no where near the sales I should be. I'm talking 100s of sales a day and maybe 1000's I should be getting compared to an average 5 to 25 a day I am getting. How can I prove it. Show them my records and go against there TOS?


    It's also funny how I've had many 25 sales days but never had more then 25 sales in a day.

  11. #11
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    As regards to the first post and the last one, who? Which merchant.

    You're talking about test purchases not showing up but it would help to know from who so other people can check or post about their own experiences. Need more info. One of the reasons we have a Test Purchase forum here. There could be others seeing the same thing and it's a good way to compare notes, document possible problems with merchants.

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by Trust
    As regards to the first post and the last one, who? Which merchant.

    You're talking about test purchases not showing up but it would help to know from who so other people can check or post about their own experiences. Need more info.
    I'm talking eBay.

  13. #13
    Member DoradoVista's Avatar
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    I have seen similar results with increases in traffic. The problem is I can't easily tell if the apparent conversion error is really a problem with merchant side or advertising customer side issues.

    I have seen massive pulses of traffic that was just plain a waste of bandwidth. All else in the campaign and affiliate situation was at the same setting in the loop. The analysis showed there was a local event in a specific region that generated lots (>10,000) of lookey-loos. They did not convert at even 1% of my regular traffic. These were not identified as click fraud either, many different regional addresses. Think BIG conference.

    I wanted to know what happened to my conversions, and still do. But without evidence I can't quite tell if the problem is traffic side filtering or bad click tracking.

    I wouldn't want to get in a rut by blaming one of many possible sources. Even me...

    This tangled system has a lot of variables to track. Too bad we can't have test checks to inspect the conversion rates ourselves. Banks do it when setting up EFT accounting to make sure they get the address right. It would be better if the testing could be done by an independent party too.

    Using someone else's computer will not work due to cookie tracking history, etc. This will require something more robust and independent.
    Gold Prospector just Prospecting Sales! :coolsmile

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