Let’s talk coupons

Online shopping has its built-in advantages. Whether it’s the newest best-seller or a spiffy Keurig coffee maker, it’s tough to beat ordering from the comforts of your living room couch. The Internet has certainly made shopping easier and more fun. And that’s exactly what you’re tapping into with your own affiliate program.

Unfortunately, online shopping isn’t a guaranteed goldmine. Competition is fierce, and not just between websites. If your site also has a brick-and-mortar store, your affiliate program is going up against its physical counterpart. Toss in the cost of shipping, and the fact that you can hold an object in your hands at the local store and suddenly the Web isn’t the sellers’ paradise you thought it was.

Before you simply pull the plug on your affiliate program out of exasperation, bear in mind that there are plenty of ways to attract new and repeat visitors to your eCommerce site. Just like any other business, competition exists; there just happens to be a lot of it online and offline. Do your homework, stick it out and you may just find yourself hanging in there for the long haul.

Wondering what the best tool is for affiliates to use to promote your site? Not surprisingly, it’s coupons. And if you aren’t offering any at the moment, you’re shooting yourself in the foot.


Level the Playing Field

Just because “everyone’s doing it,” isn’t always a good reason to jump on a bandwagon. In the case of coupons, however, it’s a pretty smart decision. Many online stores offer various coupon or discount codes to lure customers in. If you’re not offering any at the moment but your competitor is, it’s pretty much a no-brainer who’s going to make that next sale.
A coupon code won’t just bring consumers to your site; it’ll help encourage affiliates to promote your business. Again, if a competitor constantly offers coupons through its affiliate network and you don’t, which merchant do you think will get more attention from its affiliates? Affiliates love having something to push in terms of merchants, and there is nothing more attractive than a big percentage-off coupon.  Even if you’re a premium brand concerned about degrading the value of your products, you can create a promotional calendar that has some strategy behind it.



The Code of the Coupons

Once you’ve decided to add coupons to your program, you need to figure out exactly what you want to offer, and more importantly, how you want to offer it. You’ll need to crunch your own numbers and do market research to see what exact offer you’d like to put out there, but the “how” part is all up to you.

Your two main options when offering a coupon to your affiliates are a coupon code or a link-activated coupon. A coupon code is when a user just visits your site, adds things to his shopping cart and then during checkout, enters the special coupon code in the appropriate box. A link-activated code simply kicks into effect when a user clicks on an affiliate’s link and is brought directly to your site.

So which is the better choice? Both have their pros and cons.
The biggest advantage to using a promo code is that you can create “vanity codes” for your top affiliates. Instead of a generic 10OFF for a code, you could work an affiliate’s name right into the code like: IAMGMT10. It acts the same way, but makes the affiliate feel like he has something very special and unique to offer his audience.

The downside to coupon codes? If a user comes to a page, takes the code and just goes straight to the merchant page, your affiliate doesn’t get any credit at all. Sure you’ll still make the sale, but your affiliate won’t be too happy. Another thing that can happen is other affiliates will look for coupons on other coupon websites and start promoting them even though they may not be authorized to do so.  Unless you can associate vanity codes to a specific affiliate so that anytime that coupon code is used they receive credit, you may want to explore other options.

Link-activated coupons, on the other hand, are a lot more secure in terms of getting the conversion and keeping affiliate competitors from scraping coupon codes. A user needs to actually click the link to follow through to the merchant’s website in order to see the coupon activated. The only issue with these is that some links aren’t put together properly and depending upon a user’s browser history and cache, the link may not activate properly the first time.




Test, Test, Test

No matter which type of coupon you use (and many merchants will change things up), it is vital that you not only test every code and link, but that you re-test them if you put the same promotion or code up again month after month. Nothing gets an affiliate more annoyed than offering them a fantastic coupon to promote, only it doesn’t work. It makes them look extremely bad to their users.

The other crucial piece of coupon information is to include an expiration date with your coupons. Even if you re-run the same exact offer every single month, it’s a great practice to start the coupon over on the first of the month. Consumers feel a sudden sense of urgency if they know a coupon is set to expire. If there’s no doubt, they may put it off another day, and another and another.

Whatever you end up doing with promo codes and your affiliate coupon strategy just be sure that you give your affiliates as much information as you can, including any exclusions or special instructions for using a coupon. Test all codes and links and for everyone’s sake, if you’re going to offer a coupon, please at least make it worth everyone’s while. A 2.5% coupon may sound great to you but it’s a lot of work for little gain on the affiliate’s side and just downright insulting to the consumers.