Phone numbers on merchant sites, how much commission are you losing out on?

Thanks to Richard for his comments in my last blog entry, I was going to reply in the comments section but thought it worthy of its very own blog post.

This is what Richard had to say...

"...but it's interesting that you object to their phone number being so prominent.

I understand why you object - you might lose commission if people who click through from your site phone to order rather than ordering online.

But how many people are so reassured by seeing the phone number there that the order online when otherwise they may not have ordered at all?

TBH, I don't know which is greater - the loss or the gain - but I wouldn't discount linking to a merchant just because they show a phone number.

Of course, the ideal is to have the call centre track the affiliate code and log a commission, but will the volume of sales justify the cost of implementation and training?"

Merchants who have their phone number displayed prominently on their homepage often say that it "reassures" customers. If that was the case then how come the biggest ecommerce site in the world, Amazon doesn't have a phone number displayed anywhere? And never has. Dixons and Next don't either, and neither does Marks and Spencer. So I really don't buy into the "inspires customer confidence" argument. I'm not saying don't display a phone number at all, just put it in the "contact us" page of your site along with your address, privacy policy, terms and conditions - all of which should be enough to satisfy even the most doubting online shoppers.

In fact I think that we don't give typical Internet users the credit they deserve. Its is predicted that the UK will spend £40 billion this year on items bought online, up from £18.1 billion in 2004. A figure that shows without doubt that we are becoming more confident in using the internet to purchase goods.

If you *really* must have your phone number on the homepage then the most acceptable way is the method Flowers Direct have employed. They used to have a huge in-your-face freephone number splattered at the top of their homepage, now its displayed nice and quietly at the bottom of the page.

So why do I not like phone numbers on merchant sites? Well, I promote broadband merchants quite heavily and some of them have given me a dedicated tracked phone number so that customers can either order online or on the phone. What percentage do you think order through the phone line? 5% 10%? 20%? 30%? No, its always around the 50% mark. Now I know that ordering broadband and signing up to a yearly contract is a much more considered purchase than buying flowers for £9.99 and that people will be more likely to phone but still, 50% is a lot by anyones standards. So even if half that (25%) or even 10% of your hard earned customers go through to a merchants site and order via the huge phone number at the top of the page, isn't that too much? I think so.

What really annoys me is that in 9 cases out of 10 it is sooooo easy for merchants to remove this phone number for affiliate clicks. All they have to do is insert some code that tracks where the visitor has come from, and if it is from an affiliate site then they don't show the phone number. Easy. Yet despite this there are tons of merchants who aren't interested in going down this route. And what really amazes me is that there are so many affiliates who just sit back and accept it. Why is this? I don't. Case in point, a very well known merchant has a huge phone number on the top and bottom of their homepage, and every page for that matter. I contacted them and said I would promote them if they removed the phone number. They said they would, for me but not for other affiliates, it took them less than a day to implement it. So here I am promoting this merchant with no phone number while some of you reading this are promoting them with a huge horrible phone number splattered all over the site. Are you happy losing those commissions?

So what can be done about this? The obvious thing is to vote with your feet, if a merchant is doing this then don't promote them unless they remove the number, simple as. Or if you are generating large volumes for this merchant ask them for a dedicated phone number, you will be surprised that some will agree. If not, lose them and move on to the next merchant.

Despite my ranting it has to be said that there are some merchants who need to be congratulated for either not displaying the phone number for affiliate links or even removing their phone number altogether. Well done three, LowCostBeds, ThePhoneSpot and all the others I don't have time to mention. BTW if you click on those links and you see a phone number its because they aren't affiliate links, try them with your own links to see how easy it is for these guys to hide the phone number when they want to :)

What I'm listening to right now: Snoop Dogg - "Tha Blue Carpet Treatment"

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9 Responses to Phone numbers on merchant sites, how much commission are you losing out on?

  1. Richard says:

    Big brands don’t need to display phone numbers to inspire confidence because they already have a reputation. I think it is a big factor in encouraging sales for smaller ecommerce stores.

    But I agree, for affiliates, it’s not on. I wouldn’t promote a merchant that has a huge phone number displayed (and I’m not even paying for the clicks!).

    Kieron, when you say “dedicated” phone number, do you actually mean they set you up a separate line? I’m quite impressed if they actually set you up a separate phone number. I thought they just gave you a tracking code that the caller would use to identify you as the referrer for the sale?

  2. Kieron says:

    Hi Richard, but remember Amazon *never* had a phone number on their site, nor did eBay so I still don’t buy the customer assurance line.

    And yes I do have dedicated phone numbers for some merchants. But remember I have worked with them for years and deliver volume. If possible I always try to stay away from referrer codes as customers forget them or don’t know where they saw the phone number in the first place.

  3. Naomi says:


    I’ve put a merchant’s viewpoint on this up on my blog, in case you’re interested. It’s here

    I basically agree with you on most points- its really easy to at least remove phone numbers and outside links for affiliate traffic.


  4. Kieron says:

    Go on them Naomi, you can have a cheeky little link :)

  5. Andy Beard says:

    No mention of SI4329 ?

    Maybe they have decided to obey the law?

  6. Kieron says:

    You’ve lost me Andy, what is that?

  7. Andy Beard says:

    ack sorry 3429 I got 2 digits mixed up

    Here is a link

    I discussed it a little here…

    Will post on the blog as well, basically you need to have all your contact details on every website clearly displayed if you are a Ltd company.

    The rules have been in force since the start of the year and I only found out about it on LinkedIn

    I comply to a certain extent on most of my sites now, but not in an ideal manner, using a link to a contact page that isn’t being indexed – I contemplated using images but that then is an accessibility problem

  8. Kieron says:

    I think having your contact details on a “contact us” page is perfectly acceptable. However my point is about big phone numbers being displayed on the homepage or product page for a website. The whole point of these phone numbers is to encourage visitors to place an order over the phone, thus losing the affiliate commission. Take a look at this for an example:

    Or how about this?





    I could go on, but surely you get my point?

  9. Chris says:

    Solutions for tracking phone tracking completely and reliably have been around for a long time, and when the customer is buying a high ticket item then phone support for closing a sale or tacking the order information is often very necessary.

    The system used at was that the source id (all source ids not just affiliate) we’re converted into a 6 digit number with the original source ID stored in a look up table.

    The new number was appended to all product IDs, so you end up with products being

    SKU 12345-123456
    SKU 54321-123456

    What this meant is that the CR reps do not need to hassle the customer for a different tracking ID, no mass coupons are needed, and it tracks not only affiliate campaigns but any other campaigns. When the ask the customer for the product ID they give the whole number without a second thought.

    Once this is entered into the order system it is convered back into the original tracking ID from the look up table.

    Why the look up table… try appending a Linkshare 32 character encoded link ID to a product SKU :)

    I’m happy to discuss how all the above worked in more detail with anyone who is interested.



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