Confusion reigns as merchants go on banning spree of discount code sites

Over the last couple of weeks we've had communications from Comet and DRL (who manage Sainsburys Kitchen Appliances, Boots Kitchen Appliances, Next Domestic Appliances, Appliances Online and Appliance Deals) saying that they are going to stop working with "voucher code directories". These emails were sent en-mass to all affiliates and we were told to pause activities if we operated a voucher code directory. First of all, I don't have a problem with this in principle. If any merchant wants to pull out of any sector, be it cashback or discount codes then that's their prerogative. I think it's foolish because the discount/voucher code sector is massive and growing all the time. But that's their loss, there are plenty of other hungry merchants who will take their space. So, I have no problem with that but I do have a problem of how they handle it. For example, my site does feature a lot of discount codes, but it also features special offers, sales or just stuff that I think my users will be interested in. Here's some recent examples of non-discount code offers: DFDS buy 1 get 1 free Pontins offers Personalised football books offer Red Letter Days Valentines gift ideas for her So does that mean that I run a "voucher code directory"? I have no idea to be honest. So each time I received one of these emails from affiliate networks I have had to email thejm back and ask if UKOffer is classed as a voucher code directory. Thankfully, Affiliate Window have their heads screwed on and agree that as I'm not 100% voucher codes then I can keep promoting the above merchants. Good stuff. But then yesterday I applied to another programme on another network, only to be rejected. I emailed back and asked why, the response was "sorry but this merchant doesn't work with discount code sites". So yet again I had to email them and explain that my site isn't just about discount codes, I have many other types of offers etc. They looked at my site and then approved my application. But if I hadn't of emailed and queried the ban then I still wouldn't be able to promote the merchant in question. Is this really the best way to run a programme? So maybe it't time to ask that networks and merchants do a little bit more investigation before sending out emails banning so-called discount code sites left right and centre? Can a discount code site also be an "offer" site? Do they have to be mutually exclusive? I guess that all I'm asking that is a merchant is going to ban a discount code site from promoting them, then they investigate first and make sure it actually is a discount code site. What I'm listening to right now: Jim Jones - "Pop Champagne"

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23 Responses to Confusion reigns as merchants go on banning spree of discount code sites

  1. Chris says:

    Could agree more mate! Many sites have details of special offers, sale events and such like. Does my nut in TBH.

  2. Helen Marie says:

    Interesting blog Kieron and this is something I’m seeing a lot more of. I think there are two points here one is that it should be addressed why clients are deciding to not work with voucher code sites. I understand they don’t work for everyone an in this climate giving away essentially more on each sale is harder to justify. However, should clients, networks and affiliates not be looking at how we can make vouchers work for a client? Secondly I think there needs to be much more education network side about what affiliates actually do. This is hard as at a network there are thousands of affiliates so perhaps there is a point to be made that affiliates need to educate account manages a bit more about what they do? Just a few thoughts….

  3. Steven says:

    I can understand your frustration Kieron, with a bit of forward thinking from merchants and networks they would have thought of this problem before. They should spend more time evaluating the sites instead of hitting decline as soon as they smell a voucher code.

  4. Richard101 says:

    Hi Kieron

    I’ve had similar experience but after following up communication they understand that vouchers/discount codes are merely just one angle of offers.

    Rather than reviewing the sites and content to form a view of the website, they simply judge a website by its cover – its domain name. If your domain implies offer, discount, voucher as then you must be a directory!

    As networks have found, this rule of thumb does not always work. However, I guess when they are dealing with tens of thousands of websites they must use an 80/20 rule and if they do get it wrong, proactive publishers will contact them! Not always the best customer service experience but it may work with existing staff resources.

  5. Jason Dale says:

    “I think there needs to be much more education network side about what affiliates actually do” – that’s true… but despite doing this we still get pulled up on programs because we’re a cashback affiliate (the cb site is 3rd party). Having integrated codes/offers into our site – will we now have to plead yet again to merchants/AMs who don’t actually look at what we do – just auto-decide.

    The fact that several long term, established, known affiliates are complaining of the same thing should be a clue to networks that something needs changing their side.

    If you can have traffic lights for merchants – then why not have them for affiliates? How long do people have to be in AM to build up trust and get a reputation that they work within the rules and are trying to help the merchants?

    Soooo frustrating… and if systems were better so much time wouldn’t be wasted to-ing and fro-ing trying to explain to an AM/agency/merchant that we’re not some dodgy grubby speck who’s only intention is to ruin their business presence!


  6. Kieron says:

    Helen – I hear what you are saying but often the first email an affiliate receives (especially a new one) from an account manager or a network is an automated email from a network saying their application has been declined. I think all parties need to extend their communications to ensure these sorts of mixups don’t continue to happen.

  7. Kieron says:

    Chris, Steven, Richard, Jason – great points. The fact that all you guys have similar issues just goes to highlight that this problem is widespread. Hopefully we can get something done about it.

  8. Misohoni says:

    It can be confusing, however if I was an Affiliate Manager and then took a look at your title tags on the mentioned pages:
    Discount Codes – Voucher Codes – UK Offers – Special Offers

    I’d sum up that you were promoting discount and voucher codes…

  9. Helen Marie says:

    Jason / Kieron – I agree communications need to be improved vastly from the network side. We are currently building a traffic light system so that “known” affiliates can be automatically approved to certain campaigns. I think this will go someway to helping as I know we have previously made these mistakes at dgm. We are also building in a “biog” on affiliate detail pages which will help, essentially a good CRM system for affiliates.

  10. Kieron says:

    Mishoni – it’s a good job you’re not an affiliate manager then! Lol, did you miss the part of my tags that say “UK Offers” and “Special Offers”? The point is that affiliate managers so maybe look a bit deeper than just a quick glance at the tags or title of a site :)

  11. Hi Kieron,

    The Comet move is an interesting one because it’s a temporary measure and they’re not actively removing affiliates.

    In hindsight we probably should have only contacted the affected affiliates but there was always going to be a risk that it was going to be more labour intensive to police and there may have been a feeling that Comet was doing something surreptitiously if we didn’t issue a general statement.

    One thing it has highlighted to me is how it’s not enough to merely issue a blanket statement because voucher coding touches so many areas of promotional activity.

    It’s an interesting move to have made as we’re now more aware of how future communication needs to be handled on this issue.

    I think there is a general consensus amongst networks that we all need to be doing more in order to safeguard and protect this area of affiliate promotion. Inevitably this throws up plenty of questions that need to be worked through and understood but we need to be doing this now or else risk backlash and knee jerk reactions.

  12. Mike says:

    I think merchants should work on worst case before issuing voucher codes and if it’s not viable for a sale to have both an affiliate commission and a discount code then they should either lower their discounts to what would be viable or not have an affiliate programme/voucher code.

  13. KirstyM says:

    This voucher code situation feels like it is spiralling out of control at the moment. Clearly the area needs policing but I can’t help but feel its turned into a bit of a witch hunt from some corners. If merchants and networks don’t define / understand exactly what unacceptable promotion activity constitutes they’ll lose revenue from good quality sites such as UK Offer.

    I’m very glad that my idea of integrating voucher codes into my SEO strategy didn’t really come to fruition last year because I’m too lazy to update them regularly enough!

  14. KirstyM, I think I’d agree with you to some extent there – certainly some merchants are in a flap over their affiliate campaigns as well as other marketing channels. No doubt for many they’ll be looking at how many voucher codes they’re circlating overall, so customer coming through vc’s *and* resulting in an affiliate comission payment will be the first to be looked at – they’re the most obvious culprits.

    I suspect some merchants might have more mileage looking at the effeciency of their PPC or email activity first, rather than affiliate channels. Or even stopping distributing voucher codes altogether – at least then customers are shopping with you due to loyalty/price not a short term incentive.

  15. I think that the sites that spend the time looking into the details of the sites they show will reap rewards in the long run – the value of quality can never be under-estimated (IMO)

  16. Bob says:

    Perhaps merchants should employ affiliates as program managers and then they would handle it exactly right first time ;-)

    It may well be that faced with the recession at the same time as the voucher code problems, some merchants have decided to just take action quickly in some form.

    If you’ve seen the merchant interfaces on networks, its not actually that easy to go through and pick out what sites do what, so starting from scratch could be the only practical option. Obviously, irritating big affiliate sites is a bit of a blunder (well all of us actually).

    So theres a risk of course that they will muddy their own program, but on the other hand they might take the view that if they lose some affiliates, there are always going to be a load more to take their places – particularly in gadgets, electronics and phones, where the net is awash with affiliate sites.

    Perhaps in some areas its almost inevitable that sales will take place through an affiliate code link ?

    So what would everyone do if it were YOUR business ?

  17. john ayres says:

    If the networks had in the past policed the abuses of the large VC sites (no need for names) this subject would possibly never have arisen, codes would be effective in bringing incremental sales rather than the cannabalisation of existing sales by those same large VC sites.
    If you were a network, would you now take action to cut off 30-40% (rough guess) of your overide income? or would you just pay lip service to some new rules which could easily be circumvented?

  18. gadget says:

    Yet again, more blanket knee-jerk reactions to a pub-type conversation from narrow-minded, just out of school idiots. How on earth is our industry going to mature into a respectable business when there are far too many people who work in it that just don’t understand business?!

  19. Bob says:

    I think we as affiliates need to be less sensitive to THEM not paying enough attention to US. Part of the nature of being an affiliate is that most of us have taken ourselves out of corporate life and out of concensus decision making, committees, half-day meetings etc. etc. thank goodness. But that can make one very sensitive to and out of control of decisions that are made in good faith by others.

    We’ve all had a merchant close suddenly, when we thought we were giving them good new customers; ‘why didn’t they tell me ?’. Then later ‘why didn’t they tell me they were going to open up again on another network – I’ve just trashed all the pages’. Is that actually a realistic expectation ?

    Put it the other way around and there’s plenty of us complaining when a merchant says ‘fill in this form to let us know how and where you intend to promote us before we let you on the program’. We haven’t got the time – why should we – you should just trust us.

    There was optimistic talk late last year about AM being in a good position to withstand a recession because with a measurable ROI, it would be logical for merchants to continue to value their programs and affiliates. But logic often does not dictate how marketing and financial decisions are made in any sizeable company. Thats why we don’t work there any more isn’t it ?

  20. Ruby Web says:

    Hmmm, never really thought of the harm behind this act before. There’s nothing as terrible as making a bad call that ultimately brings down your business. Thank you for sharing

  21. Barry says:

    It must be easy for networks to spot voucher sites (the profiles with the massive EPCs!) and filter them out or ‘tag’ them internally. Its good to hear from Helen that a system is developing.

  22. On thing I strongly agree is improvement in communication across the network.I think that the sites that spend the time looking into the details of the sites they show will reap rewards in the long run – the value of quality can never be under-estimated. But who knows what their obj is?

  23. It is true that there are discounts and offers being given all our the internet. This even hides the negative factors of a website or product. Buyers sometimes only look at the offer and get tempted to buy it as they include a disclaimer saying that the offer is only for few more days.

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