Hot on the heels of my recent article about how not to treat your affiliates, I had another interesting experience with a merchant whose products I advertise. Since I intend to continue my relationship with this merchant, I won’t be mentioning them by name. However, I think this experience could be an interesting case study for affiliate managers. Setting aside just a couple of minutes to keep your affiliates informed can pay great dividends toward keeping their perception of your company positive.
A couple of days ago, I received the following message through ShareaSale:
Subject: ShareASale.com Commission Change Notification
Date: Mon, 23 Jan 2012 16:50:16 -0500 (EST)
This is an automated notification regarding a commission change for the (Name Removed) ShareASale Affiliate Program.
This merchant has made a change to their default commission rate.
Previous Per Sale Commission: 15.00%
New Per Sale Commission: 12.00%
If you have any questions regarding this change, you should contact the merchant via your ShareASale account.
Seems a bit like a Dear John letter, doesn’t it? Now, this is a merchant that doesn’t receive a great deal of traffic according to Compete.com, and I feel that I must be one of their top affiliates. I also happen to know that the profit margin on this merchant’s primary product is astronomical; they could probably have an affiliate commission of 50 percent and still turn a profit. So, although the commission change is just three percent, I find myself feeling a bit offended. It’s like the message they’re sending is “thanks for helping to make us a success. Now that we don’t need our affiliates as much as we used to, we’re going to keep more of the profits for ourselves.”
So, I contacted the merchant directly and asked about the change. I also suggested that the merchant take a look at my performance. After all, I have made a good contribution to their income over the past year, and they can always set a custom commission rate for my account. Here is the merchant’s response:
Subject: Re: ShareASale.com Commission Change Notification
Date: Tue, 24 Jan 2012 09:39:57 -0500
This was a global change due to rising costs. All our affiliates are now at the 12% commission rate.
We apologize for any inconvenience and thank you for your participation in our program.
If you have any further questions please let us know.
So, after changing my commission rate without bothering to send a prior warning — what if I’d queued up a series of blog posts promoting their product? — the merchant adds insult to injury by lying to me about the reason for the change when I know that even if costs have risen — which I don’t think they have — the profit margin is still enormous.
How could this situation have been handled better? Ideally, by lowering the default commission rate for new affiliates while keeping current affiliates who have performed well at their existing commission rates. Barring that, the company should have sent a quick note to all affiliates letting them know that the commission rate would be dropping due to rising costs (or perhaps a decreased focus on affiliate marketing, if we’re being honest) and when the change would take place. It would have taken the affiliate manager five minutes to do this, and it would have allowed me as well as the company’s other affiliates to change our plans if needed. Instead, I had to hear about it through ShareaSale.