By Robert Glasgow, managing director of Webgains
The use of voucher codes by online retailers is nothing new, but in the last twelve months vouchers have grown significantly, and now represent substantial revenue in the affiliate sector.
Whether due to an increase in the savvy behaviour of online buyers, a growing familiarity with the online experience, greater competition between online retailers, or – more likely – all of the above, customers’ interest on vouchers is on the increase. It is clear that merchants who don’t yet offer voucher codes through the affiliate channel are potentially missing out on sales.
Proof comes from Hitwise, which showed in October that searches on web site internal search engines for the term ‘vouchers’ have soared in the past year. Web user intentions and consumer journeys have changed. As with product research and price comparison, online buyers have identified a powerful new use for the Internet – a search for vouchers offering further discounts, however small - before going on to buy.
For retailers and the affiliates who work with them, this shift is of enormous significance, prompting many affiliates to launch dedicated voucher sites that collect and promote merchant vouchers in one place. A new debate has erupted on how to reward affiliates who ‘sell’ customers in the research and comparison phase but then lose the last click to voucher affiliates.
For now though, retailers are looking for best-practice tips on how to become involved in vouchers within their affiliate program, how to run them effectively and a view on what their overall strategy should be.
A. How do online vouchers work?
Exclusive codes are distributed that can be redeemed on the retailer’s site to gain a discount,. They can be promoted offline to be redeemed online or, as is common in the US, promoted online to be redeemed in-store.
B. What should I use vouchers for?
Vouchers can help do many things, including:
1. Customer acquisition – attract new customers
2. CRM – keep existing customers happy
3. Re-activation – bring past customers back for more
4. Tactical promotions – for example, sell-off remaining stock
5. Campaign testing – use exclusive codes to explore how well different channels, executions, and product offers perform
C. How can they be distributed?
Voucher codes can be promoted to potential customers through any digital channel. For example:
1. Voucher sites (e.g. Discountcodes.co.uk, vouchercodes.co.uk)
2. Content and comparison sites
3. Cashback and reward sites
4. Email marketing
5. User-generated content and social media
As with any promotional plan, the blend of all these channels will depend on the specific goals and target audience of the campaign and retailer.
D. What do I need to think about?
Research and preparation is paramount. Core issues to consider before embarking on a voucher affiliate campaign are:
1. Redemption – all the back-end systems must be in place to ensure codes are redeemed effectively, only when appropriate and not vulnerable to re-use, for example
2. Margin – what level of discount and affiliate commission can you afford? Remember to balance the level of discount with the lifetime value of those customers to your business
3. Redemption rules – you can add rules such as minimum spend, start date and expiry date for redemption of any voucher to suit your business and the campaign goals
And here are the Webgains top tips for merchants on how to run a great voucher campaign for affiliates:
1. Set your affiliate commission levels to apply to the vouchers themselves, not specific affiliates
2. Conduct thorough research internally, with your affiliate network and with your most trusted affiliates to discover what is possible and what will work best
3. Take action against affiliates that don’t respect the rules
4. Begin with long expiry dates on vouchers – two to three months – to help you and your affiliates test their effectiveness
5. Offer exclusive vouchers to your most effective affiliates
6. Thoroughly communicate the conditions of vouchers to affiliate customers to reduce enquiries
7. The Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB) and its affiliate marketing council (AMC) have established a cod of best practice for use of online voucher codes, these can be found here http://www.iabuk.net/en/1/onlinevouchercodes.html read these carefully and make sure your network has signed this agreement
Online vouchers are becoming such a key part of the customer experience that those merchants and affiliates not yet offering them are losing out on sales. But, properly designed and executed, an on-line discount voucher campaign can produce real value, enabling retailers to meet many of their goals. Merchants, affiliates and networks are all developing fast, to be able to help them make the most of this emerging opportunity.
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