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How to Start an eCommerce Affiliate Program with an Easy Steps Guide!

As the owner of an eCommerce business, the shoe now is on the other foot. Getting your products into people’s hands, working on your organic SEO, investing in paid ads can all be confusing and hectic.

But here’s the good news.

eCommerce affiliate marketing can quickly increase your brand’s exposure and online sales without even paying a dollar upfront.

What is an Affiliate Program?

An online store affiliate program is an agreement between the eCommerce business and the affiliates like bloggers, other small businesses, and influencers to share your products with their audience. When their audience buys your products, they get a commission.

It's that fast and simple for eCommerce businesses to open up an additional revenue stream by joining website affiliate programs. Customers will be happy to get a product recommendation from a person they trust, saving them money and time, which will help you earn higher customer satisfaction scores. The more affiliates are promoting your products, the more you get noticed with little effort or cost.

So think of these affiliates as partners or as an extension of your current marketing or sales team. They'll help you scale your business easily by growing your customer base, boosting revenue, and making constant improvements when needed to keep up with consumer preferences, stand out from the competition, and reach your business goals faster.

What is eCommerce Affiliate Marketing?

Affiliate marketing is a performance-based marketing method and an increasingly popular tactic to drive additional sales and revenue. As an eCommerce business, you offer a financial incentive to others to sell for you.

How do affiliates work?

When an individual or a company promotes third-party products, they are participating in affiliate marketing.
Affiliate marketing is a billion-dollar industry, and Statista projects estimate that by 2022, companies will spend $8.2 billion on this tactic.

How can eCommerce businesses design their affiliate program?

Before diving into creating an affiliate program, you should first determine if an online store affiliate program is right for you.

Here are few questions to ask yourself :

  • Do you have a network of affiliates (bloggers, influencers, etc.) with similar audiences you can reach out to?
  • Do you have an operation plan to facilitate the work of affiliates in promoting your products properly?
  • Have you set a commission strategy that fits your budget?
  • What are your audience's needs and the trends they are most attracted to?
  • Do your competitors have affiliate programs in place? If yes, check their commission structure, cookie life, and the signup and approval process.


Answering the above questions helps you set benchmarks and see where more research is required. Also, this shows where you have opportunities to outperform competitor programs.

Attract affiliates

If you decide that an affiliate eCommerce program is a good fit, you have to find affiliates to partner with. Start by creating a page on your website where publishers apply to your program, and promote it on social media to attract more publishers.

Once you start having publishers sign up to join your program, you'll need to determine if they are a good fit.

Reach. How big is their audience reach (social media, email list, etc.), and are they in the same niche as you?

Values. How well you both match in terms of business values.

Quality. How focused and dedicated are they in catering to their audience needs and providing quality content?

These factors combined, ensure a successful partnership that'll help you boost sales.

Review content ranking

Search engine optimization (SEO) tools like Ahrefs help you monitor the traffic of the content shared by your affiliates. The better the insights are, the better the chances you have that these affiliates will generate similar traffic and sales for you. Also, make sure to check their authority in their niche. The higher it is, the more they're seen as trusted sources that help you in your brand awareness and trust-building.

ecommerce affiliate marketing

Conduct regular reviews

Once you've approved your affiliates list, you need to perform ongoing performance checks to ensure your affiliate program meets your expectations and does what you want it to.

Regular revisions include:

  • Identify affiliates generating the highest traffic to your site
  • Identify how many are converting
  • Calculate your monthly payouts
  • Identify the highest selling products
  • Get more insights about the type of customers that are buying

These insights help you track the success of your program and identify the affiliates that are helping you with your business goals. Consider providing them with resources like product sheets or videos, so they're clear on what your products' benefits and values are. Based on what's working, you might choose to focus your affiliate efforts on certain products only.

Affiliate Marketing Channels for Ecommerce Stores

To get things rolling, below are 5 effective channels to attract more affiliates to your program.

Email Campaigns

Emails are one of the most important means of bringing traffic to your website, sharing your content with customers, and engaging with them.

Email subscribers seek content to help them answer questions they may have. This is the prime time to inform them that you have an affiliate program and how easy it is to join and earn a commission for every referral they send to you.

Affiliate Directories

Affiliate directories can also help you recruit affiliates who frequent these affiliate directories, like:

  • OSI Affiliate
  • Which Affiliate
  • Affiliate Ranker
  • Top Affiliate List
  • Affiliates Directory
  • Affiliate First
  • Jamaffiliate.com
  • Affiliate Announcement
  • Top Affiliate

Affiliate Forums

You can use affiliate forums to promote your affiliate program but make sure to follow their guidelines to avoid getting banned or marked as spam.

Examples of affiliate forums include:

  • 5 Star
  • Wicked Fire
  • Affilorama
  • Affiliate Summit
  • Affiliate Bot
  • Warrior Forum
  • Twist Forum

Build relationships

Build relationships with bloggers, industry experts, and influencers to have them join your affiliate program.

Now for brands still in their early days, finding influencers willing to collaborate might not be that easy. Despite these obstacles, a new brand should not give up that easily. Influencers are expert storytellers who can immensely improve brand awareness, increase traffic, drive conversions and reinforce a brand message to their target audience. At Think Orion, we can help you harness the power of online influencer marketing no matter your industry or budget. Find out more about Think Orion's influencer marketing services here.

Find your most loyal customers

Consider approaching some of your top customers and ask them to join your affiliate program. You already know they love your product, so they will market your products properly.

Social Media

Join groups on Facebook and LinkedIn related to your business and promote your affiliate program there but remember, DO NOT SPAM.

ecommerce network


Advantages of affiliate marketing for eCommerce

  • Save Money

Use a talented and experienced sales force but only pay them when they sell. You just have to set a percentage of your product's price designated for affiliates. Since this is performance-based, it is far more cost-effective compared to advertising costs and other initiatives.

  • Everything is trackable

By gaining insights into the data collected from affiliate marketing tracking, you'll be able to know where your customers come from; why they are buying so, you'll make better operational improvements in the future and improve conversion rates.

  • High return on investment

Because this is a performance-based model, eCommerce businesses only pay for closed sales and not for impressions or clicks. This direct access

to a highly targeted audience that is more likely to buy from your company will increase your return on investment.

  • Increase the brand's exposure

Since affiliates earn a share of your revenue, they are working for your success and brand loyalty just as you are. The more affiliates drive traffic to your website, the more exposure, reach and trust with potential customers you receive.

  • Social proof, especially when partnering with trusted bloggers and influencers

Consumers are getting more informed by the day, which means they have higher expectations than ever before. As a result, they rely heavily on social proof of a brand's reputation. Reviews provided by trusted bloggers are credible social proof to prospective buyers, which helps your business build rapport with an engaged audience.

Other benefits of eCommerce affiliate marketing to small businesses include:

  • Increase in online sales
  • Acquisition of new contacts
  • Increase site traffic

Despite all the advantages that affiliate marketing offers e-commerce businesses, there is nothing without drawbacks.

Affiliates can compete with your marketing efforts: organic searches in search engines like Google, SEO, and PPC.

A 2011 study showed that 60% of affiliate marketers use Pay Per Click to drive sales and promote their affiliate links.

But either way, it is better to compete with your own affiliates than with market competitors. Affiliates can still bring sales while competitors won’t.

Another drawback is that affiliates can negatively expose your brand by using sketchy tactics such as email spam, misleading advertising, trademark infringement, and any other low-value practices. Establishing strict promotional guidelines and monitoring your affiliate partners will give you more control and make sure they remain compliant.

Affiliate Networks: What are they?

Affiliate networks are like a middleman or project manager between affiliates and the affiliate program. They are often international companies that run hundreds or even thousands of affiliate programs ongoingly.

Instead of manually creating your affiliate program, the typical experience is to use an affiliate marketing network to set everything up. The process is pretty straightforward: you find a network with terms that work for you and send a product feed.

These networks make it easier for eCommerce marketers to find and join affiliate programs suitable for their website and benefit from recruiting, vetting, sales tracking, commission payouts, reporting tools, payment processing, all via a personalized URL.

In return, affiliate networks charge a percentage of the commissions paid to affiliates and, in some cases, a joining fee.

It doesn't matter if you are a big or a small brand or if you sell physical products or digital products. Choosing the affiliate network to join must rely on research to find a program that considers your products.


7 Best eCommerce Affiliate networks

ShareASale

It is one of the most popular affiliate networks with 4,500+ merchants like Reebok, Warby Parker, Wayfair, Reebok, NFL Shop, and thousands of other small and large businesses.

Awin (Formerly Affiliate Window)

Another popular affiliate network is Awin, with 13,000+ merchants like Etsy, AliExpress, HP, Under Armor, Gymshark, and many smaller merchants.

CJ Affiliate (Formerly Commission Junction)

Just like ShareASale, CJ brings together 2,696+ different merchants under one roof like Grammarly, GoPro, and Overstock.

Other known affiliate networks include:

  • Rakuten Marketing (Formerly LinkShare)
  • Avangate Affiliate Network
  • Rakuten Marketing (Formerly LinkShare)
  • ClickBank
  • FlexOffers
  • LeadDyno (for small business owners)
  • eBay Affiliates
  • Etsy Affiliates
  • The Zalando Partner Program
  • AliExpress Affiliates

How do you choose the right affiliate network?

Look at things like success rates, fees, product specialties, the number of marketers, and how user-friendly the platform is.  

Affiliate networks settle between affiliates and businesses, adding a third party to the sales mix.

They indeed make life much easier as they connect affiliates with products they may not find on their own and provide sellers with an extensive database of potential partners to work with. But, as you can guess, this comes at a price. Your affiliate program terms must comply with that of the network, and a significant portion of the money goes into their monthly maintenance.

Most of the big brands are part of an affiliate network. Rakuten Marketing and ShareASale are two well-known examples. Other more accessible affiliate networks include Amazon and Skimlinks.


How to promote an eCommerce affiliate program

Use these affiliate marketing methods to get eyes on your affiliate program.

Pay-per-click (PPC)

PPC advertising involves running ads in search results or on web pages to generate clicks. With every click on the PPC ad, the advertiser pays, and the hosting platform or affiliate earns money.


online store affiliate program

Source: Wordstream.com

Social Media

Social media platforms connect advertisers with billions of potential customers across the world who are ready to learn more about their favorite products. Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter help eCommerce businesses share their content, generate a following, and join trending conversations.



ecommerce affiliate marketing

Source: Hubspot.com

SEO

Search engine optimization enables your web pages to be found by the right audiences. By strategically incorporating searchable keywords into your copy, image tags, and metadata, you can increase your chances of showing up in front of people looking for exactly what you have to offer.

website affiliate programs

Blogging

A blog helps you establish expertise in your industry and build a community of loyal readers who keep coming back for more content.

Helpful Videos

Online videos help eCommerce marketers build visually engaging experiences for potential customers like announcing new products, conducting Q&As, and presenting live demos.

Coupons

Everyone loves a good deal. Sharing special offers and deals encourage new customers to join the fold and reward longtime customers for their loyalty.

online store affiliate program

Source: Coredna.com

Email Marketing

Helps brands deliver personalized content and customized offers directly to people’s inboxes.

affiliate ecommerce

Source: Bigcommerce.com

Webinars

Enable brands to connect with their audiences on a deeper level and a great way for generating email sign-ups.

Reviews

Reviews can make or break a brand; that’s why it’s critical for affiliate marketers to ensure they manage their review pages and respond to customers and provide incentives for leaving feedback.

How to Manage Affiliate partners for an eCommerce Store

When it comes to managing affiliate programs, auto-pilot is not a revenue growth strategy. The only way for online stores with affiliate programs to see continuous and streamlined success within the affiliate channel is with proactive management.

Without affiliates to promote products and drive traffic to your business, there is no affiliate program. This is why a proactive affiliate manager that constantly recruits, activates, and motivates affiliates is of major importance.

Affiliate marketing management requires you to:

  • Recruit affiliates
  • Track their sales
  • Process commissions

If your online store offers coupon affiliates, you'll need constant checking for proper code promotion. If you're working with influencers and bloggers, you'll need to keep an eye on FTC compliance. Deal sites can drain inventory, whereas loyalty affiliates can take credit for another affiliate's sales; these two also need close monitoring.

You can either use an affiliate network that acts as a middleman, connecting you with affiliate marketers and managing the tracking and payments in exchange for a service fee. Alternatively, you can use an affiliate-tracking software to utilize its own servers; in this case, you'll be in charge of recruiting affiliate marketers and managing the payment process.

Examples of softwares include:

PartnerStack: helps companies manage all of their external partner marketing in one platform. One option it offers is the groups feature which helps to segregate partners by type (Affiliates, Resellers etc). Another time-saver is the option to send messages from within the interface directly to partners

Impact

A cloud-based system that helps marketers accelerate their growth by easily managing all recruitments, onboardings, and attributions in one easy-to-use platform.

Post Affiliate Pro

Enables marketers to manage all of their partnerships in one place while tracking the impact of individual affiliate campaigns. Its integration with over 200 CMS systems and payment processors facilitate your tech stack.

And just like any other form of eCommerce marketing, the marketing team in the affiliate ecommerce store will need to perform ongoing performance tracking. They will have to check if affiliate marketing is supporting the brand and generating the desired return on investment.

The key to successful affiliate management is having a great bond with your affiliate partners.

Maintain constant communication with them via emails, phone calls, and regular network newsletters. Affiliates can be working with hundreds of companies, and affiliate managers, so make sure to let your brand stand out. One way to do that is to challenge publishers for success. In the end, relationships built on trust make it natural and are expected to push for even greater sales numbers.

Finally, maintain respect. Treat affiliates as your business partners and how you'd like to be treated.


Affiliate marketing examples that will inspire you

Amazon: The “Every Day Carry”

Amazon affiliate program is not about the commissions earned, but for the variety, security, and prestige of Jeff Bezos’ eCommerce. One of the best examples of affiliate marketing strategies is the Every Day Carry, an interesting review site for articles and utilities to carry every day that can help resolve incidents or emergencies.

In Every Day Carry, it is possible to find Swiss army knives, watches, torches, gadgets, backpacks, notebooks, and other products, which are indispensable in the adventurous public’s luggage.

Home Depot: The Consumer Search Site

Consumer Search is a product recommendation and analysis site created in 1999 to eliminate the commercial exaggeration and dishonesty of brands on the Internet.

By examining each new product, Consumer Search can recommend the best of the best from each category and niche. Consumer Search revenues come from affiliate links of The Home Depot, a popular US retailer of DIY and home products. While Consumer Search earns a commission for every sale, The Home Depot increases visitor traffic and builds powerful backlinks.

The above affiliate marketing examples are certainly very inspiring. But startups and midsize businesses shouldn’t think this marketing strategy is out of their league. Regardless of their size, industry, or product, all online retailers can successfully launch their own affiliate program.

eBay: Glory Cycles and a 2000% revenue

Glory Cycles has evolved from a brick-and-mortar store to selling bike parts from Europe to cyclists around the globe. As a result of an excellent integration of BigCommerce and the eBay catalog they've been able to successfully get their products in front of the right customers. Their hard work is paying off, and they've celebrated their highest revenue month alongside 2000%+ YoY sales growth on eBay.

Affiliate Marketing for Ecommerce FAQs


What are the highest-paying affiliate programs?

Even though affiliate marketers' success depends on the commission rates they receive, striking a balance and understanding the math is important. The best 5 high-paying affiliate programs include GetResponse, SEMRush, TubeBuddy, Shopify, and Oberlo.

How affiliate marketing helps eCommerce companies?

Affiliate marketing connects an eCommerce company that has a product to sell with a marketer who can sell it. It is super cost-effective since it is performance-based, so you don't pay unless you close a sale

Is affiliate marketing part of eCommerce?

It is one of the most cost-effective and scalable ways to generate sales and increase revenue for your eCommerce business. You'll be able to benefit from other websites and influencers with loyal audiences to promote your products, only paying them once they deliver results.

How can I start affiliate marketing with no money?

Start by creating a social media presence and leverage Facebook and Youtube, and then you can start applying to affiliate networks. Platforms like ShareASale and Rakuten are constantly seeking publishers who can promote well.

Bottom Line


The affiliate model in e-commerce is a low-risk marketing style. It provides raw insight into customer behavior, helps you develop and improve growth strategies, and ultimately boosts sales. In addition, it enhances your relationship with customers and strengthens partnerships with social influencers and industry experts you admire in the eCommerce network. Dedicate time and effort to tweak your program and find the sweet spot so that affiliate offers stays within your budget and that publishers are engaged with.