At the time, consumers were just beginning to shop online and to adopt mobile phones as a way to talk, not text or shop, with their friends and colleagues.
Facebook and Twitter didn’t exist and Steve Jobs was returning to Apple to create, among other things, communication devices that would fundamentally change the way the world shops.
Yet despite these sea changes in the digital landscape, affiliate marketing has flourished and remains one of the most important marketing and customer acquisition channels for online retailers. A recent forecast by Forrester Consulting estimates that spend on the channel will reach $4.5 billion by 2016.
The affiliate channel continues to grow for a number of reasons. The top three being that it drives sales and helps acquire new customers, it adapts to and aligns with consumer behavior, and publisher sites continue to evolve into more sophisticated destinations.
More specifically, here’s why affiliate marketing is expected to see such strong growth in the coming years.
Driving Sales And Acquiring New Customers
It’s well known that marketing budgets are shifting away from traditional media such as TV, radio, and print and are moving toward search marketing and affiliate marketing. For online retailers, this is a no brainer because they can more easily measure return on investment since they’re only paying when the sale is made.
For many retailers, a significant number of new customers are coming through the affiliate channel.
In the same study by Forrester Consulting, it was also found that advertising and merchandising in the affiliate channel helps trigger brand reconsideration. In turn, this helps close the sale when consumers are undecided.
This data, and the irrefutable spending trend on affiliate marketing, should squash any skepticism about the reach and influence of the affiliate channel.
Alignment With Consumer Behavior
Another reason that affiliate marketing is thriving is because it’s aligned with how consumers shop.
On average, consumers visit three sites before making a purchase. Another trend Forrester identified was the more sites a consumer visits, the more money they are likely to spend.
These recent shifts are a result of today’s savvy online shoppers who are reading product reviews, asking friends for recommendations, and doing their own research on blogs and niche content sites. The ubiquity of information has conditioned them to go online to scout out the best price and selection. And the tough economy has trained them to find values that go beyond coupons and prioritize finding the right product with the right features at the right price. What’s more, they don’t want to spend a lot of time searching for goods.
Realizing this, publishers are presenting an even wider variety of products to online shoppers. Some affiliate sites are even displaying vast inventories from multiple retailers offering traditional goods as well as high-end luxury items.
The affiliate channel is ideal for helping retailers meet consumers on all of their terms. If retailers are not in the affiliate channel, they could be missing out on an opportunity to reach consumers when they’re researching and are ready to buy.
Today’s Sophisticated Publisher
Consider the breadth of sites that consumers visit when they’re shopping today: loyalty sites, coupon and deal sites, blogs, comparison shopping sites, and niche content sites.
Since online competition for consumer dollars will only continue to get tougher, sophisticated publishers are now offering consumers more engaging shopping experiences. They’re using great product images, transforming the user experience on their sites, and are including features that even go beyond some of the more popular retail sites.
Today’s sophisticated publisher has learned how to attract and maintain consumer interest and help convert traffic to sales. They’re using every tactic in the digital toolbox to drive offers. Many of them also have a significant following on Facebook and Twitter and have built up their email marketing databases.
Publishers can propagate your promotions, consumer offers and your brand with little risk to you since you only pay when a sale is made. What’s more, online retailers are discovering they can partner with publishers on marketing strategies that are not limited to just driving sales. Activities now include product launches, moving outdated or discontinued inventory, and reaching a very specific target audience with a highly targeted offer. They’re also great testing partners for trying out a new mobile, tablet or social campaign.
Talk to your publishers about what you want to achieve and they are likely to come up with a plan that may pleasantly surprise you.
Advertisers not in the affiliate channel are likely missing opportunities for sales. What’s worse is they’re also giving away market share to competitors.
Consumers will continue to shop from multiple sites while at the same time publishers will become ever more sophisticated as they attract all kinds of shoppers because they offer value that goes beyond individual retailer sites.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land.