Cookie Monster Merchants

Fellow Affiliates, are you getting all the referrals you deserve? Or is your merchant gobbling your hard-earned cookies? Have you tracked how much you’re losing every year from wiped-out or short-term cookies?

Imagine if you learned you’re losing 5, 10, or even 20 percent of your referral fees because your merchant swallowed your cookie while you weren’t looking. A sneaky merchant isn’t as easy to spot as a big, blue, googly-eyed puppet with a hand in the cookie jar. Probably not as cute, either.

What’s This All About?

Take Commission Junction (CJ). If you’re in the affiliate business, chances are you have a CJ account and actively use its system to find new merchant programs. You probably also know CJ is free for affiliates and costs a sizeable fee for merchants to join.

This structure obviously favors the merchants, leaving the affiliates without much say or control. In other words, money talks, and… well, you know what walks.

CJ allows its merchants to turn off an affiliate’s cookie after the first sale. This is called the “keep=no” feature. It means if an affiliate’s referral results in a sale, the cookie is removed, so the affiliate doesn’t get credit for future sales. As of today, CJ offers no functionality to allow an affiliate to see which merchants have the “keep-no” feature enabled.

CJ also allows merchants to set one-day cookies. That means the affiliate gets one shot at converting the sale. If the customer doesn’t make a purchase that very day, the affiliate does not get credit for a well-earned lead.

You can bet the merchant is happy it got a lead, possibly even a lifetime customer, for free.

Missing the Point?

It can be argued affiliates need to be careful about choosing merchants that shorten their cookie durations. CJ does maintain a system that allows affiliates to be notified when a merchant changes that duration.

What most merchants fail to realize is affiliates desire and deserve more opportunities to close the sale.

CJ claims it’s only as strong as its affiliate members. So why not give in and force merchants to post at least 30-day cookies? Care to guess? My vote is it doesn’t want to piss off the money, er, merchants.

Todd Crawford, a CJ spokesman, has publicly stated the company’s position on the issue:

I do feel that advertisers should set cookies for greater than seven days…. Our network-wide data shows that 99 percent of sales occur within seven days of the click for most advertisers. CJ encourages advertisers to set higher cookie lengths. In the end, this is the advertiser’s decision. I suggest you contact your advertisers and encourage them to set longer cookie lengths.

So CJ allows merchants this functionality but does not recommend they use it? If CJ were really as concerned about affiliates as much as it says it is, it wouldn’t allow the functionality to exist. Remember, the reason CJ and other affiliate networks exist is because millions of hopeful affiliates support them.

If “99 percent of sales occur within seven days of the click,” what would be the point of cutting off the affiliate cookie? Why not just leave the it there for 365 days, so the affiliate can get the referral she deserves?

A paranoid person, like myself, would argue affiliates are missing out on future and earned referrals. Why? Because research shows customers like to comparison shop before making a purchase. Even if a customer bookmarks the page he was lead to, then came back in 20, 30, or 60 days and made a purchase, the affiliate would not get credit for the sale if the cookie expired.

When was the last time you made an impulse buy on a $5,000 computer system? You didn’t. You shopped around. If the merchant cleared the cookie for the affiliate referral, there’s no credit for the eventual sale.

Score: Merchants = 1, Affiliates = 0.

Aren’t We Partners?

Affiliates are feeling unloved by merchants. Merchants that decide to cut off affiliate cookies don’t get the big picture: Affiliates are partners. Cutting off their ability to make a future sale indicates merchants are in it for themselves. It gives affiliates the impression merchants are trying to get free leads.

Perception is reality. In the end, do merchants want to be trustworthy partners or greedy corporate cookie monsters exploiting the affiliate sales channel for a better report at the next quarterly meeting?

If you’re a merchant who uses the “keep=no” feature or has short cookie durations, please email me and tell me why you feel your affiliates don’t deserve credit for every long-term lead. It’s your opportunity to tell the world it is not about money.

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