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Common Misconceptions About Cashback Sites

Common Misconceptions About Cashback Sites

I often think that cashback and incentive sites get a little misunderstood. There are myths and claims that people assume to be true, but the evidence points in another direction. I thought it would be good to look at two of the most common myths and summarise the research that suggests these claims are outdated.

The Claim: Cashback doesn't provide incremental sales and cannibalises other channels

The reality: Something that has been bandied around for a while, but with no supporting evidence.

I think that the important thing to identify with this statement is just what is classed as incremental? Do you think that means new customers, increased basket spend, or sales you would not have got anyway? Can any marketing function claim to be truly incremental? Does cashback not prompt people to look at brands they would not have looked at just like TV or display advertising?

Placements in weekly newsletters, homepage coverage or category sponsorships put you in front of customers who were not necessarily looking for your brand. Getting in front of the right audience at the right time makes it more likely you will get the sale rather than your competitors.

Affiliate Window explored cookie overwriting to look at the cannibalising argument. Matt Swan concluded: ‘Our research has highlighted that contrary to popular misconceptions, there is very little cookie overwriting within the performance channel. There is little evidence to suggest that publishers are cannibalising each other’s traffic. Furthermore, there is no evidence to suggest that incentive sites are overwriting the cookies of true content publishers as many would assume’. Read the full article at the Search Marketing Standard.

At this year’s a4uexpo London, Helen Southgate presented Sky’s numbers on the affiliate channel, which showed that cashback sites had the highest percentage of customers with one click only (around 35%), and also that 20% of their clicks were overwritten by other channels. What was interesting is that SEO was the main cause of overwriting affiliate activity with 57%. A4u has summarised more of Sky’s findings.

Studying the data of another retailer, Matt Swan found that 49% of sales through a cashback site had no other clicks in the purchase journey. Matt commented, “consumers are no longer using cashback sites as a means of purely gaining their cashback, they are often using them as the first, and only, port of call when deciding to make a purchase.”

It’s also interesting that 22% of the time the sales were lost to another channel, compared to 29% that were won with another channel involved. The findings of the analysis suggest that interpretations of cashback sites as ‘cookie-stealers’ are not supported in the evidence. The full article can be found Digital Strategy Consulting.

At TopCashBack we commissioned independent research of cashback users and found that 52% of users purchased from brands they had never heard of, and 32% started their research at a cashback site. These findings support the research above and suggest a number of users begin their buying journey at cashback sites rather than just ending it there. Why not read more about analysing the incremental value of cashback.

The Claim: Cashback sites are just sale drivers

The reality: I work at TopCashBack, so I will look at what we can do. We offer a number of opportunities to achieve other objectives, both through our site and offline through our mobile app. We look to understand what clients want to achieve and then build bespoke campaigns. Blog posts can be useful to get across the benefits of products, or give more information on the key selling points. We look to complement these with brand-led competitions to encourage members to look at the advertiser’s sites, and answer questions based on the information or product the advertiser wants to promote. An example of this type of campaign can be seen with our B&Q; campaign.

We also offer branded opportunities to support advertisers’ campaigns elsewhere. Display advertising like this can help to increase brand awareness, but also allows integration with campaigns in other channels. The benefit of display advertising is getting the brand messaging, but the strong call to action of the cashback message also leads to higher click through than you would expect with standard display advertising.

We have also recently re-launched our mobile app which can help to drive offline footfall with vouchers and local deals. Within the app there is the opportunity to get across branded creative, but also to target poorer performing stores.

Lastly we have a comparison engine within our site, so our members can compare prices on insurance through our site and look at what the best deal is.

So looking at the cashback model realistically, there are lots of ways in which you can work with them to achieve more goals than just sales. We can do content, we can do high quality branded creative, we can do mobile and we offer a comparison engine. As the research we carried out found, members are often loyal to the cashback site and will use them in their research phase when making decisions. Our resarch is summarised elsewhere.


I think that in the past, people have made judgements on affiliates such as cashback and voucher codes sites without doing the research. More and more research is being published to suggest that these judgements are incorrect. Hopefully, this summary helps account managers when talking with clients -or affiliate managers when presenting to people internally- who are unaware of the diverse promotional opportunities and proven value that cashback sites can offer.

Graham Jenner

Graham Jenner

Graham Jenner is Head of Partnerships at TopCashBack. Graham manages Top Cashback’s Partnerships department, the team that helps to understand and achieve client’s objectives. His role involves developing relationships with key merchants and networks and consulting on strategy. Graham has been involved in the campaigns that have won the ‘Advertiser Innovation’ award for the past two years at the Performance Marketing Awards.

Prior to joining Top Cashback, Graham worked at affiliate network Digital Window, managing key accounts such as T-Mobile and Game. He is a regular guest writer for a number of different digital marketing sites, where he offers advice on best practice and the essentials of affiliate marketing.

Read more from Graham

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