Last-click attribution is a topic that online marketers around the globe have explored at length in the past few years, asking questions like “Which marketing channel is most responsible for driving a sale?”,  “Which is more effective, the first click or the last click?” and “Just how valuable is a last click?” Everyone has a different perspective, depending on where they stand relative to the consumer. 

But one thing we should all be able to agree on is this: the affiliate channel, every day, drives a large volume of valuable sales to advertisers and the affiliate channel is about more than a last click interaction. 

CJ Affiliate’s analysis of customer orders by channel for an apparel retailer operating in the US and UK showed that affiliate sales are some of the most valuable the advertiser receives – across all channels.  Our findings may surprise most marketers.

Engaged and spending

Affiliate sites are keeping shoppers engaged (and spending) while also conquesting new customers:

  • Customers who shopped the retailer through the affiliate channel, over the course of 10 months, shopped more frequently overall, completing 2 additional shopping trips than non-affiliate shoppers.
  • In the time period examined, lifetime value calculated for the affiliate channel customer was 38% higher than non-affiliate orders, averaging $761.
  • 37% of affiliate channel orders were from new customers, compared to a 30% average for other channels.  Interesting and important to note, that the advertiser’s top loyalty site and voucher site partners exceeded the average, with 44% new to file rates.   

Ultimately, the affiliate presence is growing and is more than the last click. Our data shows it, and our clients know it. For example, one retailer I spoke with who tracks both first-click and last-click attribution reported to me that on average they find 70% of their affiliate sales data matched back to their first-click data.   

Because affiliate is viewed as a last-click channel, there hasn’t been any real focus on understanding where affiliate sites contribute through the evaluation phase.  The power and influence of affiliate occurs not just at the last click, but along the way while shoppers are deciding what to buy and where, evaluating their options before conversion.

The affiliate channel has been known to drive a high volume of its orders from voucher sites (known as coupon sites in the U.S.), which has likely fed concerns about the value of last click attribution. Through our research, we have found that voucher sites are driving some of online shopping’s highest order values.  

Savvy and affluent

Voucher site shoppers are not only savvy, they are affluent – and thus, highly desirable shoppers for retailers.  In the past, retailers have needed more information to validate the value of voucher site sales to upper management. Now our data shows retailers in the affiliate space should feel confident that affiliate sales, including sales from voucher sites, are driving more value long-term, if only we viewed affiliate sales beyond the last click. 

Affiliate is a relatively small marketing channel, but research shows it punches above its weight. Affiliate sales deliver on the key metrics that advertisers watch closely, namely lifetime value. Affiliate engages with shoppers at more points than the very end of the shopping journey and we deliver more net sales in the long term.

As we think beyond the last click, CJ is investing in the resources needed to continue a more nuanced analysis of the value delivered by affiliate sales. The evidence behind the power of affiliate marketing is strong, and should not be lost in larger attribution debates. Let’s stop fixating on the point of interaction and focus instead on tangible results and the data at hand, which suggest that affiliate influence is greater and wider than our last click attribution suggests.