The growing popularity of affiliate marketing has raised the bar and increased competition to new levels. Rather than simply finding an affiliate and setting up links to your site, the process requires strategy and nurturing to effectively capture customer attention.

At the same time, the opportunities presented by affiliate marketing are greater than ever; comparison websites and user generated content platforms such as review websites are growing in popularity, while affiliates now have the potential to promote your brands via apps on mobile and tablet devices, as well as desktop and laptop computers.

The challenge for retail brands is to rise to these new circumstances and create affiliate marketing partnerships that deliver sales conversions – and this lies in technological innovation.

However, let’s take a step backwards and look first at why affiliate marketing is so important. As with all elements of retail, it is driven by the end customer; the increasing role of digital devices in our lives has given rise to the ‘always-on consumer’, who is capable of interacting with brand influences almost continuously, across online and offline touch points.

Even if consumers aren’t actively thinking about buying a product, they’re interacting with the retailer who produces it in some way, shape or form – advertising, social media, mobile research. This has put a greater pressure than ever on companies to spread their wings as far as possible, to widen their sphere of influence.

Affiliate marketing is a powerful way to achieve this, but historically it has meant retailers relinquishing control to the partner platform on some level. It has also been time consuming in terms of updating data with affiliates whenever a product changes or a new offer is rolled out – and it can produce a great deal of back-end technical debt.

Thankfully, technological developments are changing this process for retailers at the forefront of affiliate marketing. Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) are fast becoming the bond between disparate applications and devices, enabling all channels and partners to meet consumer demands.

APIs are giving retailers the ability to leverage more opportunities than can be gained through in-house engagement alone, without losing control of security or brand message. They enable products to be sold in more places to more consumers, whilst still placing conversational control firmly in the hands of the parent business, rather than the affiliate partner.

From a consumer perspective, using APIs improves the digital experience, as it ensures consistency of information and availability through the partner platform. There is also capability for retailers to drive promotions in geographical locations. For example, if one of your affiliates is running an email campaign within a particular geographical region, you can draw on inventory availability and only promote products currently available or that can also be collected from local stores.

This not only boosts sales conversions, but also strengthens shopper relationships; consumers trust your brand to deliver the information they want, to the device they want to see it on, and make it relevant to their circumstances.

Equally, APIs also create a smoother user experience, in a couple of ways. Firstly, they enable affiliates like comparison websites to integrate external shopping baskets without slowing their website down. Secondly, they give you the capacity to update functionality on affiliate apps or platforms without having to start from scratch, resulting in back-end complication or costly downtime.

However, while APIs simplify online innovation, it’s important to consider the new complexities rising as a result of their increasing adoption. Once APIs are adopted, they become popular very quickly, which can turn a simplifying solution into a complicated management challenge.

Rather than detracting in-house staff from developmental tasks, it is often a better option to outsource the management of APIs to an external provider. This way, a dedicated expert will ensure the technology needed is working efficiently to enhance ongoing performance – leaving you to focus on creating business-changing initiatives that capture the attention of today’s always-on consumer.