Merchants and publishers can make a positive response to the impact of coronavirus. Despite the early impact on the industry, there is cause for optimism. 

The initial impact of coronavirus and what it means for the industry 

Hoteliers and airlines around the world have paused their programs. These pauses will be in place until global travel resumes and that obviously affects travel publishers that earn affiliate revenue. Shorter-term, we’ve also seen brands with high demand products enact temporary pauses. Several supermarkets have paused programs for that reason, but as demand eases we can expect that to change. There are fashion brands that have had to pause as they’ve closed warehouses, but alternative fashion brands have kept programs active thus far. 

The other impact has been on supply chains and brands’ ability to stock high demand items. Across almost every vertical delivery windows have lengthened, in part influenced by an increase in e-commerce, but also to ensure brands have time to stock goods in order to ship them. The limited availability of the Nintendo Switch has been widely reported, with new stock selling out as soon as it becomes available.  

These are critical issues, but it should also be noted that while there are changes in programs, less than 200 of 48,500 in Skimlinks’ network have been paused overall. Skimlinks has also added almost 400 merchants since March 25 and several merchants who paused programs two weeks ago have begun to reactivate. There are also clear ways for merchants and publishers to respond constructively. 

How merchants can respond

Pause programs only when necessary. A total pause on affiliate programs can be counterintuitive. Publishers will prioritise brands they can earn commission from and performance in our network has actually increased since lockdown began in the UK. 

So we encourage and are working with brands to limit pauses on programs to only categories that are actually affected by supply chains, shipping issues or high demand. Brands that can maintain their program will gain market share in the long term and reassure publishers that the relationship will continue in the future. 

Seize the opportunity to help people 

This is an opportunity for brands to help consumers get the goods they need. Brands in categories that have not traditionally performed in e-commerce can benefit here. People typically buy Easter Eggs in store, but now demand for chocolate easter eggs is through the roof: Publishers commissions from Easter merchants are up 201% year-on-year, with conversion rate up 122%. As people turn to publishers for advice on where to buy these goods, there’s an opportunity for brands that aren’t traditional e-commerce players to turn to affiliate to promote products, drive traffic and generate sales. 

Combing trending product information with compelling promotions 

The definition of “need” changes weekly. At first, the focus was essential items – e.g. hand sanitizers – but as people adjust needs to change. In the past weeks, we’ve seen different weekly trends from bread-makers to outdoor play equipment to children to video games. If merchants in these trending categories can offer promotions on popular items to publishers they’re likely to benefit from a spike in affiliate revenue. A clothing retailer that launched a jeans promotion achieved a higher conversion rate than during the Black Friday and Cyber Monday peak. 

How publishers can respond: 

Create practical commerce content that helps people 

People need to find items and commerce teams at publishers are ideally placed to help them. For starters, they’re masters at finding products online and can help surface new brands where people can get the goods they need. 

We’ve already seen this with commerce content from publishers focused on hygiene and online grocery orders: The top article related to the virus in Skimlinks’ network focuses on face masks and has generated over four times more commissions than its nearest competition. 

Adapt to changing needs

Publishers also need to know what people “need” at a given time. Demand now changes weekly. The initial focus was items like hand sanitizers or surgical masks, then it changed to online grocery orders, and now people are focused on adapting to lockdown.  Timeliness is key. A publisher that featured a flash sale from a merchant saw a 6.4% conversion rate, two points above their conversion rate during Cyber Week last November. 

This new emphasis on timeliness has led Skimlinks to introduce bi-weekly bespoke communications to publishers, that give them the latest insights on trending topics in our network and updates on affiliate programs. 

We also suggest alternative merchants publishers can feature to get people the products they need and continue to earn commerce revenue. 

Key takeaway 

For merchants with existing programs, the priority should be to limit pauses where possible and surface trending product information. Brands that combine information on trending items with compelling promotions stand to benefit. For new merchants, and those that have not traditionally performed well in e-commerce, there’s a new opportunity for promotion here. 

Publishers need to be more reactive and create timely content based on trending product information they receive. They also need to ensure they redirect traffic and keep apprised of program changes so they can continue to earn commissions.