The Merchant as Affiliate Conundrum – By Deborah Carney

by Shawn Collins on March 29, 2010

I am puzzled by a question that has been raised frequently as of late: “In my store can I affiliate link to other products that I don’t carry?”

The short answer is no. The longer answer is to actually ask a question back – “Why do you want to send the shoppers looking for your products away to someone else?”

If you are an ecommerce site (meaning you sell products using a shopping cart) and you have an affiliate program (meaning you pay affiliates to make sales of your products) you want to keep your traffic on your site purchasing from you.

Many affiliates will not promote merchants that are featuring products not for sale on their own site. They don’t want to send you their traffic when you might receive compensation, but they definitely will not.

Aside from the affiliate aspect, there is the fact that you as a merchant want to look professional and trustworthy to the shoppers that find your site. If you have links that send your shoppers away, even if they were going to purchase your products and they were just curious and they clicked a link that took them away, they might never find their way back to you. Oops.

Plus, it devalues your site and your product(s). Shoppers could get the uneasy feeling that you don’t believe in your product line if you are also selling other people’s products through outbound links.

While you may not have enough merchandise to sell, or you think people are looking for something you don’t have when they land on your site, the better way to handle that is to be sure that your site marketing efforts attract the right shoppers.

Then once you have them, you make them feel that you are the only place they should be buying from. If you are selling blue widgets and people are landing on your site from searches for pink widgets, then you need to look at your site structure and content so that you are getting consumers who want to buy blue widgets.

It is the same for information products and sites selling services. If you can’t supply the service directly, have your visitors contact you about what they need, and then you can refer them privately after you have discussed their needs and determined you aren’t the right fit.

Sites selling information products tend to cross promote, but again, you are sending your potential buyers off on a “maybe”. It’s much better for you to focus and sell them your own product instead.

You built an ecommerce site to make money by selling your own products. If you want to sell other people’s products, make a separate Web site.

Deborah Carney is an Outsourced Affiliate Program Manager and eCommerce Consultant ( with a site dedicated to teaching affiliates and merchants ( how to maximize their online earnings.

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