I’ve been using affiliate linking for several years – believe me, it’s as much a mystery to users as it is to everyone else. But, events took a bit of a turn this week when I noticed that my Pat McGrath affiliate link produced only 4 sales (totalling approx. £4 in affiliate earnings) which seemed strange because the post had been viewed over 3 thousand times on my site and 9 thousand times on my Instagram, sending between them about 2.5 thousand links to the Pat McGrath website.
I queried this with the affiliate agent, Reward Style, and was told that linking was tracking and working correctly. But, it just couldn’t be. So, I pushed back and was told that I’d need to get the order number, amount spent and date of purchase for every order I thought was missing from the tracking. I started by sending one order, asking whether that would trigger a proper investigation to which I received no answer, instead, was told that the information had been sent to the brand who would take between 4 and 6 weeks to get back to me.
So, then I got mad. Just the absolute casual, standard-format, no curiosity, stock answer to legitimate concern. And I did get the order numbers, date of purchase and amount spent from (at the current time) of over 180 people who kindly responded to my Instagram and Twitter call out. I didn’t even put it on the blog so there will be more – not everyone uses those platforms. It took just short of 12 hours and was a joint effort between me and the kind people who responded who had to go to the absolute faff of cutting and pasting or screen grabbing. I also brought the entire thing to Twitter and Instagram. It’s not something I normally do preferring to use my channels for beauty product topics. But, I had by this time started to get a lot of messages from others saying the same thing had happened to them – that affiliate payments were going missing. I also got messages from independent affiliate managers, saying something is not right.
Reward Style works as a sub-network – it makes using affiliates easy – imagine having separate links for hundreds of brands – with Reward Style you can generate a link from their bank of thousands of brands. Brands pay roughly 10-15% of their sales generated through an affiliate link, while the blogger or influencer will take approximately 10% (it’s very variable and that’s generous) leaving 5% to the agency. So, they have to work in volume and with a lot of brands. All agencies work to regions – that’s not unusual, but being able to generate a link implies that affiliate linking is available. Having talked with a couple of independent affiliate agents, it seems that a possible scenario is that Reward Style never saw sales going to Pat McGrath (which fits with the fact that when I raised the issue, they saw nothing amiss) because when sales went from the UK to the Pat McGrath site the affiliate manager at Pat’s end hadn’t flagged them to Reward Style as order sales and just dismissed over 2.5k links – but of course, happily took the sales. But, we don’t know. It’s one possibility in a whole chain of possibilities. The other thing to mention is that there used to be an affiliate arrangement with the UK. Nobody knows when this stopped.
Mid-way though the afternoon I got a message from a Global Director for Social Media from another (competitor) brand (out of the blue – we haven’t been in contact for years) who wanted to know what had happened. So I told her. She then put the UK Reward Style Team in touch with me (previously I had been dealing with the US) within the hour I had an email saying this shouldn’t have happened and they were investigating. Later in the evening I received an email from the US Team saying the matter had been escalated to the brand (Pat McGrath) that day (so, bypassing the 4-6 weeks as previously mentioned). By the next morning, I had an email waiting saying that the Pat McGrath affiliate scheme was not available to the UK (despite providing a link and despite paying out on the initial 4 – in pounds sterling) but they were advocating for payment. My few sales may well have been US sales but there is no way to tell.
I queried why I’d been able to generate a link (in USD but that’s not particularly unusual) and the answer was so that US audiences could buy from my link and I would be paid out on those. At no time, in generating the link, was it flagged not for UK based users. Obviously, I don’t have much of a US audience. I subsequently hear that other bloggers have been told – this day – by Reward Style that they are now not paying out to any UK based bloggers on Nordstrom, which clearly favours US content creators over UK. There are UK bloggers whose audiences are largely from the US and now the rule appears to be where the content is based, not where the audience is based. The irony of all of this is where you are based should be entirely irrelevant – working to regions seems to be at odds with the entire point of the internet.
The entire affiliate business is questionable – it’s a barrier between content creators and brands who should have their own in-house systems so that they don’t lose touch with the actual real people who send so many consumers to their sites. We (and therefore you) are literally just numbers to them – cheap marketing if you like (where a little adds up to a lot), and because we are all so good at it, affiliate agencies will continue to exist. I’ve had many brands contacting me in a 48 hour period – now everyone knows about this. They do not realise how they are represented when they hand over to an agency.
However, I can’t let all the blame fall to Reward Style because of the aforementioned possible scenario. I don’t think I will ever know the truth of it all but wanted to thank those of you who sent your details with an account of why you were asked to do it. I always offer a non-affiliate link which you are welcome to use. I don’t push on affiliates – my space needs to be one where nobody feels pressured but I know that many readers gladly support bloggers specifically using affiliate links (which is kind and noted) so it’s a blow for them too. My total earnings from RS come to around £100 a month which is low but it can be very lucrative depending upon which category you work in. There are also occasional surprises (like the £36 commission from a luxury face cream I’d never heard of, never mind actually featured) so earnings can go up or down. The £4 commission (although I think I will eventually see the rest, but who knows – things are still on-going) wasn’t worth it I promise!
I’m using a picture of me to remind them that it’s a human here – not a number.
All products are sent to me as samples from brands and agencies unless otherwise stated. Affiliate links may be used. Posts are not affiliate driven.