Why coupon site owners hate RetailMeNot

I received a funny and angry email today from a coupon site owner who didn’t seem to be too happy about me listing RetailMeNot in my Popular Sites monthly list. He then goes ahead and gives me a link to a thread at ABestWeb forums which in essence is a 14 page long discussion between affiliate site owners and affiliate network managers about RetailMeNot. The conversation starts with Todd of AlexsCoupons complaining that RMN publishes his exclusive coupon for iFrogz:

This kind of crap has got to end. I am getting very tired of working my a$$ off to establish a good relationship with a merchant, only to see some scraper come along and benefit from my work. (They even listed the code as their exclusive code!)

First thing that strikes me is how difficult it is for somebody running an established affiliate site to accept that the business could be done in a non traditional way. The typical (or call it “legacy”) coupon site is operated by a stuff of a few people who get the coupons from merchants via affiliated channels and distribute them to their user base. The new breed however uses a different approach. They ride the “social phenomenon” and have the content posted to them by the community.

The new web

This can be difficult to understand for somebody who don’t keep their eyes open to what is happening around the web (which is often the case when you are “working your a$$ off” :-) ). Websites like Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube have popped up and boast millions of pages of content. Where did it come from? Did the YouTube owners post each video they have?

The same revolution happens in the affiliate world at a smaller scale and while the forum based website owners (like SlickDeals and Fatwallet) for obvious reasons have no issue with it, the traditional businesses do. So do some merchants. Here is one of them commenting to the same ABestWeb thread

My problem with RMN lies in that I have removed them from my affiliate programs, so they took it upon themselves to flood their site with every single unauthorized coupon code they could find, thereby compromising my marketing results. And what’s even more frustrating is that the consumer has no clue what they are doing is wrong. RMN tops my list of unethical affiliates and they seem to really enjoy the “bad boy” tag they’ve acquired in the affiliate world.

Consumers are not a hoard of animals. If they got to a RetailMeNot page they are intelligent enough to have figured out that they can use the web to search for coupons. That by itself is quite an achievement I should say. As to RMN flooding the site with “unauthorized” coupon codes. The codes are only “unauthorized” as long as the coupon site has an affiliate agreement with the store and guess what happens when you receive an email from a merchant and face a choice to remove the coupons or leave the program? This is exactly what we recently faced at Buxr when the email came from New York and Company. We took a hard look at what will be left should we remove the “unauthorized” coupons and figured we will be doing a poor service to our visitors and instead opted to break with the merchant. This may sound crazy to an affiliate old timer but this is the reality of doing affiliate business in a new way.

Too big to fail

There is a bit of irony in how affiliate network managers approach the situation. On one hand they take an action when merchants (or other affiliates) communicate problems to them about unauthorized use of coupons. Here is one such “action”:

OK, I found them in my CJ account and expired them. Thanks for the tip. They signed up last week so the URL was fresh in my mind.

If the outrage was over a small insignificant coupon site then this would be the end of the story, however as big as RMN has grown they represent significant lost revenue for any network that doesn’t stay on board and so the managers have a big incentive to keep things running, even to the extend of taking on policing the site for “bad” coupons. Here is a much later comment from the same manger (who took the action above)

Over the last few years I have developed an excellent relationship with RMN and am very satisfied with them. It takes me a minute to ask for a change or removal I control the copy on the merchants store page and optimize it. Don’t know other affiliates letting me do that.

So a compromise is possible? Sure thing. If there is a will there is a way and the fact that RMN rakes 4 million in sales each month somewhat helps the matter. :-)

And finally here is a comment that sums it up very well:

It is apparent that a) merchants like RMN because they bring in sales and b) affiliates are jealous of the RMN concept that has done very well. Not sure there is anything else to say about RMN.

Breaking old habits is hard but social bargain hunting is here to stay whether some like it or not. If old Terms of Service are no longer good then the new ones will be written. It is time for a change.

See also:

16 Responses to “Why coupon site owners hate RetailMeNot”

  1. 1 Haiko de Poel Jr Sep 25th, 2009 at 9:17 am


    Let me reduce it to the ridiculous so that you can better understand the issue …

    The “new way of doing business” (as you call it) is not an excuse for theft and unjust enrichment as a result that theft.

    As a forum owner I obviously know about and support the User Generated Content model (UGC) but I have ultimate responsibility for the content posted on my site ABestWeb (as any site owner does, weather they want to admit it or not). There was a perfect example of this earlier today … someone posted that they were selling a list of CC # and CVV codes for sale. Now let’s tear this apart …

    1) it’s UGC (”the new way” of doing business like twitter and facebook); and

    2)It’s definitely theft just like the coupon codes stolen from affiliate sites; and

    3) The site owner has the decision to allow members to facilitate, propagate or continue the theft.

    So for me it was a no brainer I immediately deleted the posting and banned the person. RMN however doesn’t delete their known stolen content because they directly benefit from the theft with the affiliate commissions resulting from sales made with the stolen codes. So is that “Grey area”? HELL NO!

    Ethics go out the window because money is involved and in some perverted way you and the networks seam to think that it’s ok because they generate sales. In actually the $4MM number isn’t to show how successful they are, it’s to show how heinous the theft is and how many sales they are actually stealing from rightful affiliates.

    I’m not against UGC, I’m against theft and the people who condone it because of the money – it’s really like saying it’s ok to rob a bank because you can make money doing it. Think about it. The wanton abandonment of morals and ethics is scary enough, but the facilitating of it, is far more frightening.

    Continued Success,

    Haiko de Poel, Jr.
    Administrator of ABestWeb

  2. 2 No Theft Here Sep 25th, 2009 at 10:32 am

    Just curious why you deleted Haiko de Poel’s rebuttal?

    No Theft Here

  3. 3 No Theft Here Sep 25th, 2009 at 10:50 am

    Not very open to opposing views huh? What’s the problem, not real comfortable in your position on this?


  4. 4 Yan Sep 25th, 2009 at 1:38 pm

    Exclusivity and secrecy doesn’t work in the new online world. A no-name Scottish singer performs well on stage and next day the whole world knows about her. Why? Because in the web information spreads with the speed of light.

    A coupon code is very much different than a credit card number. In the essence it is just a marketing tool that can be used in many different ways. All I am saying is that rather than try to fight the new realities, the merchants should embrace them and change the way they do business to take benefit of the user contributed websites which become ever bigger part of the web.

    As a final note, let me quote a comment from a merchant to the above mentioned Techcrunch blog post:

    “The whole idea of coupons as a marketing channel is to *encourage* people to tell friends about them and to drive new customers to our stores. In this regard, retailmenot has been very effective and has been in our top 3 affiliates for the last 6 months.”

  5. 5 Haiko de Poel Jr Sep 25th, 2009 at 2:28 pm

    First you delete my thread and the others but when you see the resulting traffic you decide to turn it all back on … ummm what’s the word??? OPPORTUNISTIC!

    A Credit card number isn’t different than an exclusive coupon code, they both hold potentiality of money … the theft of either is still theft. I’m sorry that you can’t see that.

    As for your “speed of the internet” horsehockey – go back to square one and learn what’s right and wrong, morals and ethics, then go full speed ahead. Because the exculpatory nature of this morally decrepit society that condones theft will get you no where, fast.

    There are no “new realities”, theft has been around since the beginning of mankind, as has turning a blind eye. ;)

    Best of luck to you in your learning process.


  6. 6 Yan Sep 25th, 2009 at 3:25 pm

    “First you delete my thread and the others but when you see the resulting traffic you decide to turn it all back on … ummm what’s the word??? OPPORTUNISTIC!”

    Your comment and the following two were automatically held for moderation (as any first time comments on this blog are held to avoid spam). Stop attacking me with no ground whatsoever.

    A lot of things in this world hold potentiality of money. This comment of yours on my blog for example may end up in search for your name and I will make money off of it with the Google ads on the sidebar. Did I just steal your name from you?

    As to your belief that there are no “new realities”, check the news around AACS encryption key controversy

  7. 7 Scott Y. Sep 26th, 2009 at 7:51 am

    Well. Looks like Australia is really the land of the convicted — RetailMeNot (Melbourne) was accused of stealing exclusive coupons, and a few threads above in the same forum, Tjoos (Sydney) was also accused of the same thing…

    Yan — I think you are running ProBargainHunter from a consumers’, or a “bargain hunter’s” point of view and I fully agree with what you are saying here. After all coupons are there to be shared, and I think most merchants won’t care as long as sales are made. Most whiners there are probably just kicking themselves thinking “hey how come I didn’t think of the UGC idea first”.

    I am running a social bargain site in Australia, and have quite a few “exclusive” coupons (which I earn no affiliation commission for). I am pretty sure many ended up on sites like RMN and Tjoos. Well. More power to them to spread the good bargains around!

  8. 8 mike g. Sep 27th, 2009 at 8:45 pm

    OK, so if it is ethically wrong and you can’t stop sharing on the internet, what can we do?

    If you look at what the music industry has tried to do with piracy, and how they failed, it doesn’t look promising.

    I know someone on Abest mentioned this, but why not just embed coupons in links? Seems like a pretty good idea for the time being.

  9. 9 Mark B. Sep 28th, 2009 at 12:11 am

    Why not accept that coupons will be spread and make exclusive coupons ACTUALLY exclusive. i.e. if anybody uses that coupon, then the associated affiliate gets the commission regardless of click through?

    This could discourage other affiliates from promoting those codes and make them work harder for exclusives. (that seems to be the major gripe, hard workers are getting less money than people with more intelligent algorithms).

  10. 10 Scott Y. Sep 28th, 2009 at 4:12 am

    I think exclusive coupon that ultimately credits whom the coupon is issued to can be a good idea. However from that forum thread, it seems it’s more of a technical issue (although should be relatively trivial to resolve).

    HOWEVER, although some affiliates have worked hard with the aff network and merchants to get the exclusive deal, I have to say others have also worked hard (and might have spent a lot) to get the traffic, where someone else’s exclusive coupons get used and commission went elsewhere. Profiting from the traffic that someone else has worked or paid for — is that stealing?

  11. 11 Mark B. Sep 28th, 2009 at 6:21 am

    No it is not stealing. It is a way to deal with the realities of the web for people who whinge about the realities of the web.

    If you want to pander to affiliates, you make popular websites more profitable. If you want to pander to affiliate managers who want control over the content they are providing, you do it the way I suggested.

    If you want the best of both worlds, you allow both side by side, and let the best deal win, and let affiliate managers decide for themselves, without creating vitriol because you personally feel wronged by someone elses success.

  12. 12 Piotr Sep 28th, 2009 at 8:37 am

    Hello Yan ! Thanks for this interresting article. If you ask me to rewrite your conclusion, I’ll just add the tagline of a UK deals website (HotUKDeals) and explain the “new breed” with theirs own words :

    We think HUKD disrupts traditional marketing messages and offers a disruptive network where individuals have the freedom to recommend genuine bargains and deals to other individuals.

    Thanks and have a nice day.



  13. 13 Matrimony Sep 30th, 2009 at 10:31 pm

    Ethics and playing fair means nothing to these type of people. It’s all about the money and in the end I believe they’ll get what they deserve…

  14. 14 Karen Oct 1st, 2009 at 8:53 pm

    “Why not accept that coupons will be spread and make exclusive coupons ACTUALLY exclusive. i.e. if anybody uses that coupon, then the associated affiliate gets the commission regardless of click through?”

    At this point it really does seem to be the best solution. I really do sympathize: for years my retail site was the tops (or near the top) in Google for several brands I carry – then a new “shopping engine” comes along and is dominating Google for hundreds of brands. Now of course I would mind regardless but the fact of the matter is there are other sites that are a heck of a lot more helpful than this site that has incomplete feeds GALORE. But the bottom line is: I work my butt off on my retail site and by manually managing my affiliate sites and some big-a$$ company comes along with high priced programmers and knock me down the page and I’m sure the same has happened to hordes of smaller coupon sites.

    From my recollection 9 times out of 10 when I search for a coupon for some site or other RMN comes up first in Google.

    seoscoop recently posted about the massive difference between appearing 1st in the SERPS and 2nd or 3rd (I’m sorry I can’t find the link right now)so darn right there is resentment out there. The number one rule in affiliate marketing is: DIFFERENTIATE yourself – offer something that other sites don’t and I fully sympathize with those smaller coupon sites who have cultivated relationships in the hopes of being able to “offer something different” only to have their exclusive co-opted by another company and if that weren’t bad enough for RMN to advertise the code as THEIR EXCLUSIVE just adds insult to injury.

  15. 15 couponboa Jul 9th, 2010 at 10:38 pm

    Being the owner of a coupon website (1/1000th RMN – both traffic & conversions), I know they have done an incredible work! Each day, thousands of real shoppers express their thanks to RetailMeNot for being helpful. Is that all bullshit?

    To my belief, nothing is exclusive and nothing is confidential – coupon codes are no different. RMN helps people to find a coupon, which would be otherwise hidden under the custody of few affiliate websites. If a consumer is able to save money, that’s what we should aim at. Since, nobody can ever get closer to RetailMeNot, let’s accept the reality. And say thanks to RetailMeNot.

    Why take the battle to this far end?

    Let’s pave our path peacefully admitting the fact that RetailMeNot will still be the ruler in coupon field, like Google stays far far away in search engineering.

    Happy to help,

  16. 16 pissed_at_RMN Sep 28th, 2012 at 5:26 pm

    RMN even advertises “STOLEN COUPON CODES”. They need to quickly honor opt-out requests from merchants who do not wish to be listed on RMN instead of trying to turn it into a sales pitch. I want my RMN page taken down.

    We do not have an affiliate program and do not wish to publish coupons for broad use. We have a niche site and are going to get 0 extra traffic from stolen coupon sites like RMN.

    Every other coupon site I have contacted and requested to remove our page has done so immediately.

    Maybe some complaints from merchants to local attorney’s general is in order?

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