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.