Beware Best Buy affiliates…are you really getting credit for the qualified traffic you drive to BestBuy.com?

Hunch’s business model is very straightforward: when Hunch proposes a result to a user trying to make a decision, the result page may include a link to an external retailer offering the product or service for sale. Hunch would share in any resulting sales via affiliate marketing relationships.  We’ve been testing a variety of affiliates in these spots lately, but one we’ve decided to drop is Best Buy.  I’ll explain why.

Hunch users who end up on a result page represent highly qualified traffic; someone landing on a Hunch page for a Nikon camera is there precisely because they just answered a handful of questions designed to help them find the right camera for them.  So we tend to see solid post-click conversion when users click through to an external site to browse for product availability or detailed product information.

We signed up to the Best Buy affiliate program through Commission Junction, and tested Best Buy links in several topics for which we already had a history of strong post-click conversions.  While CJ’s reporting platform showed nearly the same ad impressions and affiliate clicks for BestBuy as we tracked internally, CJ reported not just a lower post-click conversion rate than we had historically seen, but actually zero.  Several more days went by, clicks were still flowing to Best Buy, but they reported zero resulting sales.

We decided to test this by buying some merchandise ourselves.  Two of our employees, on two different days, followed Hunch affiliate links to Best Buy and then bought something.  CJ still showed no sales activity.  Houston, we have a problem.

I emailed the Best Buy affiliate team on Aug 29th to report this, attaching receipts for our sales, and inquiring about all the other qualified clicks we had sent them.  They replied on Sept 1st that they’d look into it and that we should “alllow two weeks to do so.”  On Sept 10th they emailed back to say they had determined that both orders were, in fact, valid, and that we should allow “up to two days” for them to show up in CJ reports.  No explanation about what happened or why, nor any reference to the real issues about what happened to all the other qualified clicks we had sent them.  (side note: irritatingly, they sign their emails not from a person, but anonymously as “BestBuy.com Affiliate Team”)   I wrote back to ask them to provide a further explanation.

On Sept 15th they wrote back to say our links were formatted correctly and they didn’t have further info, but we could contact their technical support staff if we wanted.

An inadequate explanation from Best Buy

An inadequate explanation from Best Buy

As of today, 19 days after I originally wrote them, we still haven’t received credit for the items we bought (not our greatest concern, but hardly confidence-inspiring), nor have we received any explanation for what happened to all the other qualified clicks that seemed to have gone into some type of Best Buy black hole.  I’m not interested in dealing with their technical team (that should be the role of their affiliate team, as an intermediary), and as a result we’ve discontinued our relationship with them.

CJ reports that Best Buy’s 3 month epc (or “revenue paid by the advertiser to the website publisher per hundred clicks, over a 3 month period”) is just $6.85.  That’s just 7 cents per click – far below what Best Buy would be able to purchase qualified clicks for from one of the major search engines.  Now you could argue that I should have seen that metric in advance (I did) and stayed away (I didn’t)…I thought, as I suspect many other sites do, that our traffic is so highly qualified that we should expect much higher conversions than Best Buy’s historical average.  Note that AJMadison, another respected electronics and appliance retailer, has an epc that’s three times that of Best Buy’s, at $19.10.

Over time, based both on these average metrics and each affiliate’s actual experience, you’d expect affiliates to increasingly migrate away from low conversion partners like Best Buy and towards higher conversion alternates.  But my gut tells me that with such a strong brand name, Best Buy can afford high affiliate churn because they likely have such strong interest with new potential affiliates joining the program.  I don’t know whether in Best Buy’s case this problem is a deliberate strategy or just negligence and poor execution, but either way it doesn’t inspire confidence in affiliate marketing systems.

Bottom line: for cpa-driven affiliate relationships to work, there has to be trust and reliability in the system for accurate post-click reporting and payments.  So it’s disheartening when even a big brand like Best Buy can have such a complete failure in their affiliate model, as we experienced above.

One implication of all this: I would gladly pay a 3rd party to conduct “real transaction” audits on the sites with whom I have an affiliate relationship.  I’m not talking about click matching, but actually buying a low-priced physical good from time to time (and perhaps then returning it later for a refund).  This approach couldn’t be efficiently scaled to take representative frequent samples for a given affiliate, but still, at low volume it could potentially identify the most egregious offenders.  Because as we found out with Best Buy, where there was smoke, there was fire.  Anyone know of any companies that do that kind of affiliate auditing?

18 responses to “Beware Best Buy affiliates…are you really getting credit for the qualified traffic you drive to BestBuy.com?

  1. Update: A rep from Commission Junction called me today and had a partial (but not complete) explanation. She was friendly and tried to help.

    The 2 test items we ordered have now been properly credited in CJ’s tracking system. The delay in credit was partly due to a policy of Best Buy issuing sales credit after an item ships, not after its purchase. (note: while this is a fairly common affiliate practice, other affliliates make the distinction much more clear. Amazon, for example, shows a separate ‘order’ and ‘earnings’ report in order to draw this distinction while still providing meaningful reporting)

    The rep couldn’t explain why all the other qualified clicks we drove to Best Buy’s program yielded no sales activity. Oh well, we’ve moved on now.

  2. Hi Kelly,

    My name is Joe and I am the Community Manager for Best Buy Remix, our open API. I’m not on the affiliate team but I am close to them as our developers have the ability to sign up for and use the program.

    I just wanted you to know that I’ve been collecting your feedback along with our developers and other people like yourself. I’m working to get resolution on the problems or getting better communication out there as to why things happen the way they do.

    I’d love to talk to you personally if you have the time.

  3. Thanks Joe. I’ll contact you under separate cover.

  4. Hi Kelly,

    Interesting read. Did you ever hear of anything coming out of Joe Zwack’s “working to get resolution on the problems”?

  5. Joe and I spoke a couple of times and he seemed to want to genuinely help. Ultimately we didn’t come to any resolution, though. We switched back to another affiliate and immediately started generating significant revenue-producing sales again. So I really don’t know what the issue was with Best Buy.

  6. Doesn’t surprise me at all.

    Thanks for the heads up. I was thinking about trying them out on one of my sites.

    I started doing my own due diligence after a similar incident with hostgator. They credited me for the sale through PayPal. Apparently it had something to do with JS or cookies not working on the clients browser.

    Had I not walked my client step by step through sign-up that would’ve been another cheap click for them. Unlike bestbuy, hostgator was quickly able to resolve the issue.

  7. ” We switched back to another affiliate and immediately started generating significant revenue-producing sales again”

    Thanks for your eye opening post. Could you name the ‘good guys’ so we know who we can use.

    Thanks

  8. Oo: Amazon has worked out pretty well for us.

  9. Best Buy clearly has a tracking problem. I exeprienced the same problem. I use their remix API with my CJ PID to generate links. There are tons of traffic to my site. I even tested clicking those links myself. But CJ did not show a single click.

    I sent email to bestbuyaffiliates@bestbuy.com. But I never got a reply.

  10. we have been going crazy thinking this was an issue only we were experiencing, as we have had ALL of our sales go uncredited with Best Buy for the past year. we are sickened that major company is out right cheating small businesses. it’s incredibly dishonest, and cj should kill thier program. its blatant theft.

  11. Hi,

    I have done the exact type of test. A company that I support bought 2 items thru my link to bestbuy. The clicks showed up – the products showed up at their doorstep, but the money (commission) never showed up. I watched the entire transaction. It was all done thru our link and credit card approved etc. I think it is a terrible situation and affiliates should unite with class action suits against these fraudulent practices by companies such as BestBuy. When company like BestBuy blatantly steal and lie in their business associations with affiliates without any consequences – other companies will also take up the same methods to stay competitive. I would love to see and belong to a lawsuit against them (bestbuy) and other companies that cheat (steal) in this fashion.

  12. Sad how Advertisers can complain about being ripped off and yet they so blatently rip us off as affiliates. Best Buy can rot.

  13. Very interesting read. I just got approved for the affiliate program yesterday, so this will certainly have me more “aware” of what to look for. Thanks for sharing!

  14. I have been cheated by commission Junction, Yahoo and Click Bank. I will not do another affiliate program. You just work for them to keep your money.

  15. THANKS KELLY AND YOUR TEAM FOR THE BEST BUY INFO.

  16. Does anybody have an update on this situation? I have been driving traffic to many Cj.com advertisers, including Best Buy, in the past year. I have made one single sale although with Amazon I sell something once a week.

    As a result of my lack of CJ sales I new get rejected by advertisers when I apply to programs, which further discourages me from using CJ.com.

    I looked into the Google Affiliate Network (GAN) and their API seems a bit quirky. I suppose I would figure it out eventually, but since I have already suffered through all the issues with the the Amazon and Cj apis, its tough to get motivated.

  17. Coming late to the party, but these experiences exactly mirror our experiences with Best Buy and CJ, generally. Thousands of clicks, yet practically no sales. Amazon far, far, far outperforms.

  18. I smell class action suit. I wonder what would be the way to do it, but a lawyer could request some documents from CJ so there is some paper trail. But that may not be proof enough. Proof of sales not credited might be needed.

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