Marketing Madness

Warning: Coupon Sites are Stealing Your Money!

So you’ve got a budding e-commerce startup.  You’re advertising on Google, Facebook, Bing, etc, and you decide one day, “hey, I should have an affiliate program!  I heard CJ is great, let me sign up there.”  You speak to your CJ rep and they tell you about all the wonderful sales that they’ll be generating for you and you create your account, deposit funds, and with a huge smile across your face, you approve a whole bunch of affiliates and sit back and wait for sales to roll in.  A few days later, you start getting a few sales but as you watch your overall sales volume, it doesn’t increase at all.  Then, a few more sales come in, but again, your total sales did not increase by the number of sales that the CJ affiliates generated.  So, you start wondering why.  You start analyzing your sales data through CJ, and you notice that the affiliates generating sales are seeing obscene conversions, 20%, 30%, 40% and even higher.  Well, I’ve got an answer for you, and it’s not pretty.

You see, I used to run a coupon site myself, 10 years ago.  It was called and I made a ton of money from it.  Why?  I had great deals posted on our homepage, and every single day, thousands of people loaded our homepage to see what new offers were available that day.  Unfortunately, many things have changed since those days.

When we approached our coupon site affiliates to ask them to feature PetFlow (our company) on their homepage, every single one of them said that this is not where they generate traffic, “No one goes to our homepage.”  These days, coupon sites generate traffic on their highly SEO’d pages that are specific to a particular merchant.

So, for example, if someone had searched for “PetFlow coupon,” there would be numerous coupon sites listed in organic results, that would list coupons for our site.  And the catch is, in order for the user to see the coupon, they most often have to click a “reveal” link, which immediately opens the merchant’s site in another window, dropping (stuffing) CJ’s cookie.  Now, regardless of whether the user actually used the coupon provided by the coupon site or not, you’re paying for the sale! We have spent countless hours looking through user logs as well as session traffic, and we have seen this over and over and over again.  The consumer is at the point of purchase, has already used a coupon code that was provided to them, then all of a sudden has a CJ cookie deposited, and then completes their purchase.

After analyzing all this data, we decided to stop our CJ affiliate program, terminate all our relationships with coupon sites, and guess what, our sales never declined.

So, if you want to offer coupons on your site, here are a few things that you can do:

1)      Bid on your own “trademark + coupon” and offer a coupon for users to use.  Either take them to a landing page that offers a specific coupon, or simply put the coupon itself in the ad copy.

2)      Put a coupon on your site for all customers to use.  If you list the coupon, you’ll provide less of a reason for customers to go searching for it, and they’ll be more likely to make the purchase anyway, because you’re providing a value to them that they were not aware of.

3)      Stay away from coupon affiliates.  Make partnerships with bloggers and/or content sites, someone who has an audience that is interested in reading the content provided.


Show More

Alex Zhardanovsky

Alex Zhardanovsky is the co-founder of the largest online pet food store, and before that the co-founder of Epic Media Group aka Azoogle.

Related Articles


  1. The last click wins attribution model will always reward coupon affiliates and punish everyone else who has been involved in the journey that is typically a lot more complicated now than it ever used to be.

    Given we are in this global recession and with the proliferation of coupon sites available the end user will frequently add in a coupon search at the end of their process. They were going to buy the product anyway, they just want to get it cheaper. That's cool, but the merchant is still going to pay out commissions.

    How about everyone adopts the attribution model employed by Tagman, so everyone involved can take a piece of the pie? Or how about the commissions paid to coupon affiliates are reduced by the amount of the discount. That last point is not really going to be viable.

    I know a lot of merchants realise they have to offer coupons, but secretly they hate them. it's good to see a merchant with the stones and the stats to decide to not go with it as a model. I am sure for genuine clients Pet-Flow will offer plenty of discount coupons but just not in that initial acquisition model.

    Here in the UK Harrods never had a sale, until they were forced to do so by their customers, who voted with their feet. We also had a store called John Lewis which never opened on Sunday or Monday but is now open 7 days a week.

    I'm not a fan of coupon affiliates as a model, but that is a just a personal ethics point. Some of my best friends in the business run that as their model and they are crushing it at the moment, so the clients like them.

  2. It’s good to see some of the challenges from the merchant’s point of view. So often, I feel like a program I want to join regards me as more of a threat than a partner, and it takes a lot of work to overcome that initial hesitation on their part. As an affiliate, it feels like I have a lot more to risk and am sticking my neck out a lot more (running ads with no guarantee of pay, spending time optimizing sites in a ridiculously competitive market, etc.) and so it’s good to see a merchant expressing some of the challenges on their end as well.


  3. More Bunkus from your friend Alex….seriously stop posting crap from your friends. Alex is a failure. While at Azoogle his affiliates did the same coupon+trademark bidding strategy (Vistaprint for example).

    This is all bunkus.

  4. Cookie stuffing very often happens with big affiliate networks or cpa networks very often. Tips listed here are very general, to deeper understand cookie stuffing it is better to join forums dedicated to it (they are on a blackhat side of internet marketing and usssualy with paid membership). I am sure it is possible to find out technical mechanism to overcome cookie stuffing. But it is for big players, if you are a small fish like me, follwing general advices listed here will be just fine.

  5. More bologna from Alex Zhardanovsky. Taking on posts from a failed businessman is what it’s come to? You say ” As the former founder of one of the largest affiliate marketing companies in the world” —- what you mean to say is that he “ran into the ground one of the largest affiliate marketing companies in the world.”

  6. You have an affiliate program, you offer a coupon at checkout (in your case it is called a promo code) and you don’t think the user is going to go looking for a promo code? Affiliates don’t steal sales, you are training the consumer to go looking for coupons. I took a screen shot of your shopping cart at PetFlow, and before the user checks out you have a field to apply a promo code……so what are 100 of us going to go look for…..a promo code. If you cut it out of your Affiliate, then we are just driving up your search….and on and on.

    The appropriate way to handle this in an affiliate program is use Impact Radius where you can suppress your coupons in the affiliate channel, and assign coupons to only the affiliates that add incremental value. We do this with the largest advertisers in the world, and we can measure which of the affiliates participate solely in the consumer purchase. We see sites like RetailMeNot might only participate as a sole source of traffic 4% of the time, but then we just pay them the lowest amount. The ones that drive a customer as the sole acquisition source 60% of the time we pay more.

    If you don’t like coupon sites, then don’t offer coupons in Facebook, Google, or anywhere else. That make them coupon sites. Once we realize that a coupon is merely a tool, and its not the affiliate, then you will get the most out of the program.

    Chief of Chaos –

  7. This technique has been turned out to be highly effective and it’ll assist your message to emerge amongst the group and broaden your open charges by extraordinary lengths.

  8. Weird that they are doing this. Not a very good promotion. You could better just provide coupons, people will buy the products using your coupons and u get a nice affiliate income. Why still use clickjacking? Incredible.

What's your opinion?

%d bloggers like this: