Here, we speak to Firebox’s Naomi Brown about how she’s been developing the gadget retailer’s in-house affiliate marketing programme since taking it over two years ago.

How does affiliate marketing fit into your overall marketing strategy?

The Firebox affiliate marketing programme has been running for eight years, so it’s pretty well established as part of our marketing strategy. We started affiliate marketing after the dotcom bubble burst because we needed cost effective ways to do our marketing. I run our affiliate marketing programme in-house, and we also have a marketing executive working on it, so it’s an essential part of our business.

How much do you spend on it?

We get about 15% of our sales from affiliate marketing, so proportionally about 15% of our marketing spend goes on it. That’s a reasonable chunk, considering it’s about the same as we would spend on producing a catalogue.

How many networks do you use and why?

We use Affiliate Future and Affiliate Window. We have two networks and that’s a lot better than four, which is what we used to have.

Four networks is too many for any company to have, to be honest. We now only have two systems and groups of people to deal with, which is much easier. The reason we have not gone down to one network is I like the security of having two. It gives affiliates choice if they decide they don’t like a particular network.

There are pitfalls though – you need to make sure you are not double counting. But having previously had four networks, we are quite used to those issues.

What are you doing to reduce double counting of sales across different channels?

We de-duplicate against some channels and not against others. For example, we don’t de-duplicate against sales that come through our newsletter. We know the sales that have come through our newsletter, but it would be a bit unfair of us to overwrite an affiliate cookie with our newsletter one. Where we do de-duplicate is PPC, which is pretty standard practice in the industry.

How do your other marketing activities influence affiliate sales?

We don’t do display advertising or traditional print magazine advertising, so there is a limited impact from other channels on our affiliate programme.

However, we have looked at how our print catalogue, which we send out three times a year, impacts our affiliate sales. It’s mostly aimed at previous customers, but we do see an uplift in affiliate sales when we send it out as people are looking for us more on the web and are more inclined to visit an affiliate site.

Do you have any thoughts on the future of the last-click-wins model?

I can see the disadvantages of last-click - the question of whether the right people are being rewarded for the sale – but I don’t think there is a viable alternative. I can’t see an option that would be as easy or fair as the last-click-wins model and until one emerges that is accepted by both affiliates and merchants, I wouldn’t consider changing it.

Have you any insight into the long-term value of affiliate customers?

After they become our customers, we tend to look at them in a more general way rather than an ‘affiliate customer’ and so on.

But it depends on the type of affiliate. We get very valuable customers through gadget blogs, for example, because they are the kinds of customers that we really appeal to and are not just looking for a one-off purchase, such as a Christmas gift. They are the types of customers that keep coming back to us.

Some affiliates drive very good customers to us, which is great, and generally the affiliate channel drives very good traffic.

How much of your day-to-day job is involved in dealing with super-affiliates?

We definitely have a small number of affiliates driving a lot of our sales, as with most online marketing activities, although they do vary a bit between programmes.

In terms of my day-to-day role, super-affiliates don’t have a major impact. I’m always there to answer their questions, and I make sure they have my contact details, but I find they tend to run themselves as they tend to be very good at their jobs. They have better resources and more staff. My focus tends to be on the next rung down.

Further research:

Affiliate Marketing Survey Report 2008

Affiliate Marketing Briefing October 2008

Affiliate Marketing Networks Buyers’ Guide