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Affiliate eCommerce: COVID-19 has created a long-term opportunity for publishers

‘Stay at home’ orders throughout the pandemic have driven record Internet sales and accelerated broad acceptance of online shopping alternatives. Smart publishers can leverage brand loyalty to generate affiliate commissions from readers looking for trusted recommendations.


Retail shut-downs pushed the fast forward button on eCommerce last year. US online shopping revenues rose from 18% of total retail sales to 28% between March and May; that’s 10% growth over three months compared with sluggish pre-pandemic growth of about 1% annually, according to McKinsey & Company.

The same sort of growth was seen in the UK, where Internet sales made up 31% of total retail sales in December 2020, up 10% year on year. Total online retail sales for 2020 saw the largest annual increase since 2008, up 46% on 2019 according to the Office of National Stattistics.

Shopify CTO Jean-Manual Lemieux summed the situation up well on Twitter in April 2020, when he wrote, “As we help thousands of businesses to move online, our platform is now handling Black Friday level traffic every day!”.


  • Affiliate eCommerce can be a relatively easy first foray into online retail. With the addition of a code snippet, a product review page can be turned into a revenue opportunity. There is no up-front investment required beyond the time dedicated to the curation of a product mix appropriate for your audience and content creation. For publishers that are already producing product focused content it is a logical extension. For others, a schedule of reviews or buying guides will get you in the game. 
  • eCommerce allows you to broaden your reader revenue base. Rather than simply selling access to content, you can add value to your customer relationships through a potentially limitless supply of products. The top 50 UK publishers were generating £86 ($113.42) average revenue per article in August 2020, according to Skimlinks VP Dunia Silan. 
  • eCommerce is an opportunity to deliver a practical reader service that, done right, deepens loyalty. Research done by Ipsos for Google shows the vast majority of people search online before making purchases in-store or online. eCommerce content – reviews and recommendations – from a trusted publisher helps consumers narrow their search and allows them to initiate their purchase from a trusted source. Clever curation also helps with inspiration, undercutting the overwhelm shoppers often feel online.


  • Securing your audience’s trust across your publishing portfolio is crucial for your long-term success. With ecommerce content, there is a risk that readers see it as a cynical commercial play. Be transparent about commissions paid. Pay attention to the quality of reviews and recommendations; make sure they deliver real value for readers that are looking to make informed purchasing decisions. Offer a range of price points.
  • Any commissions based business is a numbers game so for affiliate eCommerce to deliver significant revenue, you are going to need traffic. Invest in eCommerce content and make sure you pay proper attention to SEO. British tabloid newspaper, The Sun, employs a team of five full-time staff and many more freelance staff to produce its Sun Selects buying guides and product recommendations.
  • By definition, affiliate ecommerce relies on software and retail partnerships and,  unfortunately, sometimes partners move the goalposts. The changes to Amazon’s commission rates – some cut by more than 50%  – destroyed revenue forecasts for many referral partners last year. At the height of the pandemic last year, some publishers were sending twice as many people to Amazon and earning half what they were the previous year. If possible, try to work with more than one affiliate network to mitigate the impact of any commission cuts.


Amazon Associates
Recommend Products. Earn Commissions.

Amazon Associates is one of the largest affiliate marketing programs in the world. Publishers monetize traffic through recommendations to millions of products on Amazon.

SOVRN Commerce
Earn more directly from your content.

SOVRN Commerce tools automatically link content and social media posts to over 70,000 affiliate merchants. Ecommerce metrics are available through its Publisher Dashboard.

Global Savings Group
Empowering people to shop in a smarter way

Global Savings’ Commerce Content is a turnkey white-label ecommerce solution that supports 26.5 million purchases annually. Clients include MailOnline and El Pais.

Expanding eCommerce outreach partnerships

In an exclusive partnership with women’s fashion retailer NET-A-PORTER, Marie Claire UK is launching a luxury beauty store. The fashion and beauty magazine, owned by Future Publishing, will house the new service on its Edit ecommerce platform. Positioned as a ‘unique, first-in-class beauty shopping platform’, it will supply more than 200 specialist beauty brands.

In August 2020, Future launched Marie Claire Beauty Drawer, a free beauty sampling service designed to add value to readers and create a ‘highly personalized’ advertising channel for brand partners. The initiative secured 50,000 sign-ups in the eight months from launch.

eCommerce revenues now account for approximately 40% of Marie Claire UK’s digital revenues and Future is looking to replicate the brands success elsewhere in its portfolio. “Extending into beauty is a natural next step for Marie Claire Edit,” said Caroline Stent, MD of Marie Claire. “Importantly, it also enables us to offer our loyal community an ever more sophisticated and rewarding shopping experience.”

Further Reading

This article is an excerpt from our free-to-download report, 6 publishing technologies that will make a difference to your business.