Bloggers can quickly turn casual readers into buyers and are the ‘unsung heroes’ of affiliate marketing, Le Tote’s digital marketing manager says.

Le Tote‘s attitude toward its affiliate marketing program is the more the merrier.

Le Tote, which is a subscription service for rental apparel and accessories, has about 400 affiliates in its growing network, says Jillian Scott, Le Tote’s digital marketing manager for acquisition and retention. About 20% of LeTote.com’s traffic stems from affiliates, and the marketing channel drives about 20% of sales as well, she says.

“The more publishers you have in your network, the more likely it is to have your message out there,” Scott says.

Affiliates, which also can be called publishers, are wide ranging in types and services. Some affiliates are discount sites, such as eBates, or browser extensions like Honey, in which shoppers can browse for discount codes, sales or cash back. Some affiliates are more content focused, such as TheWireCutter.com, which reviews products, or PopSugar.com, which provides entertainment news. Some affiliates are just bloggers. Other affiliates are more targeted, such as Allume.com, which has a stylist pick out apparel and accessories from different retailers and put together looks for a shopper to buy. All of these networks/publishers receive a commission from the retailer if a shopper buys using the affiliate link.

For Le Tote, and likely many merchants, the discount affiliate sites such as eBates and Retail Me Not, as well as browser extensions, such as Honey, are among the affiliates that generate the most sales for Le Tote. But Le Tote wants to shift its affiliate strategy away from only a conversion engine, while also being a tool for brand awareness and to prospect new shoppers, Scott says.

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“The coupon sites drive a lot of conversion, but the bloggers are the unsung heroes of the affiliate program, as they offer a lot more value in terms of content marketing,” Scott says.

Le Tote last fall switched from JEB Commerce to Rakuten Marketing to manage its affiliate network because of Rakuten’s large scale and many relationships, Scott says. The retailer is constantly reaching out to more affiliates to bring on five or more each week, she says.

“Generally, if you are a mom and you have blog, we want you to talk about Le Tote,” Scott says.

While coupon affiliates drive more conversions because shoppers are likely already in the purchase mindset, bloggers capture shoppers that are still in the consideration phase of the purchasing funnel, she says. The blogger commission rate is typically a few percentage points higher than a coupon affiliate commission rate. This is because bloggers usually have to put in more effort to their content; plus they are driving brand awareness and possibly web traffic, even if the shopper doesn’t convert right away. And if a shopper does convert, the blogger is moving the consumer through the purchase funnel quickly.

When a blogger joins Le Tote’s affiliate program, the retailer offers her a trial box to see how the service works, as well as a coupon code to use in the post. Before the piece publishes, Le Tote reviews the blog post to ensure all the details are correct. While Le Tote does want an “honest review,” it is generally understood that the post will be positive, Scott says. To date, the merchant has not had to deal with a blogger writing a negative review, she says.

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The coupon sites drive a lot of conversion, but the bloggers are the unsung heroes of the affiliate program
Jillian Scott
Digital marketing manager

Blog posts don’t always have to be only about Le Tote. In fact, Le Tote likes when bloggers include Le Tote in a comparison of apparel boxes, as the article likely points out the ways its product is different from its competitors, she says.

While the first blog post is reviewed, after that, bloggers mostly get free reign. Scott and her contact at Rakuten review the hundreds of blogs that are published about Le Tote each quarter. One of Le Tote’s best bloggers—in terms of driving the most traffic and conversions—is the blog Retro House Wife Goes Green, which publishes about Le Tote once a quarter.

For Le Tote, return on its affiliate ad spend is good, Scott says, without sharing specifics. The retailer uses a last-touch attribution model, meaning the traffic source immediately before the purchase is the one that gets the credit for the sale. Although it also measures an affiliate’s effectiveness by the traffic it drives to the site, she says.

“In general it’s hard to put a price point on content marketing in terms of evaluating sales,” Scott says. “We know the path to purchase isn’t a linear journey. Everything she reads or sees about our company influences her decision to buy.”

For affiliate marketing, retailers have to pay the affiliate manager fee and the publisher its commission fee, plus eat the cost of the discount it offers through the publisher. Because of this, some retailers say their profit margin is squeezed more with affiliate marketing than other marketing channels. Le Tote, however, says that is not the case for its brand, as it all depends on how a retailer measures this. Le Tote puts the coupon cost in the shopper retention budget, not the customer acquisition budget.

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“We believe bringing people in at a discount, at a lower price, helps with retention,” Scott says.

Within the Top 1000, 100 retailers say Rakuten is their affiliate marketing vendor. Similar to Le Tote, 41 of these merchants are web-only and 44 of them sell apparel/accessories. Rakuten is the second-most popular affiliate network for Top 1000 merchants, behind CJ Affiliate with 179 clients, according to Top500Guide.com.

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