Do affiliate links undermine the marketing value of holiday gift guides?

Discussion
Sources: realhomes.com; today.com/shop/gift-guide
Nov 13, 2020
Tom Ryan

Holiday gift guides have arrived from Oprah Magazine, Buzzfeed, The New York Times, CNET and numerous other publications and sites promising curated collections of tasteful gift offerings. They also include commission-driven, affiliated links.

Gaining the most coverage is Oprah Winfrey’s 24th annual “Favorite Things?,” which highlighted merchandise from Black-owned and Black-led businesses. The list was launched with a video of Oprah surprising a few of the selected business owners.

Among retailers, Oprah’s winner is Amazon.com. The list in fact has been labeled as “Presented By Amazon” for the last few years. Purchase links to items on Oprah’s list head straight to Amazon, not only from her magazine’s website, but also from articles showcasing her list on InStyle, Today, Real Homes and several other sites.

Today wrote in its disclaimer, “Our editors independently selected these items because we think you will enjoy them and might like them at these prices. If you purchase something through our links, we may earn a commission.”

Real Homes wrote that it, “is supported by its audience and 100 percent independent. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. This helps us continue to bring you more of the content you love.”

Among other examples of affiliate marketing, NBCnews.com posts separate articles from Nordstrom, Walmart and Sephora featuring their respective holiday lists.

The New York Times holiday guide offers an extensive collection of gifts “independently chosen” by editors of the paper and Wirecutter, a review site it acquired in 2016. The Times indicates it “may earn a commission on purchases through these links.”

Reviews from tech blog sites likewise promise editorial independence, yet are supported by sales commissions. In a review, Mashable described Neiman Marcus’ “Fantasy Gifts” guide as “especially out of touch in 2020,” yet included links in the article to purchase products.

According to an article on Harvard’s Nieman Journalism website, the “main tension” with publishers earning affiliate revenue comes from the fact that reviews that are positive generate more sales. Some retailers give publishers a larger cut than others, potentially influencing recommendations.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you consider commission-driven affiliate marketing programs to be ethical for publishers as well as for retailers? What guidelines should such programs follow?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"Ideally, publishers should curate their lists first and then let the manufacturers or retailers know that their item has made the list."

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7 Comments on "Do affiliate links undermine the marketing value of holiday gift guides?"


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David Naumann
BrainTrust

Ideally, publishers should curate their lists first and then let the manufacturers or retailers know that their item has made the list. If this policy is adhered to, it is more ethical than having retailers pitch products to the publication for inclusion on the list for promotional purposes. I think consumers realize that it happens both ways and they merely look at gift idea lists for suggestions on what types of merchandise are popular.

Suresh Chaganti
BrainTrust

I think consumers are educated enough to know that publishers earn affiliate commissions. I personally don’t see a conflict since it is disclosed upfront. Only Consumer Reports goes to the lengths of not taking the manufacturer supplied products to review, and keeps the review process completely independent of any incentives from the manufacturer. For the rest of the publishers, this is a relatively benign way to earn commissions, and the public doesn’t mind if it is disclosed upfront.

Dave Bruno
BrainTrust

While I do think affiliate links diminish the credibility of the curators, I also think most consumers accept that this practice is now pretty much baked into the process. Social media influencers have been making money off their curated collections for the better part of a decade, and I honestly think the wealth they attain directly from affiliate partnerships directly fuel their popularity and hence their ability to — earn more affiliate commissions! What worries me far more than affiliate-backed curated collections is when editorial product reviews include revenue-generating links.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

…“is supported by its audience and 100 percent independent. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. This helps us continue to bring you more of the content you love.” It sounds like an oxymoron to me. The only way they can be “100 percent independent” is to forgo the commission.

David Leibowitz
BrainTrust

Affiliate links, paid content, and free or low-fee products in exchange for reviews all fall into the same bucket: As long as there is disclosure, then it’s not unethical. Without disclosure — yes, very seedy. Brands should enforce compliance and transparency in order to foster trust.

Ken Lonyai
BrainTrust

“May earn a commission.” There is no “may” that I’m aware of. That’s the disingenuous part.

Cynthia Holcomb
BrainTrust

There is a broad range of very small to very large publishers who leverage commission-driven affiliate marketing programs. Small publishers, bloggers, and small online retailers do so to enable them to earn a living. Seems fair. Curation is a talent. Marketing one’s curation successfully is a talent. Affiliate marketing, only made possible by the internet, gives a voice and an opportunity to the little guy/gal to play in the same sandbox as the big guys. So, for all the small, independent curators out there, able to have a platform to share their creative visions outside of large corporations, I applaud them!

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"Ideally, publishers should curate their lists first and then let the manufacturers or retailers know that their item has made the list."

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