Banking on Affiliates
Despite tough times in the industry, online adult retailers are thriving. Online sites are open 24/7, convenient, anonymous and really appealing to the mainstream crowd. Sex toys and novelties are a multibillion-dollar-a-year industry and online retailers are doing anything and everything to vie for consumers’ hardearned dollars.
Many online sites are finding that webmaster affiliates are what they need to take on the competition. And with high commissions and monthly payouts, affiliates are ready to take on the novelty market. From promoting sites using banners to hosting your own website that links to other novelty sites, the possibilities are endless.
eXtreme Restraints runs NicheShops.com, an umbrella site for all of its affiliate programs, including ultimate fetish shop eXtremeRestraints.com, gay fetish site BoyzShop.com and sexpert Jenna’s site JennasLoveShop.com. Join up and the company provides you with a fully customizable storefront, customer service, marketing support, thousands of products to promote and drop shipping for products.
Customers get access to a site where they can buy toys to live out their fantasies, never knowing that the site is only a storefront that in reality links to another site.
“The biggest advantage to having an affiliate program is the way that it allows us to work with others,” eXtreme Restraints affiliate manager James Medina told XBIZ. “It’s also nice that we can reward people for linking to us. As competition goes, our affiliate program gets us customers that we would not have had otherwise.”
eXtreme Restraints doesn’t have dedicated affiliate programs for each brand, but it allows you to deep link through its affiliate program. Affiliates can promote a specific brand — the company provides the link and affiliates just add their affiliate code to the end. They also offer affiliates higher percentages for pushing specific products and give up to a 50 percent payout.
For 20 years Stockroom. com has been selling restraints, sex toys and bondage toys on the Internet. Stockoom.com affiliate stores links to its main site and GayStockroom.com and pays out 10 percent to 25 percent (depending on the dollar amount affiliates bring in) along with an extra 5 percent for webmaster referrals. Working with some of the most successful companies in the content game, they amass great sales and excellent traffic. When users are looking for a specific product, they purchase them from the affiliate-created site through a cobranded link.
According to affiliate manager Mario Morales, “We have had excellent results with our affiliate program, have built strong relationships in the industry and even with some mainstream ventures. We’ve used our program to generate returns, establish branding, and expand our market share.”
Of course there are downsides, including overhead to keep the storefront site running, including customer service, shipping, warehouse employees, programming/IT people and marketing. Morales adds: “It’s not easy to get a great program off the ground and operating smoothly. But, once you’ve established a solid program and are able to come through on multiple levels, it can grow into an essential part of your company.
Sometimes the payoff is more of a long-term investment, but for most, it’s much easier to partner up with a great company like Stockroom.”
Stockroom is currently revamping and relaunching the Syren.com and StormyLeather.com sites and has decided to give its affiliate program an overhaul as well, even though the current program is doing exceedingly well. And, Stockroom has tried a novel approach — it actually asked affiliates for feedback and has added these features to the program.
‘We are working on value adds and sales tools not common in the sex toy business with our next rollout,” Morales said. “One of the things that the new platform will have is a cutting-edge webmaster tool allowing our affiliates to more efficiently analyze very detailed data. Although we’ve been around for years, we’ve just scratched the surface of what toy store affiliate programs have been able to offer so far. Between emerging technology and the increasing availability of merchandise, with all of our brands and vendors, we feel that we will be able to offer an even more comprehensive and lucrative program for both existing and new affiliates.”
One Up Innovations is the creators of the Liberator, a brand of bedroom adventure gear/sex furniture. Its affiliate program covers a family of three websites, Liberator.com, Liberator Extreme (a kinkier version of the liberator site) and Liberator.co.uk, and has more than 1,000 partnering sites. They supply the banners (from lingerie to seasonal themes) and links, affiliates send them the traffic and they get a check for 10 percent of sales and 20 percent of affiliate sales. Affiliate marketing is the only online marketing they use and will generate upwards of $700,000 in gross sales this year.
According to One Up’s Director of Sales Joshua Maurice, “We are a brand with no competition in regards to our product mix. Affiliates drive niche traffic that might not be otherwise captured through review sites, blogs and educational resources.”
Liberator helps its affiliates through heavy marketing in mainstream magazines such as Rolling Stone and Cosmopolitan, and product placement in prominent movies like “Meet the Fockers.” It is always looking for ways to help their affiliates grow their commissions.
Smaller, newer companies are also jumping on the affiliate bandwagon. Just In Case sells a blinged-out case that allows women to be prepared and carry condoms in style. Less than five years old, the company relies on word of mouth and its affiliates to spread the word about their product.
“The affiliate programs are great for new, small companies like ours since it really gets the word out about the product. That is our primary goal with the program. We have a fairly unique product, so our affiliates are mostly blog sites,” said Just in Case co-owner Rachael Sudul. Their affiliate program is simple — refer your website visitors to them and they will pay you a 10 percent commission on all orders. They provide the affiliate link and code and affiliates watch the cash roll in.
One of the hottest toys on the market, OhMiBod, a vibrator that plugs into your iPod, understands just how important a stellar affiliate program is. An affiliate program can be the piece of the puzzle that makes everything come together.
‘An affiliate site is important not only to grow your business, but to make it more mainstream. It is the best way to get your product out there on millions of sites and give you immediate exposure. You pay for performance and there’s no risk,” OhMiBod CEO Brian Vatter said. OhMiBod has an affiliate program through AffiliateFuture — all affiliates have to do is sign up, put the link on their site and get paid for generating leads, sales or visits.
Aneros, inventors of the male prostate stimulator (p-spot) sex toy, had one of the best commissions in the industry for affiliates. They provide affiliates with commissioned banners for their web pages. The Aneros affiliate program was great in the beginning and allowed Aneros to get the word out about their product and infiltrate other sectors of the market. Many affiliates were loyal customers attained through the user forum membership portion of the Aneros site.
“Education is the best marketing tool we have for our product. It is a hard sell to market sex toys to men,” Aneros Executive Director Amy Sung said. She hopes that the new and improved version of the affiliate marketing site will really drive business. Right now, the program is closed to new affiliate applicants. But the original affiliates still will receive a 50 percent commission once the new program and site go up.
Then, there are companies that have unsuccessfully tried the affiliate program model. Pjur, makers of lotions, lubes, novelties and enhancements, tried to build a full-service website for affiliates a few years ago. Pjur offered specials and other items to the affiliates to inspire sales, only to find out that their affiliates weren’t using these tools. What happened was that the affiliates were actually existing customers only looking for a discount on the items they were already purchasing. No new traffic was being driven to the site and a lot of money was spent creating an affiliate website that didn’t pay off.
“Right now we are looking for an affiliate program that will work better for us. This may just be a link on our store website. We want to find the right program that will add value to our products,” Joe Powell, Pjur’s executive vice president of marketing, said.
The “Big Three” novelty companies — Doc Johnson, California Exotic Novelties and Topco Sales — are not planning on having affiliate programs anytime in the near future. They cater more to distributors and their sites function more to provide general information and news.
“We have no plans to sell directly to the public, so no, we don’t have or plan to have an affiliate program,” Cal Exotics Marketing Manager Al Bloom said.
Despite not wanting to plunge into the affiliate market, manufacturers like Topco try to do everything they can to support affiliates.
“We provide products and information to various review sites, many of which link through to affiliates that sell our products,” said Desiree Duffie, Topco’s director of marketing and public relations. “We understand that content and information about our products is vital, especially for those selling on the Internet. We are incredibly liberal with all our content and that is one of the reasons we began to feed it through RSS.
“Anyone selling toys on the Internet can utilize that content anyway they see fit. From our press releases, product information for new releases, to even full articles that can engage the consumer — we provide it at a sales tool for anyone to use.”
Online retailers know they need to adapt a new business model to keep up with the competition. Having a name or an Internet presence isn’t enough. You need to get your name out there, and as much as possible.