Your Business Online | Professional Jeweler

November 8, 2000
E-Business Solutions: Part 2
Manufacturer affiliate programs can provide you with an e-commerce solution quickly, but first you need to consider if it's right for you

In the rush to get wired and sell online, many jewelry manufacturers are offering affiliate programs to their retail customers. These affiliate programs vary by manufacturer, but most offer to build the retailer a simple e-commerce Web site -– one filled with the manufacturer's inventory. When a customer makes a purchase from the retailer's online store, the manufacturer processes, packs and ships the order. Then the manufacturer gives the retailer a cut of the profit.

While the idea of an affiliate program is simple, manufacturers are approaching it in different ways. Most provide a simple e-commerce Web site, and retailers can choose from a few different site designs and colors. Some programs, though, do offer more. Verigold, for instance, lets its retailers choose from over 265 site designs, and with Verigold's simple Web management tools, retailers can change the look of their site with only a few mouse clicks. Site maintenance also varies from program to program. Some provide you with the tools to update the site yourself, but others will do everything for you. However, sites that will do it all also usually give you less freedom with the site design and the products you can put on it.

What products can you sell on an affiliate Web site? Most manufacturers set up their programs to include only merchandise they sell. They don't want to sell directly to the consumer, so they create a site for you withtheir inventory on it. You get part of the profit, but the inventory on the site may differ greatly from what you offer in your store. Other programs may only allow you to use their merchandise, but you can select which of the manufacturer's products you'd like to sell. Some even let you choose the mark-up. A few manufacturers, like Verigold, allow you to put up images of your own merchandise, but you can't sell your products online through the site created by the manufacturer. Eugene Biro, however, says it plans to let retailers in its affiliate program sell any merchandise on the Web site it creates.

How products are shipped also varies by program. Most manufacturers will ship the product directly to the consumer. Others will give you or the customer the choice to ship products to your store. As a bonus, many manufacturers are offering to ship products in customized packaging with the store name and address on it.

More-developed affiliate programs even provide you with some extras. Verigold, for example, tracks the activity on your site, so you can see exactly what customers look at and for how long. Eugene Biro helps you learn how to maximize your sales on the Web. GNIj, created by World's Gold and Diamonds Inc., has a design staff that helps you create a completely unique site. Be careful of extra charges associated with these add-ons, and be sure to find out if the affiliate programs you are interested in charge extra for credit-card processing or technical support.

If you do signup with a manufacturer's affiliate program, the first thing to consider is what you want your site to do for you. If you just want another way to make money and don't want to do much work, some programs, like ejewelry, will do everything for you and send you a check each month. If you want to sell merchandise from your bricks-and-mortar store, you will need to search harder for a manufacturer that will accommodate this. Here are some other important questions to ask and consider before joining an affiliate program:

  • Does it offer a variety of site designs or will yours look like all the other sites in the program?
  • Will you have to maintain the site? If so, is there a simple way to make changes without knowing HTML?
  • Can you sell your own products on the site?
  • Are the manufacturer's products something you already carry in your store?
  • Will customers be confused by the merchandise offered on your Web site if it isn't the same as what you carry in the store?
  • How much will this cost, and what are you really getting for your money?
  • Can you use your domain name or have another Web site and link to this manufacturer's?
  • How much of the profit do you get?
Depending on what your e-commerce goals are, an affiliate program could be for you. These programs provide a low-cost solution for selling on the Internet without taking up a lot of your time or burdening you with shipping concerns.

- by Julia M. Duncan