The Strengths and Limitations of Common Preventive Measures

Manual Search

Much can be done with the combination of an inquisitive mind and one’s favorite search engine. Fortunately, coupon codes are strings of text that search engines are perfectly equipped to handle. So when a merchant needs to check up on legitimate codes, they’re in luck.

Let’s say a code is “BIKEDEAL2013” at the merchant, and that the merchant wants to check up on where this code is distributed. A few targeted searches with “BIKEDEAL2013” in quotes and various modifiers such as “coupon” or “code” can quickly reveal many of the sites who have posted the code. From there, one can approach the violating sites and request removal of the codes.

Noisy Search Results

Although manual search is a valuable starting point for investigation, it is likely to return with a considerable amount of noise. Many coupon codes tend to be composed of common phrases or terms (such as in BIKEDEAL2013), as they are easier for shoppers to remember. But these search terms will often return incredible numbers of unrelated results, making the code difficult to research.

Even with more unique codes, it can be difficult to quickly track down all sites where a given code appears. One website may have dozens of pages that end up in the results, burying some websites deep within the rankings. And at the same time, the investigator may have to deal with completely irrelevant pages in the search results. This all contributes to a lengthy process, making it a challenge to respond effectively.

Google and Twitter Alerts

Alerting services, such as Google Alerts and Twilerts can send email notifications for specific keywords one wants to monitor. Even more useful, these sites can send notifications as they happen. (In Google Alerts, this is a standard menu option. And although somewhat hidden in Twilerts, entering “every 10 minutes” or some other variation into the When field can trigger alerts at such a frequency.)

This makes them a worthy option when choosing to launch a new code. For an organization that generally runs a limited number of promotions at once (up to 20 or so), these alerts can be a useful tool.

Limited Filtering Capabilities

However, these alerts do not allow the user to whitelist or blacklist any results. Nor do they detail any affiliate relationships or associations that a site may have. They simply return all relevant content to the search terms, without much of a filter. A user might receive dozens of emails regarding legitimate coupon sites or affiliates before seeing anything suspicious.

Commission Reversal

In certain cases, upon recognizing that affiliates are misusing coupon codes or abusing their policies, merchants will elect to manually review commissions. When an investigator finds behavior linking sales due to affiliate traffic with coupon codes, the commissions for that sale is taken out of the affiliate’s payment.

This can be highly beneficial when such transactions are in high volume and are easy to find. Sometimes, with the right data set and the appropriate queries, thousands of these transactions can be uncovered in minutes.

Often a Slow, Inefficient Process

In cases with intricate forensics, the returns quickly diminish. The information is complex and the volume is usually lower. Furthermore, difficult investigations are more likely to result in errors—which can harm a merchant’s relationships with productive affiliates.

Commission Overrides

Commission overrides are mentioned in one of the sections above. But to recap: some systems can be automated to prevent the double-hit of discounted prices combined with affiliate commissions. In these cases, when a code is entered, certain affiliate relationships are ignored.

For example, let’s say a merchant provides a specialty code (at a deeper discount than normal) to an affiliate. To compensate for that exclusive promotion, the affiliate agrees to accept a lower commission rate than normal whenever that code is used. But what if a different affiliate copied the code? Would they still get their full commission?

Not with an override. The merchant’s system ignores all other affiliate relationships when this specialty code is entered, crediting the special affiliate with its discounted commission instead. This prevents other affiliates from profiteering off of the specialty code.

In other cases, a merchant may want to prevent all of its affiliates from earning commissions off of certain codes. In these scenarios, the system simply ignores all affiliate relationships entirely—granting no commission at all. The merchant absorbs only the discount, without having to pay any affiliate on top of it.

Does Not Prevent Code Proliferation

While this method can be highly effective for companies with the tools and resources to set it up, it only goes so far. Though it may prevent affiliates from taking unearned commissions, it cannot prevent the spread of coupon codes to websites. It will not assist marketers in limiting the redemptions of their codes. So although they may no longer be double-spending by paying a commission and cutting their prices, they may receive an unsustainable or unprofitable amount of orders.