Merchants, Are Your Product Feeds Leaving Affiliates Hungry?

An affiliate is in need of good product feeds as much as Portsmouth FC are in need of a couple of quid. The latter merchants probably can’t do much about (sorry Pompey dudes, hope it works out) but why the heck are product feeds still a flaming problem? Does anyone look at them? Check them? Care about them?

First the good news – things have improved. There does seem to be better descriptions, product names, manufacturer codes etc – and on the surface everything in the garden looks rosy! That is until you start looking for something and the following two examples have been encountered far too often of late…

New Products On Websites

An affiliate spots that Merchant X has some wonderful tshirts on their site and thinks “hey that could be a nice central point for a blog post”. They head over to their clever little feed tool or perhaps easy content units (who will have the same feeds) and search for those wonderful items. They’re not there!

So where are they? OK let’s allow 24 hours for an update! Days pass and still those products don’t appear.

Result: Merchant doesn’t get promoted!

Items In Emails

Quite honestly this gets right on the proverbials. You receive a wonderfully crafted email from a merchant. The items are screaming “promote me! promote me!” and so you set to work. Is it in the feed? Oh dear, no it isn’t. Again let’s be patient. In the words of Annie “ya gotta hang on ‘Til tomorrow” as it’s only a day away. But no, sadly those items don’t appear.

They’re pre-order items and therefore aren’t going to be in the feed!

Result: Merchant doesn’t get promoted!

So here’s a February challenge to all who are charged with managing product feeds for their clients.

1. Go and check the product feed and make sure it’s up to date
2. Check the images and links. Can an affiliate use them?
3. Check that the feed is being updated daily (or as frequent as required)
4. Make sure it’s being updated. Do spot checks!
5. See if new products on site appear in the feed.
6. Make sure old products are being removed.
7. Do tests on downloads. Are the feeds usable in both XML and CSV.
8. Do tests on putting CSV feeds and XML feeds into a database.
9. Make sure all site items are in the feed and are properly categorised.
10. Go back to 1 and repeat.

Now, it’s appreciated that some of the above is a faff and some may not have the technical know how to check some of suggestions, but in simpler terms – please check the feeds and if you see they’re not right, get it sorted!

And please don’t send emails with products to promote that aren’t in your feed! Just because they’re on site doesn’t mean affiliates can get to them via your feeds. We have tools, whether they be our own, third party like ECU, or networks and if your items aren’t right, up to date or in the correct format you’re losing out on promotion.

Even worse for you… if your competitors are up to date and have brilliant product feeds then they’re going to be used instead!

5 Comments Merchants, Are Your Product Feeds Leaving Affiliates Hungry?

  1. Lammo January 28, 2010 at 7:07 pm

    Feeds are a lot better than they used to be, but a huge number of merchants simply don’t keep them up to date – they keep out-of-stock items in there because “they’re due back in a few days/weeks/months”, they fail to add temporary product lines, and they don’t alter the feed prices when the on-site prices change.

    The only thing that will change this is good merchant education – we’re nagging merchants on a daily basis at ECU, and I know most networks take a similar stance, but there are more than a few networks for whom product feeds are an after-thought, and many many merchants who don’t know how or why they need to update their feed.

    IMO every merchant’s feed should be interlinked with their own inventory database – That way every item on there is in stock, and priced correctly. Quite a few do this, but perhaps the networks should club together and offer a free inventory/feed creation/management tool to all their merchants?

  2. Matt Bailey January 29, 2010 at 12:51 pm

    Hi Jason/Lammo,

    Obviously agree completely on the importance of feeds etc. In order to do something about it, could I suggest that you speak to Kevin Edwards, new Chair of the IAB Affiliate Council, as I believe that he has an education piece on the best practice when producing/maintaining a feed on his roadmap.


  3. hero January 31, 2010 at 11:09 am

    from our end as a network, feeds (unlike the stats :-)) DO make or break a retail program, so at Webgains we do not launch a program without a feed, end of (disclaimer: exceptions do occasionally occur but in the UK I believe there have been 3 exceptions in the 4.5 years I’ve been there).

    So, 1. we don’t launch without a feed. 431 live programs on the UK, 352 have a feed, that’s 82%. The remaining 18% is dating, gambling, lead gen programs for the most, and some retailers whose feeds we disabled for poor quality.

    2. the feed we get is scrutinised for its quality – we have sector templates which we strongly recommend are followed by the merchants. Categorisation is important too, so we are very particular with that. To the point that we might delay the launch, but I believe it’s best to get it right from the start rather than troubleshoot later (lucky I’m not a developer, I would never finish a project).

    3. the feeds are largely automated and on daily updates. This means that they pull the info directly from the site real time or close enough and we get that info every night. Some merchants do need to push the file for update even if it’s automated. Manually updated files are chased up and we mostly manage to have them updated. We display the date of the last change, so affiliates can see who updates and who doesn’t.

    4. we have quality control in product and image urls, as well as pricing info. We check 100 products from each file and display our findings to the affiliates in the feed checker. We use that too to troubleshoot feeds with the merchants.

    And, 5. if you do spot any problems with a feed, give us a shout and we are very fast to get it fixed if we can from our end, or pester the merchant until it is.


  4. BLOGERCISE February 2, 2010 at 1:47 pm

    Agree that feeds are all to often of poor quality. Missing products or incorrectly categorised, and in some cases incorrectly formed feeds all result in missed promotion.

  5. Bob February 3, 2010 at 2:56 pm

    It would be nice if rogue characters in the feeds could be automatically identified as well. I’ve lost count of the number of times our db has thrown an error on an incoming feed and then when you view it in Excel you can see all sorts of rubbish, some of it absolutely trivial from a db point of view eg. commas in the product field which wreck the parsing, not to speak of hashes, double quotes etc. etc.

    Some networks have way more problems sorting their incoming merchant feeds than others, so I assume that the ones that work well have various character filters on the incoming feeds.

    Presumably the networks with reliable feeds have a database guru. Its certainly needed as its no easy job to screen for sets of rogue characters and replace them with spaces or whatever. Bad enough doing it manually !

    Mind you, although I have a friend who seems to be able to name a price for working on corporate databases, apparently general db work doesn’t pay that well.


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