E-commerce is flying! Data released this week by the U.S. Census Bureau shows that e-commerce is up 44.5% from the same period last year. So while the economy as a whole is struggling in the wake of a global pandemic, it has proved to be an accelerant for people buying online.

Awin is at the forefront of e-commerce worldwide with 14,600 merchants using them to power their affiliate programs globally. This week, I interviewed Paul Stewart, Head of Global Strategic Partnerships & Innovation at Awin. Check out our conversation to see Paul's predictions for Q4 2020 and why Awin decided to double down on app tracking with Button.

1) Rob: Tell us where you are right now and a little more about your working set up?

Paul: I'm currently working from home in Amsterdam. Having recently moved, I now have the luxury of converting the spare room into an office. Previously, my other half and I would have to run between rooms when taking conference calls, which did have the silver lining of helping with the step count if nothing else!

2) Rob: Are you heading back into the office yet?

Paul: Yes, I'm in the office one to two times a week.- Awin has allowed each office to open in a way that is sensible for the region. In the case of the Netherlands, you must register your intent to go into the office at least 24 hours before (to monitor numbers), and you must ensure you've neither used public transport nor travelled outside Amsterdam in the previous two weeks. We also have dedicated desks and regular cleaning throughout the day. 

The switch to working from home has been a pleasant surprise though in the midst of this crisis, given its general success—I'm sure there will be fundamental changes to the way we work post-Covid. 

3) Rob: Tell us a bit about yourself. Where you come from and how you landed up in affiliate marketing in your career path. 

Paul: I graduated from university having studied Economics and Politics, with not much of an idea of what to do after that. I quickly worked out that the banking industry wasn't for me and then through a series of marketing roles eventually ended up in charge of an affiliate program for a small eBook seller (not surprisingly struggling to compete with the Goliath in eBooks). I came across Awin in that role and then joined in 2009 as a campaign assistant on the BT program. That was start of an eight-year journey I'm still on, where I managed and then led the BT affiliate team, moved over to head up the UK Publisher Team before finally landing where I am now: founding and growing Awin's strategic partnerships team and helping position the network to support and grow innovative and exciting tech companies, such as Button. 


4) Rob: What has been the impact of Covid-19 on Awin so far? How has Awin shifted course as a result? 

Paul: Initially the uncertainty meant there was a lot of pulling back or pausing of programs from the travel sector, small businesses, and companies with a brick and mortar presence.  There were however those that saw massive gains (home-fitness, DIY, insurance, gaming etc.). These rapid changes made it very hard for publishers to work out what was going on, it also made it difficult for some brands to know if they could continue. Because of that, Awin centralized all the information on account statuses for publishers and pulled together product data so that in the event of a program closing publishers could quickly find alternate retailers. We also provided network-level reporting to make clear which retailers were growing, with the goal of ensuring that publishers were promoting in the areas that would generate them the most secure revenue. For retailers, we waived any fixed fees or exclusivity requirements to help SME's quickly open up affiliate programs and try to not only recoup some offline losses, but also take advantage of the huge surge in traffic that was occurring. 

An interesting trend I noticed is that there are companies in the same sectors selling the same products in the same regions, but a few are doing considerably better than others. I boil this down to the speed with which they were able to adapt and lay down a budget. Once the initial impact was understood, they actually doubled-down rather than held onto budgets, and grabbed huge market shares because of it. It's also worth bearing in mind that this is not just an existing market, but a whole new one as people that rarely shop online now do so as default. 

5) Rob: How do you think it has affected you vs the wider affiliate industry? And what do you think will be its impact on our industry in the long run?

Paul: I think Q4 is going to be the biggest quarter yet, with the affiliate channel primed to have its biggest year yet. We will see the brands who adapted their strategies to a post-Covid world by refocusing their efforts to being fully online-first benefiting most from Q4's growth.

6) Rob: What value did Awin see in Reach? Why are app tracking and installs important to the affiliate channel?

Paul: Awin strives to be at the forefront of performance marketing, both through our own innovation and working with cutting-edge partners like Button. This partnership works so well because we're solving the same problem from different sides: Awin brings a web-based tracking solution and global client network and Button brings its expertise in the in-app world with a specific focus on performance partnerships.

"As with all great partnerships, the combined solution is greater than the sum of its parts. Retailers are now able to track and report more accurately with no additional operational requirements and publishers are able to use existing links and finally be accurately rewarded for the value they drive to a retailer's app."  

Why is app tracking important to the channel? Not only is it especially important for content publishers and thus industry diversity, but tracking in-app purchases and installs should be at the top of a brand's strategy too. Time and time again app-customers have been shown to provide more commercial value and if a brand's current strategy is to send these users to a mobile website because tracking isn't in place, then money is not only being left on the table but customer experience is being compromised. The brands that do this right will be at the top of publisher's promotional plans.

7) Rob: Why is now the right time to be thinking about holistic app affiliate strategy?

Paul: Given the large increases in online users and the need for retailers to make up lost ground, having a holistic strategy will not only give you better data to make better decisions, but it will mean that you're putting in place solutions that will make your marketing campaign more appealing, helping it stand out amongst the plethora of brand offering out there. 

8) Rob: How important is it for brands to test, experiment, and evolve in order to help the affiliate channel become more sophisticated in order to make every dollar count?

Paul: This has always been hugely important, but now even more so. Given that the market has shifted, old assumptions can't be considered to be true anymore - they need to be tested. And brands that do more of this will win. The pressure on marketing budgets means that subjective decisions no longer hold water, data accuracy and actionability will speed up the movement of budgets from offline to online.

9) Rob: If you could be any button, what button would you be?

Paul: I would be the "Room 101" button - so I could put 2020 in it!

For more information on Reach, visit usebutton.com/reach.