Agency: Awin

The Challenge

2009 saw Sainsbury’s developing a brand new site. Previously was used as a grocery shopping site and a hub for recipe content. In 2009 Sainsbury’s carried out extensive research and planned a complete site re-launch. A new platform was introduced and a whole new proposition brought on board – General merchandise (GM). This move would align Sainsbury’s with its competitors, and allow the business to grow online.

A new site was designed, fresh and clean it allowed consumers to effortlessly navigate around the site using robust search functionality, refine bys and breadcrumbs. The new main categories introduced were ‘technology’, ‘home and garden’, ‘sport and leisure’ and ‘toys and games’. With the consumer at the forefront of the objective, Sainsbury’s developed ‘Buying Guides’ for key areas and an onsite product comparison tool. To populate the new GM categories, new product ranges were introduced – ranging from top well known manufacturers to Sainsbury’s own brands.

In order to successfully market the new site two Affiliate Networks, Affiliate Window and Commission Junction were introduced, who would work closely with Sainsbury’s dedicated Affiliate Manager, Anna Corp, to launch and grow Sainsbury’s online using Affiliate Marketing.

The Strategy

How to effectively market the site, product offering and online proposition was a key consideration for Sainsbury’s. The decision was taken to opt out of a large scale above the line marketing campaign and to run a soft launch while the site gained momentum. The affiliate channel was therefore placed as one of the key channels to focus on. Being one of the most cost-effective and dynamic, it would prove to be a sensible option to ensure a clear insight into the ROI from the offset.

The Affiliate Window account management team worked closely with Sainsbury’s to implement full timescales and strategy for the remainder of 2009. This involved breaking down the activity and objectives into four core drives; pre launch phase, launch phase, post launch phase and Christmas escalation. By dividing the objectives and strategy Sainsbury’s were able to task the network with achievable targets throughout each phrase. There were core dependencies which spanned each of the four phases namely revenue targets, perception, reach, technical innovation and creative innovation.

Using the affiliate channel as one of the fundamental drivers to the new site meant that there were aggressive targets set up by Sainsbury’s. A major strength of affiliate marketing is that the cost effectiveness is transparent. Affiliate Window would be able to effectively report back to Sainsbury’s all promotional activity which would take place on a measurable scale. A comprehensive strategy was drawn up to support the forecasts particularly on the GM categories. This, being an area Sainsbury’s were less familiar with online allowed Affiliate Window the opportunity to use their retail expertise to provide reach to a massive audience of affiliates and partners.

One of the greatest challenges which was discussed was how to ensure that the perception of Sainsbury’s online was clearly communicated to affiliates. Affiliate Window needed to ensure that affiliates, and subsequently the consumers they were promoting to, were aware of the new transactional site and ranges offered online. Alongside this it was crucial for Sainsbury’s to launch their first ever in-house affiliate programme in a well executed manner. All parties wanted to ensure that the Sainsbury’s affiliate programme was introduced as a leader in the affiliate industry – ethical, transparent and keen to build long standing partnerships. These are much the same principles that Sainsbury’s as a brand stands for – quality and care. This concept, if passed on to the affiliate programme would be rewarding for affiliates and Sainsbury’s alike. A firm strategy was drawn up to ensure that all the affiliate programme’s Terms and Conditions were very clear and fair to all parties. Allowances to affiliates on paid search were clearly defined and the Internet Advertising Bureau’s ‘Ethical Merchant Charter’ which was introduced earlier in the 2009 was used as a benchmark to ensure the affiliate programme coherently informed affiliates about Sainsbury’s de-duplication policy.

Due to an existing relationship with a previous supplier, the appliances category would not be powered by Sainsbury’s on launch. A strategy was drawn up surrounding how to effectively manage this. A technical solution was provided allowing the cross-tracking of sales from Sainsbury’s own site to the appliances provider for the first six weeks of launch. Technological innovation is key for affiliates so feedback and suggestions from affiliates was encouraged even before launch ensuring the datafeed had all the relevant details in place ready for the launch of appliances directly on

Affiliate Window launched the Sainsbury’s Affiliate Programme on the 10th August 2009. Two weeks prior to this date the new Sainsbury’s site went live. In order to run a successful launch phase, Affiliate Window ran a number of teaser campaigns, making the affiliate community aware that a Sainsbury’s affiliate programme was soon to open. The marketing message Sainsbury’s was using for the site was that “Sainsbury’s just got bigger”. This strapline was run in unison with the teaser campaigns which ensured a significant amount of hype and PR activity was conducted on all the available forums and blogs. Top partners and affiliates had been approached prior to launch to ensure relationships were established from the beginning.

There was an option to ‘pre-join’ affiliates by request to the programme, meaning that the moment the affiliate programme went live there was already a pre-selected list of active affiliates.

In order to effectively drive awareness surrounding the new product categories on the site, several launch competitions were introduced. These were aimed at awarding affiliates in a three-fold way. The first competition offered an introductory £10 gift voucher to every affiliate who drove their first sale within the first month of launch. The strategy behind this was to offer a ‘golden handshake’ to all affiliates, building on the message that Sainsbury’s were keen to award all their affiliates, both large and small. The second incentive focussed around promotion of the Sainsbury’s range. A ‘shopping list’ of products was selected and affiliates were asked to email screenshots of their promotion of the new Sainsbury’s site. The prizes were then issued on a first come first served basis. This was a great opportunity to get affiliates using the various creative that was live, as well as coming up with innovative ways of promoting the brand. The range of prizes offered allowed for a further channel to showcase the range of products on offer. The third and final launch incentive offered was the largest. The competition was promoted as an ‘Online Trolley Dash’. All active affiliates who had generated a sale in the first month of launch went into a raffle draw. The randomly selected winner would then be invited to Sainsbury’s HQ and given a designated amount of time on the Sainsbury’s site to add as many products to their basket as they could. Their prize would be the contents of the basket.

On launch this particular competition was further driven on various forums. Affiliates were encouraged to ‘have a go’ at the Online Trolley Dash in their spare time, creating a hype around the competition, engaging affiliates and getting more users navigating around the new site.
A bespoke consumer competition was also set up with The Mirror and Mirror Cashback. This showcased an A-Z of products that users could now buy online. Every day a new item was selected and a question surrounding the new site was featured. Consumers could enter daily for a chance to win. This competition gained Sainsbury’s exposure not only on Mirror Cashback, but also through offline editorial channels..

Throughout the first month of launch Sainsbury’s ensured they were supplying regular updates and communication. The aim of the initial launch phase was to ensure new content was supplied each week. Creative ways to enhance the message that “Sainsbury’s Just Got Bigger” were used, such as blogs detailing “10 Things you might not know about Sainsbury’s”, which included a list detailing key USP’s affiliates could use such as “70% of the range is exclusively online” and “Collect nectar points on every item”. Ensuring the launch phase had longevity meant Sainsbury’s were able to test and optimise with their affiliate partners. Private rates or discount codes were purposely not implemented on launch, allowing Sainsbury’s time to assess the natural performance of affiliates on a standard offering before testing individual offers.

The Results

The Sainsbury’s programme on Affiliate Window has seen a high degree of success, both in sales revenue generated through affiliates and in the number of engaged affiliates within the programme.

Since launch, the programme has seen an average revenue growth month on month of 168.45% with the lowest monthly increase being 92.06% and the highest rising to 259.16%.

These figures have been achieved by successfully engaging a large number of varied partners, ensuring that as many affiliates as possible are acting on their membership to the programme and promoting Sainsbury’s. The various strategies employed, means that a fifth of the affiliates joined to the programme are actively promoting and generating sales since the launch.

By August, Sainsbury’s had captured significant details on performance and were satisfied with the week on week revenue increases from affiliates. This led to them to releasing their first promotional code in conjunction with the bank holiday weekend. The code was valid throughout the bank holiday and was offered to all affiliates on the programme. The results proved that the offer was well received in comparison with sales generated over a similar previous time period showing an increase of 1100% generated in sales revenue.

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