Disclaimer: This post is NOT an attack on creators who choose to use affiliate links to any degree but an overall critique of the use of them. Also, these are just my opinions.
I have to be honest, I sometimes dread the “Where did you get that from” question.
I was walking out of a Wawa a few weeks ago when a woman stopped me in my tracks to ask where I’d gotten my coat from. I had to tell her it was a secondhand find but I’d seen similar coats at H&M and Zara. The look on her face was a mix of disappointment and irritation; possibly thinking I was gatekeeping the information. Since most of my closet is thrifted, I always find myself having to tell people out in the world where they can find similar items because the ones I have on are either vintage or so out of season the retailer doesn’t carry them any longer. When it comes to my role as an “influencer”, it’s a time-consuming hunt to find similar matches to what I’m wearing so most of the time I will only link to what I’m wearing in a blog post and not my daily IG post. In the five or so years I’ve had my affiliate account, I’ve made $31 bucks and the bulk of that came from someone asking for a link to a dress I had on a few years back. I’m sure in that time I could have made more, but it’s always made me feel uncomfortable volunteering information no one asked for. Here you are looking at a cute IG story of Lou laying on the bed and out of nowhere, I tell you where I got my blanket from and link to similar ones for you to shop.
Creators make a commission from affiliate links, and those commissions can really add up. During the Amazon Prime Day sale, one influencer sold $100k worth of products and the cut, roughly 10% netting her $10,000. To get those types of sales, creators have to have a well-nurtured and dedicated following who trust what they recommend and have been conditioned to use their links to get details on what they’re wearing or products they are using because very rarely will a creator who heavily uses an affiliate partner will outright tell you where they got something from because they want you to go to their affiliate link and hopefully make a purchase so they can get a coin off the backend. And in this economy, I can’t knock that hustle.
The normalization and conditioning of seeing links starts early and is so ingrained into how some creators will interact with their following if you don’t pay attention, you will miss it. It starts with them saying they get so many questions about where things are from, they have decided to join an affiliate platform and will link things there going further, introduce you to the account, and how to use it. They will start to add call to actions to the copy of their Instagram post getting you accustomed to heading there for details on what they are wearing. A cute IG picture of them out walking their dog will come with a witty caption followed by that all familiar “and you can shop this look via my (enter affiliate platform here) by clicking the link in my bio”. On stories, you will hear them say on a regular basis things like, “I know y’all will ask” or, “I always get so many questions about…” to make it seem as if they’re inundated with questions so they want to link it before they get them. You will hear buzz statements like, “Every time I post this it sells out” or “There are only x left in stock” to create this sense of urgency and FOMO. IG story “try on” hauls with links to every single item or; and this is a bit dated, “links I love” or “weekly roundup post” that, of course, include shoppable links. All of these practices just give cover for posting links on a consistent basis so it seems normal. The linking ramps up during holidays and high sale dates such as the infamous N-Sale; you will see a lot of “try on” hauls for this one, and Amazon Prime Day (or as I like to call that the “throw links at the wall and see what sells” day) because the commission rates on those days are often higher than normal. But because you are used to seeing links, this does not seem out of the normal.
Affiliate commission is so lucrative, there are entire accounts that are dedicated to sharing products and links.
This is not a one-sided operation either. Us creators can see on the back end what products we link to are getting the most clicks and sales and that information is used so we build a strategy of what types of products our audience likes to see from us. We get emails that include important sales dates, notifications of when things go on sale; we sometimes get a heads up on when major retailers are going to have a sale, tips on how to make the most of major holidays, and content “challenges” to give us ideas of what to post and links to go along with it. And these companies make a cut as well, so it is in the best interest to push creators to sell. In 2017 the affiliate platform Like To Know It reached 1 billion dollars in sales.
Society’s insatiable appetite for instant gratification breed this type of “see now, buy now” type of selling. No longer were we taking the time to think over our purchases, we were just buying and hard not to when it was right in your face. Couple that with the need to keep up with the Jones, the perfect storm was created. I fully blame this style of marketing for the “copy and paste” era in fashion history; no personal style, just vibes
I follow a lot of creators and they all link to a varying degree, but ones who linked daily; to include the call to action in the copy of every IG post to shop their affiliate links, I’ve unfollowed. I got tired of being sold to every day. I could tell they didn’t really love the products they were promoting, they just wanted to get as many people as they could to buy a certain product, even ones that didn’t make sense for them to use based on their content. It was a straight money grab.
Now back to why I rarely use my own affiliate links.
When I first decided to blog, it was never to sell people on stuff but to sell them on the idea that you could have a style shopping secondhand. And now that I’ve shifted from just creating the obligatory “five ways to style a white button-down” or “four outfit ideas for a holiday party” to content that speaks more to finding your personal style and think pieces, I would almost feel like a hypocrite constantly posting links to things I’m wearing; how can I preach mindful shopping while encouraging you to shop? Now, this is not me saying I hate on other creators who do this or won’t do it myself on a rare occasion, I just choose not to do it unless I’m asked about something in particular. To me, it help fuels overconsumption and that’s something I’m trying to stay away from in my own life so why would I want that for someone else. I much rather someone look at what I’m wearing and instead of trying to copy and paste my look, they see if they can recreate with things they already have.