Prime Days have exploded with the help of affiliate fees

This week we were barraged with promotions for Prime Days, an event created by Amazon for their Prime members, but now adopted by other online and physical retailers. Prime Days is one of the special times of the year when products go on sale for a few hours or a few days at deep discounts – Amazon’s version of Black Friday. Some items are closeouts, but you can also usually find some great bargains. I saw a Sony 55-inch OLED TV for $1200, a $600 savings, an Amazon eReader at 40% off, and Apple lightning cables for $5.

What was surprising to me was how big Prime Days have become for so many beyond Amazon and how successful Amazon has been in getting so many others to promote it. Promotions were everywhere, even from news sources such as the New York Times, The Washington Post, the Wall St. Journal, and CNN.  You’d almost think it was a national holiday.

It’s not that these news sites are interested in bringing us the latest news about Prime Day. Rather they just want us to click on their links, so they get paid as an affiliate (a fancy name for a kickback) when they write about products going on sale. It’s ironic how some of these same news sites that do serious investigatory reporting about Amazon’s business and labor practices also profit from the company. Perhaps this is not much worse than when some publications would write news stories that promoted their advertisers, but it still comes across as unseemly.

Here’s how they work: Affiliates earn a commission when a visitor to their website clicks a link to an Amazon product and buys it. The visitor must purchase an item within 24 hours or add an item to their cart and purchase it within 89 days. Commissions are typically 1% to 10% of the purchase price, minus shipping, taxes and fees.

The New York Times identified the benefit of the Amazon Affiliates program early on when it bought the product review site Wirecutter in 2016. It’s generally an objective review site, but it offers minimal detail on how it reviews products and the criteria it uses, and the reviews are not very detailed. The reviews come across more as someone’s opinion rather than the results of rigorous comparative testing.

And it’s It’s not just these publications that are profiting from the affiliate program. Affiliate fees are imapcting much of the web, including influencers on Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook, each promoting their own favorite products with a link to Amazon. Consumers Reports, the once formidable consumer testing and review publication also links the products it rates on its site to Amazon to cash in.

Then there are the “Best of” sites that are often another scam to earn these fees. These sites, disguised as review sites, are designed for those searching to find a recommendation for a new product. When they search “Best Widget (or whatever), up comes websites titled “The top ten Best Widgets for 2021,” “Today’s Best Widgets,” etc.  The sites are very light in content with rarely a description of how they test or what their criteria is. Like the newspapers, their goal is to use their clickable links to get you to go to Amazon and make a purchase.

One further caution about these “Best of” sites. Some are created by the product listed as the top choice. As an example, Casper was accused of buying their own mattress comparison site and positioning their own product as number one.

We used to be able to depend on the fully-staffed testing labs run by magazines such as PC Magazine, PC World, InfoWorld and others. But with revenue way down, with few exceptions, most have been unable to support that expense. The best alternative is check user use reviews, but, as I wrote last week, those can’t always be trusted.

When I research a product of try to compare, I check out many different sites and look for some consistency in recommendations and positive reviews, and don’t depend on a single site. I stick to mainstream product tech sites for tech reviews such as DP Review (cameras), The Verge, Cnet, Tom’s Hardware, PCMag, etc. I’ve accepted the fact that all of the sites have come to depend on the Affiliate program as another source of revenue, and there nothing we can do about it, other than to be aware..

by Phil Baker