Honey: One of the Most Successful Affiliates in History & A Growing Threat to the Rest of the Industry

Note: These are all opinions and I have no inside knowledge of Honey’s operations or future plans. If any of my points are incorrect please leave a comment or shoot me a message as I’m very interested in having a complete and accurate understanding.

$4,000,000,000

First of all, hats off the founders of Honey and their incredible outcome and sale to Paypal.

They kept their heads down and built an insanely profitable and efficient extension while the herd of affiliates battled over SERP positions and obsessed about algorithm shifts.

They played their own game and it payed off massively.

That being said I wanted to share a few thoughts and opinions related to the transaction, Honey’s business model, and it’s potential effect on the greater affiliate industry.

Before diving further into this article, it’s important to understand the meaning of 2 industry concepts.

Cookie Stuffing

Cookie Stuffing is an affiliate marketing technique in which, as a result of visiting a website, a user receives a third-party cookie from a website unrelated to that visited by the user, usually without the user being aware of it. If the user later visits the target website and completes a qualifying transaction (such as making a purchase), the cookie stuffer is paid a commission by the target. Because the stuffer has not actually encouraged the user to visit the target, this technique is considered illegitimate by many affiliate schemes.

Wikipedia

Typically this technique can be spotted by an abnormal conversion rate. Either extremely low in the case of the cookie being inserted for broad, unrelated traffic. Or almost 100% if the cookie is inserted by spoofing the brands site or injecting a cookie at checkout.

Although savey affiliates can adjust their traffic mix to make it appear more natural so this isn’t always the case.

Last Click Attribution

Last click attribution modeling is a tracking method that credits the site from which a buyer last clicked before making a purchase.

Coupon Sites & Last Click Attribution

This is the reason coupon sites were able to proliferate and flourish a decade ago.

They would create promo code and coupon pages for every retailer (valid or not, doesn’t matter) hidden behind a button. When the user clicked to see the coupon code, the affiliate cookie was inserted and the coupon site got compensated when the checkout was completed, many times the addition of the coupon affiliate’s tracking code would override the code of a publisher who referred the user to the retailers site in the first place.

Originally brands and retailers loved the volume and conversion rates that coupon sites were able to drive, but many realized over time that many people the coupon sites “referred” had actually already made up their minds to make the purchase before landing on the coupon site when looking for extra savings.

Today, many affiliate program offer lower commission rates for coupon sites or block them entirely, however there are many who still happily accept them as they make their affiliate teams appear invaluable and a large driver of revenue.

A Coupon Site on Steroids: Honey Will Slowly Eat All Affiliate Verticals

Similar to a zombie outbreak, once more and more people install Honey after seeing a TV commercial or hearing a podcast sponsorship they become “infected”. From that point on, any purchase made by the user where the retailer uses last click attribution will likely be replaced by Honey for affiliate commissions.

(Note: Yes, I’m aware that there are linking plugins that claim to “protect” your tracking id. Definitely worth looking into, but I have no experience with these.)

This will only be accelerated as PayPal has virtually bottomless pockets to spend on paid acquisition and cost conscious consumers will spread the word about Honey saving them money.

Unlike Zombies, Honey Actually Helps the User

From a customer’s perspective, if they have little to no concern for their data and browsing privacy, Honey will generally be seen as beneficial. It will find them coupons they didn’t know about and alert them when a product they are watching drops in value.

Everyone loves free money.

Judging by the popularity among millennials and consistently high ratings in the chrome store, the vast majority of users are very happy with Honey saving them money.

It seems the only people with anything bad to say about honey are privacy advocates and competitors.

Sure there are some complaints about Honey not having working coupon codes, but it’s hard to stay angry at a free extension that runs in the background and saves you money.

Even if users aren’t happy with Honey, what percentage of the general public even knows how to uninstall an extension?

Honey’s Effect on Coupon Term Search Volume

Watch for decline in coupon trends as extensions gain in popularity

While it’s important to know that these trends can’t be entirely attributed to Honey, instead they could be due to consumer shopping patterns, changes in retailers use of promo code boxes, retailer declines, ect. It will be interesting to watch for a decline in search volume to “coupon” and “promo code” terms in the coming years.

These are traditionally some of the most valuable and sought after in affiliate SEO, so the shrinking pie will definitely be noticed.

The thought process is that from the moment Honey is installed, the cost conscious user who would usually search for a coupon or promo code at checkout will instead use the Honey extension.

The Largest Cookie Stuffing Operation in History?

Funny how the world works, Shawn Hogan was prosecuted by Ebay/Paypal at the time for alleged cookie stuffing and a little more than a decade later Paypal buys an extension that operates with a very similar method of monetization.

The fact that the user must click or engage with the Honey popup keeps it from being pure cookie stuffing.

From what I can see, Honey isn’t actually cookie stuffing as the user must select their icon or engage with a popup and choose to have a coupon applied before the affiliate id is inserted.

That being said, like the majority of conversions from SEO driven coupon sites, I believe that for the vast majority of conversions that takes place within a browser were Honey installed and gets credit, they were not truly responsible for driving the sale.

There is an argument to be made that when a customer finds an active coupon code through Honey they are more likely to complete their transaction so Honey should receive credit for that contribution in increasing confidence and conversion rates.

Honey does have a product offering for finding deals, tracking prices, and recommending lower priced competitors at checkout. In those cases it is undoubtable that Honey is contributing to making those sales and deserves those commissions. I’d argue that sales made from redirecting a user from a competitors checkout is even more valuable to the brand/retailer.

An Unprecedented Level of Access to Intent & Targeting

By now marketers understand that inbound traffic from Google is some of the most sought after, highest converting, and most valuable traffic sources online.

This is largely because you can align an offering with customers who are actively searching for information or a solution to their problem.

But what is more targeted than an intent based Google search query?

Your current browsing history.

Honey can see all browser data and actions that are taking place within someone’s browser.

Imagine the ability to offer someone a discount for your product/service as they are checking out on a competitors website.

Honey could do this.

They not only can do this, but users are expecting them to, that’s the main reason they downloaded the app. To get the best deals.

The ability to create a bidding platform where companies can bid on showing ads/discounts to customers literally at the checkout of their competitor’s site could be one of the most valuable ad products in history.

Honey Risks

While it may seems that I’m describing Honey as an infallible model that will certainly destroy legacy affiliates, it doesn’t come without significant risks. Namely around privacy concerns, data privacy laws, data breaches, and a complete reliance on Google and the Chrome Browser.

  • Chrome Platform Risk
  • California/GDPR Data Privacy Acts
  • Consumer Privacy Scandal/Expose
  • Retailers taking a closer look at Honey’s true conversion impact
  • Data Breach – Public Outcry

Extension vs Email vs Social vs SEO Affiliate Traffic

Extension users are better and more valuable than all other channels/platforms

In their current form, extensions are better for affiliate marketing than owned and operated websites, email list, and social channels in virtually every way.

Benchmarking The Legacy Coupon Players Extension Execution

SlickDeals

Only 60k users currently, seems like a reactionary move to the Honey acquisition. Great platform and long time couponing audience to promote it to.

Rakuten – Ebates

3 millions users. Definitely taking the extension opportunity seriously

Groupon

~15k users. Didn’t seem to prioritize the channel.

Offers.com

~10k users. Didn’t seem to prioritize the channel.

Dealhack

~2k users. Didn’t seem to prioritize the channel.

CouponCabin

65k users.

RetailMeNot Genie

~400k users. Incumbent mentality of suing to enforce a tech patent after losing marketshare to startup

Competitor Coupon Extensions

Wikibuy

Aquired by Capital One, now has almost 3 users. Investing heavily in paid acquisition channels.

CamelCamelCamel (The Camelizer)

Almost 700k installs, early successful Amazon price tracking site.

Piggy

1.2 million installs – early Honey clone. Seems like an acquisition opportunity for another fintech/payments player

Cently

About 200k users

Otto

Now defunct, part of the Gift Card Granny gift card affiliate team.

PriceBlink

133k users

Browser Extensions – Untapped channel

The acquisition of Honey highlighted the importance of maintaining a presence in your customer’s browser extension or risk that someone else will.

The browser extension has access to override and have influence over all other channels that exist in a desktop environment.

This is especially true if your business relies on a model of last click attribution.

It would be wise to consider building an extension to launch to your existing userbase at minimum. You can include coupon features as well as propriety functions related to your core business. Examples include sports scores, betting lines, political news, job application tracking, job postings, local service deals, crypto/stock prices, ect.

Adware and clickstream data providers will be clawing at you door once you build up a significant userbase if you choose to monetize through that route. And almost any audience would be happy to receive deals and discounts.

Similar to SEO driven coupon sites, affiliate review sites, Viralnova clones, there is room for thousands of profitable “me too” chrome extensions that can exist in the market.

Legacy Coupon Players: Adapt or Die (Slowly)

Between the subfolder JV couponing trend and the growing prevalence of coupon/deal finding browser extensions, pure play SEO driven coupons sites must take a hard look at their long term goals and adapt to these changing realities in the market or accept a slow decline of their business over the coming years.

2 thoughts on “Honey: One of the Most Successful Affiliates in History & A Growing Threat to the Rest of the Industry

  1. Could you write another post on this going into a little bit more detail? I had some questions that weren’t answered here but I liked what you had to say on the subject. Love to hear more of your perspective.

    1. Hi Brian,

      Thanks for reaching out! What specifically do you have questions about? More than happy to discuss further.

      Since I wrote this I’ve noticed 2 major themes:

      1. Amazon has begun publicly fighting back and creating their own extension. Read more here.

      2. Honey has continued to pour money into influencers, TV, & Podcast advertising and has continued to gain marketshare among the valuable millennial demo.

      Still think extensions are a big opportunity to build an audience without the reliance on Google search and are a threat to existing affiliates by replacing their tracking cookies.

      Thanks!

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