How Cotton On is using affiliate marketing to bolster ecommerce globally

Clothing retailer shares how it's tapping new forms of digital marketing to reach audiences in seven global markets

Cameron Lawson, Cotton On Group
Cameron Lawson, Cotton On Group

Cotton On might be a well-known brand in Australia, but that is not the case in each of the seven regions where it sells online.

So when it comes to reaching new customers in markets such as the United States, the company has turned to affiliate marketing specialist, Rakuten, to reach its desired audience.

Head of group digital marketing at the Cotton On Group, Cameron Lawson, has responsibility for overseeing all digital marketing for the retailer’s seven brands across all regions where it operates its ecommerce presence.

“My role is about driving as much qualified traffic though to our sites as possible and building the Cotton On brands,” he says. “Online for us is a massive part of the business. Market shifts are showing that more and more people are shopping online, and we certainly feel we have some catching up to do across the e-com space. So it’s a really big focus for us.”

Lawson says working with Rakuten has enabled Cotton On to identify key partners and publishers who can showcase its products in markets where the brand is not well known.

“We use it a lot as a brand building exercise, and really try to hone in to a customer base that is similar to what we already know is a good customer for us,” he says.

This will be especially important as Cotton On moves into its next new market, South Africa, in early 2018.

“There are always new regions and new opportunities that we want to conquer, so I really feel like we have just started with the affiliate channel,” Lawson says.

The relationship with Rakuten is also beneficial in Cotton On’s established markets, where shoppers might know the brands but are active across a number of sites and publishers.

“We know that our customers are price-savvy and like good value and shop via affiliate channels,” Lawson says. “We need to make sure we are being represented in the channels we know our customers are in.”

Cotton On uses Rakuten to make recommendations and build initial relationships with affiliates, and provide ongoing management services.

“The ideal position is for us to pay for that acquisition in the first instance, drive them through to the database and have repeat purchases come through our free channels which are email and organic,” Lawson says. “It doesn’t always happen, but the strategy is always to get them through the door and retain them through our own channels.

“There is a lot of work that goes into our digital marketing to ensure we are always on brand, front-of-mind for a customer, and shown in innovative concepts or innovative design. We like publishers who come to the table with lots of really great ways to represent the brand.”

Read more: IAB's new handbook signals growth of affiliate marketing

Read more: How AppliancesOnline brings human thinking into affiliate marketing

Lawson estimates that at a global level, affiliates now account for about 5 per cent of total sales.

“It has really grown in leaps and bounds,” he continues. “And it is a very useful channel for us because obviously there is very low risk involved, because primarily we pay on the cost per acquisition.

“All of our customers are across affiliate channels, so it is a really fantastic opportunity to get in front of customers where we wouldn’t be able to get in front of previously, or to get out customers past that last stage to get them to convert on the site.”

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