Paul DeMoney is an affiliate marketer’s dream: a shopper who is always ready to buy. Anytime, anywhere. He wants, no, he needs Star Wars action figures, and he doesn’t care where he gets them. Your site. Another e-commerce site. The nearest toy store. Whatever.
He just wants the new toys wherever he can get them. And whenever. No need to wait for the holidays. He’s always looking for new toys. It’s a year-round passion.
“Collecting is much easier nowadays with eBay and all the vendor sites out there,” DeMoney said. “I am no longer at the mercy of toy stores. On the Net, you can always find what you want if you know where to look.”
DeMoney is more than an Internet customer. He is what we call a collector – someone with a passion for product. And what more could an affiliate marketer want?
Imagine marketing to a niche where the shoppers are passionate about buying the items you promote. Envision being rewarded with the lofty commissions that are offered through the different programs offered, with the potential of earning a five-figure monthly income as a top-producing affiliate.
What’s more, these collectors aren’t ruled by season or reason. They will buy anytime, anywhere as long as the item is something they want. Meet your dream niche – collectibles, and your dream target audience – the collectors.
Carolyn Tang understands the collectible industry from the affiliate manager’s perspective. She manages the affiliate program for CollectiblesToday.com. “The collectibles segment is really a lot of fun, and if you like marketing, you’ll love marketing to collectors,” said Tang. “Our consumers are so passionate that it keeps conversion rates healthy.”
The collectibles industry is growing fast. According to CollectiblesToday.com, in the year 2003, the total retail sales reached $3.9 billion in the collectibles niche. A survey done by eBay showed popular items to collect include pottery, glass, dolls, holiday items and sports memorabilia. Popular antique items include fishing nets, weathervanes, metal picture frames and quilts. The number of collectible merchants have increased in the last two years, giving affiliate marketers options to be creative and the ability to earn more when marketing this niche.
“The industry’s continued growth can largely be attributed to Internet sites that sell collectibles,” according to collectibles expert Barbara Crews. “The Internet has completely changed the world of collectibles. Things that we once thought were rare or hard to find are now easily available through online auctions or Internet venues. It’s been the boon and the bane of collectors everywhere. Perceived values have usually dropped as a result of more items becoming available, but the collector is now able to find those bargains and hard-to-find items.”
Unity Marketing’s latest research shows that about 40 percent of US households collect some item. In other words, 43 million American households actively collect something.
“The desire for people to collect things is deep-seated and something that transcends time and place,” said Pam Danziger, president of Unity Marketing and author of the book Why People Buy Things They Don’t Need. “People will spend money to acquire items that they keep, cherish and collect.”
Why They Buy
Creating a profile of the typical collector is no easy task, with good reason.
“A typical collector? There’s no such animal,” said Crews, who is About.com’s collectibles guru. “Many folks collect things that bring back memories of childhood, such as toys they might have had that Mom threw away. Or the cookie jar that sat on their grandma’s counter.”
It is said that collectors have addictive personalities. And their addiction leads to shopping that borders on compulsive. “You’ll find collectors will want one of everything,” Crews said, “every Barbie that’s been made or every Ty Beanie Baby.”
To understand the collector, affiliate marketers must identify what moves the collector to buy. “Today’s collector is younger, smarter, more sophisticated, more affluent and shops in a much wider range of retail venues than yesterday’s collector,” said Danziger. “Reinventing the collectibles industry means getting in touch with the new collector, understanding their wants and desires and creating products based on that.”
Know Your Audience
As with any marketing niche, you must know your audience if you are to succeed. This is critical to success for anyone entering the collectible marketplace.
“If you’re trying to market to a Precious Moments collector, take some time to research the topic and stay updated on product developments,” said Tang. “Know which lines are coming down the pike and keep your finger on the pulse of the collector. Continually ask yourself, ‘What is the collector looking for now?'”
Research conducted by Unity Marketing in 2002 suggests that men are the future of a market once thought to have been dominated by women. “Since the Beanie Babies craze died down, women have turned their attention to decorating rather than collecting,” Danziger said in her book. “While the collectibles industry has sprung up largely serving a female audience, the collector market today is becoming more and more dominated by men with their different collecting interests and passions.”
Men, the Unity study revealed, tend to start collecting at a much younger age than women. “Men carry their collecting passions right from childhood through early adulthood and then on into maturity, while women tend to delay active collecting until they reach 35 years or so,” it said. This is great news for affiliate marketers in the collectibles arena. Not only are more people collecting, they are starting young and shopping into their middle age.
Risk in Rarity
Along with the enthusiasm and excitement that surrounds the area of collectibles, you will find a specific interest in antique and rare collectibles. Using the Internet and online auctions, it is now easier to find items that were once limited and/or hard to find.
How does one protect oneself from purchasing items that are counterfeits and have no value? “Ultimately buyers should make sure they purchase from a well-known dealer in order to protect themselves,” suggests Bill Ferrol, owner of BillBam.com.
The antique market is limited in available merchants for affiliates. This is often due to the fact that rare and valuable items have higher price tags and take longer for a sale to take place. This can require more time and effort on the side of the affiliate marketer. While the commission may be higher – say, 15 percent of $20,000 – the time it takes to make that sale has to be weighed against the profit. Affiliate marketers who do chose to market these rare and valuable items should work with merchants who offer a certificate of authenticity. This will ensure that you protect your credibility and gain repeat orders from customers.
Start Small, Think Big
BillBam.com Affiliate Manager Chris Sanderson recently entered the collectibles marketplace but says there is plenty of room and opportunity for anyone interested in entering the field.
Sanderson encourages more people to enter the niche and offered tips for how to do so. “The market sector of collectibles is very big. There are a fair number of merchants selling collectibles and the sector itself breaks down into a wide range of niches, ranging from plush toys to pins to cards. So there is room for a lot of affiliates to be involved at different levels,” stated Sanderson.
“Start with a small focus on a selection that you are interested in,” said Sanderson. “Mix the collection with items from other stores that fit the selection, add some value to your presentation with some content.
“For example, if you like Star Trek, then start with that selection, find books, videos and posters from other merchants to complement the site and add some content to the site, not only to make it more search engine-friendly, but so that visitors feel that your site is ‘adding value.’ Your content might be about Star Trek, or it might be about the products or the merchants.”
That doesn’t mean the market space isn’t full of competitors. A suggestion from all affiliate marketers that are playing in this space is to pick something you are interested in, have fun with it, and expound on it. This formula, along with some basic skills, will enhance your chance of success.
Competition is Plentiful
“Competition is fierce,” said BillBam’s Sanderson. “There’s a lot of overlap and often it comes down to first to market and largest product range. The price can be a secondary issue for the consumer and affiliates on what is bought.”
Carolyn Tang confirms that competition is fierce but is quick to note the positive in that. “I’m one of those armchair economists who believes that competition makes for a healthy marketplace, so I think it’s a good thing to have,” Tang said. “It also provides an affiliate with options.”
As with any marketing venture, it falls upon the affiliate to establish a niche or specialty in the larger niche. “I haven’t seen any indication that the affiliate market for collectibles is anywhere near saturation,” Tang said. “There are still a lot of niches out there that can be developed.”
Starting is Easy
“Almost any kind of site can be successful,” said Sanderson. “There are obviously the ‘shop store’ style sites that promote the full product range, but also you have sites that might be focusing on a particular TV show, like Star Trek, that can sell collectibles focused just on that niche.”
Creating your own affiliate success within the collectibles industry doesn’t require skills any more advanced than those used in other niches.
“Knowledge of search engine optimization or pay-per-click marketing, or other methods of site promotion would be good to have,” said Sanderson. “No traffic, no sales. For affiliates who want to do datafeed-powered sites, skill in ASP/PHP is useful, as well as potential MySQL.”
“There’s an odd perception out there that the collectibles market is seasonal,” said Tang. “This isn’t completely accurate because collectors are always collecting. They don’t just work on their collection during the holiday season. It’s a year-long hobby for them.”
On the other hand, affiliate marketer Andy Derrick started marketing collectibles in the third quarter of 2003 and enjoyed the rewards he saw over the Christmas season. “There are some serious collectors always buying, but holiday sales offer the most opportunity in this market from my perception,” he said.
Not only do collectors carry on through rain, sleet or snow, they also continue to collect even when the economy is slow. “Even when the economy takes a downturn and their disposable income is squeezed, you’ll see a lot of collectors switching to generic brands to save money for the third issue in a five-part series of, say, plates,” Tang said.
Affiliate marketers who tap into the year-round shopping habits of collectors earn great rewards. For example, Tang’s Collectibles Today just opened a jewelry storefront. Top-performing affiliates average $10,000 to $12,000 a month, while those who might spend a few hours a week tweaking their site pull in a couple hundred dollars a month. Affiliate marketer Pat Hartray of LightHouseStore.com agrees with Tang on the financial benefits: “Commissions for collectibles are above average for the industry. You can find collectible affiliate programs offering anywhere from 5 to 20 percent on sales.”
Because there are so many niches within the collectibles marketplace, there is enormous potential for affiliate growth. In order to experience that growth, take some time to research the products and stay updated on product developments. “Collectibles are fun and entertaining. They have mass appeal,” said Hartray.
The trick is to know what will catch the eye, and the dollars, of the collector. Continually ask yourself, “What is the collector looking for now?”
LAURA SCHNEIDER is the marketing editor for About.com. Her articles on marketing have been published by more than 4,000 Web sites and magazines. She is also partnership development and marketing manager for Revenue Partners where she has developed and managed online marketing ventures for a decade.