ePod: Affiliate Sales, No Visitor Loss

ePod Corp. introduced an affiliate program this week to overcome current programs’ main flaw by allowing visitors to buy products from affiliates without leaving the visited site.

“ePod offers relevant content and name-brand merchandise right on the Web viewer’s favorite sites,” said Geoff Clendenning, CEO of ePod, which will debut formally in February. “They don’t immediately hijack viewers to merchants’ sites [and] users don’t need a plug-in to interact with ePod’s multilayered content.”

While affiliate programs traditionally divorce viewers from the site they are browsing, there is a need for consumers to be able to buy products more easily and closer to the information that stimulates their desire to buy, said Jim Nail, senior analyst at Forrester Research, Cambridge, MA.

“Affiliate programs right now are working well, but their big flaw when you [for instance] click on the link, you’re hijacked away from the content you’re reading and you land in the middle of the retailer’s site,” Nail said. “So, it’s disruptive to the kind of experience the user wants.”

Using a builder tool, merchants create ePods or e-commerce enabled microsites and upload them to the ePod.com Web site. Affiliates search the ePod.com site by category to find products that match their target audience and add whichever ones they choose to their Web pages free. ePod then charges the merchants on a cost-per-thousand basis plus a portion of the transaction. In return, ePod distributes the microsites from a central location and provides transaction reports.

“ePods make Web publishers’ sites stickier by keeping viewers on the page,” Clendenning said. “Affiliates can add an ePod to their site by simply pasting a single HTML tag into their Web page; no more cutting and pasting of multiple links.”

Charter clients include teen site bolt.com, video retailer bigstar.com; music rights distributor reciprocal.com; and Canadian cellular service provider Clearnet.com.

ePod’s competition is getting fiercer by the day. New affiliate programs launched by Affinia, Pop2it.com, Nexchange and BroadVision offer technology that similarly requires little customer effort, allowing merchants to anticipate needs or enable purchases to be made at the microsite.

Also, there are other companies offering new technology, said Forrester’s Nail, including companies like ClickBuy and CyBuy.

But the analyst is more worried about a long-standing advertising dilemma that plagues direct marketers.

“[ePod’s] little kiosks tend to have a number of products in them, so I wonder how the consumer will react to that,” Nail said. “It’s classic direct mailing: The more products you feature, the lower the response. Online, will that kind of dynamic hold?”

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