Selling affiliate products on Shopify might sound like a completely bonkers idea. While Shopify is mostly built for selling your own physical products, with some app magic you can turn your Shopify store into an affiliate selling machine.
Before you dismiss the idea of selling affiliate products through your Shopify store, let me briefly explain why this is actually a great idea.
Affiliate marketing is by far the most stress-free way to make money online. You sell other people’s products and you bag a commission.
This is most certainly not a new idea but applying affiliate marketing to Shopify is a fresh approach to an old idea.
With this strategy, you will use your Shopify as a virtual storefront. For all intents and purposes, it will look and feel like you are actually selling the products BUT your Shopify store will only redirect customers to the real store where they will complete their purchase – and you can bank your commission.
Let us look at this in more detail and let me highlight all the benefits of selling affiliate products through Shopify.
Why Sell Affiliate Products on Shopify?
Shopify allows you to sell affiliate products in a way that no other platform can (except for Woocommerce of course). The way Shopify stores look and are laid out has become a “standard” that online shoppers recognize.
This allows you to set up a “store” that looks and feels like any other store BUIT with one big difference: you don’t actually sell anything.
Your Buy Now buttons will simply redirect customers to the actual product you are promoting on your merchant’s store where they will check out.
You get to set up product listings and build a great looking store (preferably a niche store) that is in reality only a virtual store.
So, what are the main benefits of selling affiliate products on Shopify?
1. No inventory
Having a store with no inventory sounds too good to be true, right!? With dropshipping, you don’t have any inventory either but you still have a huge headache of managing inventory from some third party like Aliexpress.
In many ways, managing inventory is the toughest part of running an eCommerce business. Removing this variable from the equation makes life so much easier.
2. No customer support
If you are only “selling” affiliate products then you don’t have any customer support to deal with. If you’ve been doing any dropshipping then you probably know how draining and how time-consuming it can be.
Removing the headache of customer support will not only free up your time but free up additional resources that you can put into your marketing.
3. No Chargebacks or Payment Issues
When selling affiliate products on Shopify you don’t really sell anything. You are basically using Shopify as a CMS (content management system).
If a customer wants to return an item, file a chargeback, or claim a refund then you won’t even know about it. All that will be taken care of by your merchant.
4. No Fees
If you are not selling any products on Shopify then there will be no transactions occurring on your store. This means that you don’t have any Shopify fees other than Shopify’s subscription charges.
Not only is this cheaper, but it allows you to predict your expenses much more accurately.
5. Get to “sell” Big Brand Products
Want to sell Gucci products that are not fakes from China? Want to sell Nike sneakers that are not a cheap knock-off?
Now you can! And you can do it 100% legally and without having to go through the hugely complicated process of becoming a licensed retailer for these big brands.
This really is a short cut to selling amazing products from big brand companies. Shoppers are actively looking for these brand products online.
Unlike selling no-name products from China, brand products require very little “selling” since the brand itself does the selling for you.
6. Build a list
One of the biggest advantages of selling your own products is that you get to build a list of buyers. A buyer list is worth gold – especially in eCommerce.
You can sell to this same list of buyers over and over again. This takes a bit of ninja magic to set up on your Shopify store but is completely possible.
Disadvantages of Selling Affiliate Products on Shopify
So, having a Shopify store that can sell high-end brand products, you don’t have to worry bout inventory, fulfillment, customer support, refund, chargebacks or even Shopify fees.
What’s the catch?
There’s a few actually. Here are the biggest disadvantages of selling affiliate products on Shopify.
The biggest problem with selling affiliate products on Shopify is profit margins – or affiliate commissions in this case.
Affiliate programs for physical products pay small commissions compared to digital products. There are many reasons for this, but in general physical products run at smaller margins.
Amazon has been the “go to” for selling physical products as an affiliate. They have a commission structure and pay anything from 2% to 8%.
They did a big cut in commissions in mid 2020 which has really hurt affiliates and in my opinion, Amazon’s commissions are too low to make work with an Affiliate Shopify store.
2. Affiliate Programs
There are quite literally thousands of affiliate programs out there. Most big brands have their own affiliate programs. There are also a number of big affiliate networks besides Amazon Associates.
The big challenge is getting accepted by these networks and then getting approved to promote certain products.
Big brands protect their brand fiercely and can be incredibly strict on whom they allow to promote their products.
I would strongly recommend you find products that you know you can actually promote before you start building out your Shopify affiliate store. Many brands won’t like what you are doing and won’t approve your application based on showing them a Shopify store selling their products.
Because of the low commissions, you could earn, your Shopify affiliate store won’t be able to use any paid traffic. There is just not enough margin to pay for traffic and still make a profit.
This means that you will have to rely on free and organic traffic. This could be a great thing – especially if you sell a brand product that has good search volume with low competition (you can use SEMRush to find these)
4. Shopify Costs
While you won’t have any fees to pay to Shopify, you will still need to pay your Shopify subscription which is at least $29/month.
While it is not a huge amount of money, it can eat into your profits if you have to add a few more apps into the equation.
When you sell affiliate products, it is vital that you track everything. You need to see where the clicks are coming from and what results in conversions.
This can be a bit tricky if you build a Shopify affiliate store with a big catalog of products. For now, the best solution I know of is Google Analytics and you can append some standard Google UTM parameters to the end of your affiliate links.
Important Tips For Selling Affiliate Products on Shopify
Selling affiliate products on Shopify can be very lucrative. In theory, you can have very little expenses and have all the benefits that big Shopify stores have.
Here are a few important tips to make it work.
1. Getting Approved
Getting approved for an affiliate program is probably the biggest deal here. You need some sort of website or marketing channel in order to get approved but you don’t want to build out a full store only to get disapproved.
It’s a real cath 22 situation.
The best way to deal with this is to stay away from the big affiliate networks I mentioned earlier. They are full of shit. Search instead for tier 3 or tier 4 brands.
These are not necessarily products you see advertised on TV but they still have brand recognition. A brand or a product that run their own affiliate program is a much better bet.
You can talk to someone before you invest any time or energy.
To add to our previous point I would also say that finding tier 3 or tier 4 brands and products generally pay much higher commissions.
Amazon can always be a fallback, but it should never be your go-to. The commissions are just too low.
The exception however is if you can go after high ticket items. In general, your Shopify affiliate store should aim to only sell products $100 and above. Anything below that is just not worth it from a commission point of view.
Before Amazon cut their commissions you could earn 8% on furniture. Now it is only 3% which is a pittance. You are much better off finding other furniture retailers that could offer you up to 10%.
3. Affiliate Terms
You need to pay very close attention to the affiliate terms of the program and products that you promote.
If you do anything that violates their terms, they will cut you off and keep your unpaid commission. I would recommend you get in touch with an affiliate manager before you even build your store and run your strategy past them FIRST.
Remember, they want to make money too and you are getting them free sales. They want you, but they don’t want you doing anything shady.
If you have a normal Shopify store, then your job is to use your store to SELL. With your affiliate Shopify store, your job is to PRE-SELL.
Since you are not actually selling the products yourself your job is much easier. Pre-selling is all about warming up the customer so that when they do see the product they are convinced much easier.
Using great images, providing detailed descriptions with great copywriting is essential to effectively pre-sell products.
How To Sell Affiliate Products on Shopify
To sell affiliate products on Shopify instead of selling your own inventory you will need an app to change up Shopify’s standard functionality.
Essentially, all you will do is to change your Buy It Now or Add to Cart buttons to become link out buttons to the actual products you are promoting.
You also need the app to help you manage all your affiliate links and if possible add the no-referrer to your links or mask your affiliate links. This helps with SEO as Google does not like a site that is littered with affiliate links.
The best app for the job is Affiliate External Outlinks. You can use it alongside your existing Shopify store that is already selling (your own) physical products or you can build an entire store with just affiliate products.
It is already integrated with almost all the big affiliate networks which makes it really easy to set up.
The basic plan is just $5/month and allows you to doe everything you need to do. The Pro Plan at $10/month allows you to import products.
This can save you a lot of time in creating product listings. I would add that you need to make sure you are allowed to use the images it pulls into your listings.
This app is a no-braner. You can’s sell affiliate products on Shopify without an app like this and this one makes it easy.
Selling Affiliate Products on a Shopify Store – A Few More Ideas
Like most things in eCom there are a lot of ways to skin this cat. Running a hybrid model where you sell both affiliate products and your own products can also be very powerful.
You can also combine selling affiliate products with selling information products on your Shopify store.
You can combine almost any product with print on demand products which is a very effective way to sell your own products without doing any of the heavy lifting.
If the monthly Shopify fee is putting you off then you have 2 options. Woocommerce and WordPress is not free but it is a one-off setup fee (with the exception of your hosting costs).
If your traffic plan is based on SEO then it could take months before you start seeing any real traffic. If you have to pay Shopify’s $29 fee for 6 months then you will rack up a huge bill without any commissions to show for it.
The real secret to making a Shopify affiliate store work is to find the right products to “sell”.
The perfect product will…
- Be priced above $100
- Have at least an 8% commission
- Have a recognizable brand name
- People are already searching and looking for it on Google
- Will have high volume searches with low competition (use SEMRush to find these)
- Be 100% okay with you selling their products in your Shopify store
These are all pretty tough criteria but when you start digging into lesser now niches you will find these products everywhere. Stay away from Tier 1 brands like Gucci or Nike. There are just too many issues.
Here are some ideas for products to look for.
- Furniture: dentist chair? Massage table? Yoga bench? – think in terms of niches)
- Jewelry: high ticket items and they are hungry for affiliates
- Fitness equipment: high ticket with loads of great affiliate programs around
- Specialist equipment: Microscopes, metal detectors, car parts
- B2B Products: business to business products are usually high ticket
The options are really endless when you start thinking outside the conventional products. Spend your time finding the right products.
An affiliate Shopify store that gets organic search engine traffic can be a long term asset that can earn you commission on autopilot for years to come.
While one store might not make you millions, a few stores can earn you a full-time income quite easily.