Bing is discontinuing their Bing Cashback program as of tonight at 9 PM PST. The program allowed customers to receive a percentage of their purchase back (anywhere from 2% – 10% usually) if they visited the merchant using Bing’s shopping search. As a consumer, I thought this was an awesome program. I got over $100 back when I bought my new laptop from HP a few months ago.
The reason I’m writing a post about it though is because I also loved the program as a merchant.
Detailed Image was accepted into the program just over a year ago. The “onboarding” process was a total pain – the spec was 40+ pages and changed during my development (without notifying me of course), it impacted just about every key page on our site (home page, item page, checkout page, order complete page), and it took almost a month for them to test our site before approval – but once we got it going, it was pretty awesome.
We set it up so that for every sale we paid out our affiliate rate, which is calculated using a previously-determined formula that factors in our cost of goods sold to allow us to pay out as much as we can while still making a profit after other discounts are factored in (sale prices, coupon codes, etc). Generally this number is in the 4-6% range, but it can obviously vary depending on the type of product.
I really wanted to write a post about all of this at the time, but we decided this was one of those things we’d rather not draw attention to since none of our competitors were part of the program. This unfortunately has been happening more lately, which kind of sucks…but I digress.
As time went on it provided a steady flow of sales, nothing business-changing, but nothing to ignore either. Every new customer and every sale matters, and Bing was definitely bringing us some large sales and some new customers. Even when our current customers used it, I’d like to believe that they bought more because they knew they were getting a percentage back, although that’s impossible to validate.
I spent this morning removing the Bing code from our site. I was saddened and a bit disappointed that Bing gave up on the program. It worked for me as a consumer, and it worked for us as a business. Which begs the question – why couldn’t they make it work? I wasn’t able to find any “reason” in all of the articles I read, but there were a lot of internal problems I observed. My guess is that they just couldn’t make a profit on the commissions we paid out to them. It’s an expensive operation that they were probably running at a loss in hope of gaining market share, but due to it’s popularity probably spiraled out of control. The people I worked with on their team were clearly overworked. There’s no doubt that this required a massive staff to maintain. They also never quite got the developer/site-owner side of things down correctly – the feed processing was buggy, the admin interface didn’t function very well, there was no confirmation of deposits made until the money showed up in our account days later, and so on.
Still, it was a pretty innovative idea, that seemingly could work. I give them credit for trying on such a massive scale. I hope someone tries again. Until then, we’ll have to live with their new shopping program, which unfortunately appears to just be a clone of Google Product Search. Right on that page they say that “the Bing audience is 11 percent more likely to make online purchases than Google searchers”. I think it’s safe to say that they can expect to lose that advantage starting tomorrow.