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The Trouble with Buy.at (AOL) (Solved)

This used to one of the best affiliate marketing companies in the business, who knew the market, knew affiliates, and did things in such a way as to make things fairly easy for the affiliate.

Unfortunately, they got bought by AOL, who then proceded to make it much more corporate, brought in a silly and overly litigious contract, and parachuted in people from outside the affiliate business to replace the people they got rid of who understood it.

With a normal affiliate marketing company, this wouldn't be a problem, as you would contact someone there, explain the problems, and all sides would then try and reach an agreement, and any improvements would go into the main contract. Even if in the end it the agreement was "sorry, I can't sign it, let me know when it changes again", diplomatic arangements would be maintained.

This is almost exactly the opposite of what actually happened with Buy.at, which is one of the reasons why I found it impossible to agree to the contract. In fact they made so many beginner's mistakes in their handling of this problem that it is hard to credit that the people who took over are qualified to do so, or to have ever held a position of any responsibility in any reputable company.

The first mistake they made is actually forgivable, as any company with a major presence in the USA is prone to it, and that is moving to a contract where they try and cover every conceivable option in their own favour. Almost universally this ends up with a contract that approximates to "we can do anything, whereas you must get written permission from us to do almost anything". They usually also have some additional clauses which just don't take the nature of the business into account.

No great surprise, this is exactly what happened here, and normally this would not be a problem, so a lot of affiliates contacted the company, to try and fix it, and initially they made the right sort of noises about getting it fixed.

The silliest problem was that they required "A clear and Conspicuous link to the privacy policy from EVERY page on the site". Due to the short time to sign, it was completely impractical if you have more than a few pages on your site.

It would be barely possible to comply in the short time available if you do Splat Advertising, but if you do Select advertising then you have to custom modify every dedicated page on the site to make it work, and these people can have many hundreds of merchants.

At this point I need to point out why I know so much about the goings on at multiple affiliate websites, and it is because I also have a hosting company, which hosts the sites for a number of affiliates, who know I am also an affiliate and report any problems.

What they were hoping at this point was that those people who don't read contracts would just sign it, and those who do would accept fobbing off with non-binding verbal assurances that the silliest bits would not be enforced. A few people fell for it.

The same pattern seems to have been applied to all the affiliates I know. First they claim to not understand why it is a problem, then they try and give verbal assurances, and then they try and get you to sign a custom contract that only applies to you. This is despite the fact that it was still in the acceptance period, and they could have trivially fixed it in the general contract.

As the more tricky problems were discussed this pattern was repeated a lot. Also other problems with handling this started to emerge. For example when the mandatory signing point passed without agreement, a number of affiliates received an email saying "as you have not signed you will be kicked off the network soon", with a date a short time in the future. This is bad form to send such a letter to people you are still talking to.

Other issues came up with the way that the negotiations were handled. Arrangements were made to have a phone conference, which were then postponed, and then cancelled "because the person involved is on holiday". In the meantime, affiliates had to talk to merchants about what happens when the access to the network ends, and started getting feedback saying that buy.at had told them that numerous and unreasonable demands were being made by the affiliate, which were often exaggerated or just untrue.

This is just plain daft, as it was obvious that buy.at would be found out, as merchants and affiliates need to stay on good terms, and thus stay in touch. Also, When a problem occurs with a network the affiliate usually contacts the merchant to see if there is an alternative solution or network.

Another issue was people being assigned to negotiate with affiliates, presenting themselves as authorised to agree changes, giving the impression that those changes had been agreed, and then those changes would be reversed and you would have to start again from scratch.

There is an obvious problem here, as that person cannot have the authority that they represent themselves as having. When I raised this with a department head who regularly reports to the board, he denied having any knowledge of this staff behaviour. He also said he wanted details so that he could look into it.

I therefore forwarded the details of his direct contact number to a number of affiliates who had experienced problems of this sort. The response that I got back was that the secretary had claimed that it was a "wrong number", until the affiliate got them to confirm that it was not only at buy.at, but was the number of the person in question. The affiliate was put through, but the call was not picked up. when the affiliate called back, the answerphone had been put on.

This obviously brings into question at what level of the company the problems are being generated, and current evidence suggests that it is probably deliberate time wasting and negotiating in bad faith coming directly from the top.

Of course if the company starts talking to the affiliates in a way that enables a diplomatic separation between the affiliate and the network this would bring doubt to that conclusion. No sign of that yet though.

Just to show that this is not only me having problems with them, see Zyra's buy.at Page which shows some of the many problems that have occured with buy.at.

NEWS: As of 2010/03/05 Affiliate Window are making a big fuss about having bought Buy.at.

NEWS: As of 2010/04, they have managed to solve the problems for both me and Zyra, so they are now being promoted again on their new page Buy.at.