Don’t Spin The Wheel: The Fight Against Malvertising
How ecommerce brands are taking back control of their websites from the hands of malvertisers
We’ve all seen it — maybe some of us have even fallen for the trick — you’re on an ecommerce site and a big “Wheel of Savings” pops up. This innocent-seeming discount offer, though, isn’t what it seems, and it’s doing damage both to the end-user spinning the wheel, and the site the wheel pops up on.
The world of malvertising and browser extensions has been causing headaches in the ecommerce world for years and brands are constantly looking for ways to fight back and regain control of their websites. Matt Gillis is helping with that mission. Gillis is the CEO of clean.io, which offers real-time protection against malicious actors and code for some of the most-trafficked websites in the world.
As Gillis explains, there are many methods bad actors are using to install malicious code on ecommerce sites, including using browser extensions like Honey and Wikibuy, which are hurting brand bottom lines and disrupting the entire experience of the customer who visits a site.
“You own your website,” Gillis says. “You should be able to control everything that executes on your website. You should be able to protect your user experience. You should be able to dictate your user experience because it’s your website. In the malvertising world, what we saw happening was if folks had ads on their website, they had lost control of the user experience. They had lost control of revenue because any bad actor could just buy an ad and take over the user experience and get you to spin the wheel.”
A brand always wants to offer the best experience possible to its customer, and that includes using various marketing and promotional efforts to entice more folks to come and explore. These efforts are a key part of the marketing apparatus of a company, and measuring their effectiveness impacts budget lines and company decisions from top to bottom. That’s why it’s extremely frustrating that bad actors are making attribution nearly impossible for the newest forms of marketing, including on social media.
When a brand taps an influencer who truly connects with the brand’s customer base, using a special promo code is an easy way to convert those influencer’s followers into customers. However, when the Honey’s of the world get access to that code and apply it for all the customers who have Honey installed on their browser, this completely corrupts the data internal marketers are looking at in terms of attribution.
“Honey and Wikibuy and these other discount extensions have made it really hard for merchants to have discounting strategies that they can track,” Gillis says. “And so what’s happening is that promo codes are ending up in the wrong hands. It’s creating an attribution nightmare for merchants where they think that this social media influencer or this Instagrammer, or this YouTuber is driving tons of sales and lo and behold, Honey has grabbed that coupon and is injecting it. And now every order that comes through where Honey was present on the page is applying that person’s code. So now the merchant not only has bad data that is going to ultimately drive their marketing decisions but, they’re also losing revenue and they’re paying out affiliate fees to folks that generally didn’t deserve that affiliate fee. So it’s created a bit of a nightmare.”
Handling that nightmare is something that clean.io is working hard to solve in a way that still allows customers to shop however they want and still put discounts in when they are legitimate.
“We don’t want to block you as a user going in and manually inserting the coupon — we think that’s the intended use case,” Gillis said. “But what we think is unfair is that someone is standing beside you at checkout and handing you a mitt full of coupons and… just scanning them all to make sure that they all have a chance to work. If you think about this analogy, the grocery store would never let someone come and stand beside the checkout and save you 30% off your grocery order while you’re already ready to pay. And I think that’s the phenomenon that we’re trying to solve for in the earliest days, which is, let’s prevent the automation from happening. Let’s not prevent people from manually inserting coupons. Let’s give control back to the merchants because it impacts them in so many different ways.”
And if brands are worried about how blocking those coupon applications will impact the conversion rate of customers, Gillis has some good news.
“What we’re seeing in these early days is that when you block Honey and Wikibuy at checkout, the vast majority of users actually still convert,” he says. “And so that to me is the icing on the cake which is, guess what, you take control back of your website. You take control of your margins. You take control of your revenue. You now have the data you need to be able to go out and drive incremental sales. We think that’s pretty powerful.”
To learn more about Gillis and his work at clean.io, be sure to check out his interview on Up Next in Commerce, here.
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