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Customer journey hijacking, affiliate management services, affiliate frauds

Customer Journey Hijacking – A Threat to The E-Commerce Industry


Customer acquisition and retention are vital focus areas for any business – online or offline. The brands continuously look to adopt new ways of attracting customers. In the quest to get more users for their business, the brands have experimented with different marketing techniques for those which work to stay!

Affiliate marketing started in the '90s and has been an ever-growing industry since then. Back in the '90s, when Amazon began with its first-ever affiliate program, no one knew that this would change the marketing landscape forever.

With the havoc that happened due to covid in 2019, online businesses have entered an era that has changed the retail world drastically. It has exposed the users to more vulnerability as brands thrive for more users and affiliate marketers thrive for more money, impacting the overall customer journey.

As forecasted by Statista, E-commerce sales are predicted to hit $6.5 Trillion by 2023.

As the increasing sales and frauds go parallel, these growing numbers indicate growth in e-commerce scams in the coming years. The affiliate industry has witnessed a boom over the last decade, and so does the frauds and scams associated with it. As affiliate marketing is one of the most popular ways of promotion now, brands are forced to adopt this mode of marketing. Brands now look forward to compliance monitoring tools to protect their customers from affiliate traps.

What is an Online Customer Journey?

We are in an era where people do not buy products but experience!

The online customer journey refers to the stages of a customer's experience with online brands. The journey begins with the customer learning about the brand and continues even after purchasing from the same brand. There are several stages a customer goes through while buying a product online. Considering the speed at which competition is growing for the brands, keeping close track of what customers experience at each stage is essential for business sustainability.

Every customer goes through four essential stages in every online buying journey, awareness, engagement, conversion, and retention.  

What is Customer Journey Hijacking?

The malicious affiliate who intends to deceive advertisers and their customers to make money try to interrupt the ideal customer journey by injecting ads and diverting users to competitor websites. Virus Positive Technologies has identified and listed 20+ affiliate traps commonly used by fraudsters.

While the customer goes through the various stages of their online purchase journey, the threat actors take advantage of the user's system and browsers' vulnerability due to access given to the affiliates via cookies. The affiliates can hijack a customer session at any stage to inject the affiliate cookies and monetize the sales in turn. We will explain how affiliates hijack customer sessions at different stages in the below segment. 

  • Awareness: In this stage, the customer knows about the brand via any marketing channel, email, social media, print media, paid media, and word of mouth. Once the customers learn about the brand, they search and visit the website. 

Use Case: A customer looking to buy clothes online comes across an advertiser brand While typing the URL of the brand, the customer mistakenly types and still gets directed to the advertiser's website. The malicious affiliate has purchased this domain similar to the brand's original name and injected their affiliate cookie. As the user mistypes the brand name, a javascript runs at the backend, and the affiliate cookie is injected into the user's browser. The affiliate gets paid for the sales happening from the browser. This type of fraud is Typo-Squatting.

In this scenario, the malicious affiliate earns a commission without getting legitimate users and digs into the advertiser's marketing budget.

  • Engagement: The customer is on the website and looks for the product or service they wish to buy. They look through the advertiser's website and find out what they want to buy. They make their choices and proceed to purchase. An engaging website with an attractive user interface is key to engaging customers.

Use Case: A user looking to buy clothes online has downloaded a browser extension providing discount coupons to save on purchases. The affiliate infects this extension, and Adware gets downloaded on the user system bundled up with the extension. When the user visits the advertiser website and clicks on any blank space, an affiliate cookie gets injected, and multiple pop-ups start showing on the user's system. This is a Cookie Stuffing affiliate trap.

In this scenario, the brand reputation of the advertiser is hurt as the user experiences pop-up ads upon visiting the particular advertiser's website.

  • Conversion: In this stage, the customers have decided on the product and proceed to buy. This stage is called conversions, as the customer makes the payment and purchases the product. In most affiliate network models; the affiliates earn only when the sales are completed. The customer converts to a buyer at this stage of his online journey.

Use Case: A customer looking to buy clothes online visits an advertiser website He looks for clothes and decides to buy one from the listings. When he reaches the final checkout page and clicks on the 'Buy Now' icon, an affiliate cookie gets injected into the user system and gets redirected to the competitor's website. This way of hijacking one of the clickable elements on the advertiser's website is Cookie Hijacking.

Here the advertiser loses the customer as the malicious affiliate hijacks an element and redirects the user to the competitor's website, impacting the end customer buying experience.

  • Retention: This is the after stage of the buying. Once the user makes a purchase, the advertisers get into a war of retaining their customers. It takes a lot of work at the backend to attract a customer, make them stay, complete the purchase, and most of it have them visit again.

Use Case: Affiliates infect the user system with malicious Adware that gets downloaded and bundled up with a browser extension or software. This Adware can show push ad notifications, and the ads can be from competitor websites or steal users' personal information. This is the Web Push Notifications affiliate trap.

Customer journey hijacking is a matter of concern for most brands, and it is the time when brands need to shift their focus from solely marketing to monitoring the journey of their customers.

If you want to protect your Brand Reputation, save the Advertising ROI and enhance your Customer Experience, connect with our team of experts today!

Protect Your Customer's Online Journey!

Virus Positive Technologies (VPT) is pioneering the market of Affiliate Fraud Management & Brand Protection. VPT's disruptive methodology identifies non-compliant behaviors that divert customers to competitor offerings, hurting conversion rates and damaging brand reputation. By eliminating these invasive promotions, VPT consistently recovers advertisers' revenue and brand value; companies can win back more than 90% of their stolen revenue. The world's largest retailers rely on VPT's solutions to eliminate invasive promotions, preserve the online customer experience, and consistently recover advertiser revenue.

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Gaurav Sethi | Co-Founder & CEO

Gaurav is a passionate people man who has worked on delivering business solutions and unlocking business value for a wide array of clients across different industry verticals and across different geographies. He has been an esteemed speaker at various Ad tech events for many years. With his pedigree rich in technology and business management, he has been an entrepreneur for over 15 years.

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