Feeling helpless, lost and confused and I could really use the community's help!!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

This photo pretty much sums up how I'm feeling right now.

NOTE: This issue has been resolved amicably. (Yay!) Here's the update.

Community, it is really hard for me to say this, but I need help! Advice, thoughts, words of wisdom. I find myself in a very strange situation with one of my affiliate programs, RewardStyle, and I'm just not sure what to at this point. Can you help me?




It feels so weird asking this in public but I feel like I'm out of options and need some fresh eyes on this issue. This community is full of such smart, talented folks that I feel safe asking for the help I need here.

Let me begin by saying that this issue has nothing to do with Anthropologie. This post does not relate to them at all, and they are not involved in any way with this issue that I'm having.

Here's the deal: As everyone here knows I use affiliate links on this blog to help me pay the assorted bills associated with the blog, do giveaways, etc. The way affiliate links work is that when you click on the links on this blog and buy something, I earn a very small percentage of your purchase as a commission.

Back in the spring, the tracking system that RewardStyle uses for my affiliate links broke for a few days. Which means that even though people were using the links and making purchases, RewardStyle wasn't reporting it correctly in my account. The day that the tracking broke was a really big day for me -- lots of orders placed via the links here for one retailer! So I noticed that the tracking was off very quickly and raised the issue to RewardStyle.

This is the second time in less than 12 months that my affiliate tracking has broken on a big day like this. The first time this happened RewardStyle was able to investigate and we came to a fair agreement. It took a few months, but the issue was handled sufficiently.

When this issue happened again in the spring, RS told me they'd need 6 months to investigate and promised me frequent updates. I was told that RewardStyle saw there was an issue and that all lost commission would be restored. When the updates fell off I reached out to my rep. She told me that she thought the investigation was closed, but we realized that less than 10% of my earnings for the day had been credited back. She escalated and I had a call with a senior manager and my rep. We went through the issue together and all three of us agreed that the numbers were still way off. RS would investigate further and get back to me. By now it was September...over 4 months since my tracking had broken. I was worried that the data was going to be less and less available to investigate as time dragged out.

Then on October 1 I received a terse email saying the investigation was closed, no tracking errors were found. I felt very frustrated by this...RewardStyle had already agreed there were tracking errors...and the first time it happened they were understanding and forthcoming, setting an excellent precedent. This time much less so.

It's not about the lost commission.

Look, losing the money hurts. If you've ever worked on commission, has your company just straight out lost your commission records for days at a time?!? I can't imagine they wouldn't make every effort to pay out that commission. But I don't even care about the money. I believe in the abundance of the universe and I'm sure that any money I lost will come to me in some other way. Not a big deal. It's the relationship that's in trouble and that's where I need help.

Here's the problem.

At this point, all I want is to understand what happened and get a promise that it won't happen again. And that if it does somehow happen again (because I know no technology is perfect, believe me) that there will be some kind of backup system in place to preserve the records of revenue, or at least they can let me know it's broken so I can take steps to replace the links!

Long-time readers here will probably remember that for awhile another affiliate program I use had broken links, and while it was annoying, that program worked with me like a true partner to resolve the issue and everything has been absolutely wonderful since! I called that program out publicly at one point which helped get our dialogue going. I am hoping for the same here. Likewise, whenever tracking issues have come up with any other affiliate program I use they have worked with me in concert to solve the problem and improve our relationship! Isn't that how this is supposed to work?

Unfortunately, the relationship with RewardStyle seems to be taking a nosedive. I responded to the October 1 email saying I could not yet consider the matter closed. I want to discuss the future, prevention and better communication, etc. This is such a bummer to me because I've spoken so positively about this program in the past. I love being a part of it and I think they do really cool things. But the way they are treating me now is not in good faith. They are not working with me in good faith. I feel scared and unsure what to do. This is definitely above my pay grade.

I've been getting emails from a RewardStyle Vice President that feel threatening. Retaliatory. I was asked to join a phone call with no agenda pre-given. I thought the call would be about this issue. I explained that I'm unavailable this week and would prefer to chat by email. I reiterated that for me, the ideal outcome is a fair and reasonable resolution that is acceptable to both sides. I.E. knowing what happened and working together as partners to avoid it in the future!

I was then told that another retailer had lodged a complaint against me in RS. No details about the complaint were given -- I have no idea what their complaint was, what post it was in regards to, nothing. I was told I need to remove all of this retailer's links and that I could no longer work with them, which makes little to no sense to me.

I have a direct contact at this retailer who handles affiliate partnerships, and when I contacted her she told me EA was in excellent standing and she has no idea what RS could possibly be referring to. I must note however that my rep was escalating to her VP of Marketing to make sure, and that even if there was an issue she was sure it was something that we could easily solve together that would not require me to stop working with them. Nothing like this has ever happened in my multi-year history with the RS program. Or with any other affiliate program for that matter!

Meanwhile, the RS VP I'm talking to added that "If we receive additional complaints, we may have to suspend or terminate your rewardStyle account. I hope we can avoid this outcome, but it's dependent on your resolution with [retailer]."

Umm, yikes! So the retailer doesn't even know of this supposed issue but is totally willing to work with me, while RS is now setting the table to cut me out??!?If they dump me it'd be a violation of the EA Terms of Use anyway but really I don't want to fight. It feels ugly. I want to repair the relationship. That is what my efforts have been about. I lost confidence in RS's tracking and I'd like to get it back, which is pretty fair and reasonable. It would be so easy for them do so! They have the team and resources at their disposal. They are a huge company and they seem to be putting their efforts into threatening me. I just don't get it.

I feel really backed into a corner right now. I have been crying for most of the afternoon, not to mention at the last two emails I received. It's embarrassing to admit that...but there it is. I feel like RS is preparing to drop me as a publisher because I've asked too many questions. That doesn't feel right at all. And that's clearly not what I want at all -- I just want to go back to having fun and using RS links in some of my posts as I've always done! Good lord, I've been a business trip this week. I'm losing real work time dealing with this right now. I feel very upset. Luckily, my boss at work has been very understanding. (He offered to give 'em hell if needed, metaphorically of course. And of course I don't want to get him involved with this at all.)

I'm one tiny person and RewardStyle a huge company. It feels so scary to me that they might come after me, retaliate. I feel scared. What if they tarnish my reputation among other retailers? I work in fashion and have built up an excellent professional reputation over the last several years through hard work and treating my clients well! My last 4 jobs have all been word-of-mouth referrals. I am so scared that RewardStyle will try to take that all away from me...disrupt my livelihood. It feels awful.

I feel like I have a right to know what happened, and that we should be working together to find a resolution for the future. Doesn't that make sense? Isn't that what partners do?

I'm shaking right now as I write this. I have two professional mentors -- two C-level execs of large NYC companies. When I reached out to both of them, they couldn't believe the ridiculousness of this situation. (I at least giggled at that.) None of us can imagine working with someone we consider a partner in the fashion RewardStyle has chosen to treat me at this moment. I feel let down and I feel intimidated. One of my mentors suggested asking the community for advice. Perhaps other bloggers, or people with legal experience or people who have worked on commission can chime in here?

Ideally, at this point what I want is what I mentioned above: an in-depth explanation of what happened, an agreement on how to prevent this in the future, and a promise that the relationship will go back to normal with no retaliation.

I really do feel like a deer in the crosshairs right now. I have no idea what I did to raise this VP's ire but her treatment feels horrible. I would never treat a professional client, contact, partner or vendor the way I am being treated by RewardStyle right now. It feels bad. I don't like it.

So this is where I humbly ask for help. What would you do if you were in my shoes? How should I respond to a person who is supposed to be my advocate but is instead threatening me? Should I ask to speak to someone else? What can I do to repair this relationship when the other side doesn't seem to want to work with me?