Wirecutter's Leilani Han on Trust, Transparency and the Evolution of Affiliate Marketing

Host Gabriella Bock is joined by Leilani Han, executive director of commerce at Wirecutter, a New York Times-owned product review publication that attracts an average of 12 million readers a month. During their conversation, Leilani discusses the evolution of affiliate marketing as well as how Wirecutter tests products, identifies strategic partnerships and earns the trust of its readers.

About the guest: In her role at Wirecutter, Leilani is focused on driving strategy for affiliate revenue, licensing, programmatic and other strategic partnerships. 

During her tenure, she has diversified direct partnerships with dozens of brands and strengthened existing core partnerships, while overseeing the success of deal and tentpole events in conjunction with other Wirecutter leaders. This work has helped the product-recommendation company significantly grow affiliate revenue year over year. 

Leilani has over 15 years of experience, beginning her career at Nielsen’s online division before pivoting to focus on affiliate marketing over the last dozen years. She has specialized in commerce content since 2016.

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Hosted by Gabriella Bock
Produced by Gabriella Bock
Edited by Chase Atherton

TRANSCRIPTION

Gabriella Bock:
Thank you so much for joining the show today Leilani.

Leilani Han:
Thanks so much for having me.

Gabriella Bock:
Absolutely. I know personally, I’m very excited to have you on the show. I use Wirecutter all the time. Shout out to my dad’s partner, Heather. She is a Wirecutter enthusiast. She uses you guys to make all of her large purchase decisions. And she introed me to you guys a couple years ago. And since then I have used Wirecutter to select cameras, my recent TV. So I really appreciate you making those decisions so much easier for me.

Leilani Han:
I love to hear it. I love that we are talking with a Wirecutter fan, and I just have to say that in my four years with Wirecutter, the number of Wirecutter pick purchases is kind of insane. And especially we have this amazing deals team who hunts out only the best deals on Wirecutter picks and lots of impulse purchases happen there.

Gabriella Bock:
Yeah, I bet. I bet. It would be very hard to not be swayed by your own research-

Leilani Han:
For sure.

Gabriella Bock:
Actually, I think I might need that myself.

Leilani Han:
Oh, you know what, I bought one time an emergency radio, because what they wrote was just so compelling. And I was like-

Gabriella Bock:
Oh my goodness.

Leilani Han:
“Yeah, I should get at one of those.”

Gabriella Bock:
Well, you are in Santa Barbara. so, you know, with the fires and everything, it’s definitely a practical impulse buy. Well, I read that you began working in affiliate marketing kind of around 2008, 2009. So really around the same time when social media was really starting to rise. Facebook was just kind of starting to dethrone MySpace and Twitter was just becoming a household name. And as an expert who’s career has kind of grown alongside the rise of social media, I’d love to hear your take on how affiliate marketing has kind of evolved over the course of your career.

Leilani Han:
Sure. It’s been really fascinating to observe. There’s a couple of things that really come to mind. I would say the first thing is how many different types of businesses have entered the space and also how much more known this channel has become by both marketers and consumers. So when I first started, I think if you even knew about affiliate marketing, you would just immediately think about coupon and loyalty publishers. And that was by and large, mostly true. And I would refer to affiliate as the channel that almost everyone interacts with that nobody knows about. But what started happening about five or six years ago was so many different companies were realizing that if you have an audience, you can have affiliate as a revenue stream. It’s really perfectly suited for it because there’s all the networks that provide the infrastructure for tracking, reporting and payments.

Leilani Han:
Which is key if you think about the hundreds and even thousands of relationships that you could potentially set up, it really streamlines that. And so this was also kind of coinciding with at a time where ad blockers were on the rise and display revenue was really declining, and content publishers were realizing that they had to pivot and figure out how to diversify their revenue streams. And there’s also just kind of this overall evolution of, just the consumers relationship with the shopping journey. And I think as that was really happening, and this just kind of coincides with social media and the rise of just the internet and online having such a presence in everyone’s day to day life, that a lot of other companies realized like, okay, this is another way that I can add a revenue stream. And I think that just kind of goes hand in hand with the fact that, the social media thing in particular and it becoming much more well known as this marketing channel.

Leilani Han:
And as content publisher like Wirecutter and all of our peers were really on the rise, this notion of turning to publishers like us for this very curated recommendations for products, people have just really embraced this channel, which is really wonderful to see. I can now go to a dinner party and explain what I do and people don’t look at me with a big question mark on their face.

Leilani Han:
And so I think as the space continues to evolve and eCommerce continues to grow, we’re going to keep seeing innovations. New currencies in particular or payment models is such another, a great example that you wouldn’t necessarily think about as being in affiliates. Such as, there’s actually crypto based loyalty platforms now and buy now pay later solutions that are helping people to make purchases that are very much ingrained within the affiliate model too.

Leilani Han:
Sure. And I’m so glad that you mentioned the burden of choice, because I think that’s definitely one of the great value ads that we bring to the readers in what we actually represent in their life. It’s one thing to buy a product, but when we can take the headache and the stress over trying to make this decision. That’s one of the things that I love about our Wirecutter picks, is that through our process, you can find ways to surprise and delight in ways that you just never would’ve expected. And so what it all really boils down to, throughout the evolution of the affiliate space and e-commerce, our main priority has always been the reader and their trust in us is everything. And so that’s definitely key to that success.

Leilani Han:
And so what that means is we’ve always had, our editorial team has always had complete independence from business interests. Which, I think there’s always a degree of separation between business and editorial. But having worked within the space and having been on the network side where I actually helped a lot of our peers to really get going in affiliate, I can say with confidence that in terms of the spectrum, Wirecutter is very much on the most stringent side. And so we weren’t really novel when we entered the space in 2011. At the time, if you were going to look up our product review, it was very much about, this specs of a product. Which doesn’t really tell you anything about, is this going to be useful in my needs? And so our founder really set out to kind of change what was out there and bring something useful.

Leilani Han:
And so rather than, our approach is really to think about how people use these products in real life and what purpose is it serving. And so we don’t just take something and test it in a lab controlled environment. We actually will use it and test it in the way that a person would. One time I was in our LIC office where we do a lot of testing and I was passing by some of our journalists and they were crunching cereal into a car seat. Because your child is probably going to destroy the car seat and make a mess. And so I think that’s part of, it’s like this special je ne sais quoi Wirecutter and why our readers really love and trust us.

Leilani Han:
You know that our picks are deeply researched and tested. And we often touch on the aspects of the product that you know you needed, as well as the one that you didn’t, and that’s the piece that I love about it. And so above all, people want to feel confident in their choices. Regardless of whether or not they’re inclined to spend hours researching, or just want somebody to do the work for them, our readers fall into both camps, we offer all of that.

Gabriella Bock:
Wow. That’s incredible. And as a mother to a four year old, your story about testing the cereal in the car, that would definitely hook me. So then how do you use that information? So is that then kind of worked into the copy of your recommendations? How does that work?

Leilani Han:
Oh, definitely. I mean, okay. Granted, I understand that our articles can be very long, you as a reader know. It can be seven to 10,000 words at times. But I think that’s where you actually get to understand some of the most meaningful pieces of it. But we will actually talk about that in our testing. There is some, oh gosh, I’m sorry that this is a really disgusting example that’s coming into mind. But there was something about, it was a garbage can and whether or not it was really secure. And so the way that we tested it had to do with, oh, some really disgusting bugs. I can’t even talk about it because-

Gabriella Bock:
Oh gosh.

Leilani Han:
It’s so gross. And so we’ll actually say, this is how it held up. But then what we’ll also do, like a water bottle review also comes to mind, in which for the water bottles that we recommend, it actually being leak proof is something that’s very important. Because we know that people are going to toss a water bottle into your bag, which is going to probably have expensive electronic in it.

Leilani Han:
Something that you really care about. You can’t have that leak. And so one example of that testing that they’ll do is they’ll actually fill those water bottles with food coloring and water. And they’ll close it up and they’ll leave it upside down or something on a paper towel over the course of 24 hours to see if they actually leak or not. And that’s something that we actually speak to in that review to actually prove that like, hey, we did test this, and this is how we’re confident in the fact that this is leak proof.

Gabriella Bock:
Yeah. That’s great. I love the dedication to testing. You said, how consumers are actually using the products. Because sometimes you see these videos where an influencer or whomever is testing it out, like it’s a vacuum cleaner, for example. And they’ll just kind of sprinkle something on the ground. It looks kind of messy, but in actuality maybe it’s just dyed baby powder or something like that. So it’s very easy to come up and it’s not actually showing how this product is being used in an actual household with real messes and real spills.

Leilani Han:
Oh, speaking of real messes and vacuums, I think there is a model of the robot vacuum that had come out that is supposed to be able to detect pets poop.

Gabriella Bock:
Oh my gosh.

Leilani Han:
And could avoid it. And so they put it to the test, we didn’t actually gather pets poop, but something that was very close to recreating it to see how it did. And so that was just one great way to actually put something to test and does this live up to their claims?

Gabriella Bock:
Wow. Yeah. So see, there you go. The dedication to testing. I also love how Wirecutter is, you guys provide recommendations for all different levels of income and accessibility. And then I imagine recommendations are probably updated from time to time when newer models or features come out. Can you explain a little bit about how that works?

Leilani Han:
Yeah. I mean, it’s something that’s really important for us to stay on top of, because we need to make sure that they’re standing the test of time. There are a lot of models that are coming out. I think electronics in particular and their life cycle from the manufacturers, they’re always putting certain things out. And I was talking with one of our senior editors the other day and he was saying that the space for a $500 laptop or less is a really tricky one, because it’s hard to make a recommendation there because, I’m paraphrasing here. By and large, none of them are actually really that great, but there’s very much a demand for it. For people who can only afford that much or somebody who, like a kid who’s going to school and you don’t want to spend a lot.

Leilani Han:
And that’s a product category in which it’s constantly going through updates and whatnot. And so we know that as far as people that are shopping, it’s very important to them to know that what we’re recommending is up to date or something that stood the test over time. This is actually some research that we’ve done where some of our readers have actually echoed that. And so as far as just staying on top of updates, there’s core guides where we have an updates cadence in which we’re making sure that we’re taking a look at all the picks that we’ve recommended. And then taking a look at what else has come out into the market and are these actually worth considering. Sometimes there’s going to be updates that are going to be made because of, a hypothetical example.

Leilani Han:
But let’s say that there is a recall for a certain type of product and now there’s this mandate that all products have to have this new feature. So that’s obviously an important thing that we would need to consider. But then there’s other times in which, as far as updates go, there are products that do stand the test of time. Like we’ve been recommending the KitchenAid stand mixer for years because it is arguably the best and has been for decades. And so yeah, there’s going to be some times in which you’re probably going to see huge changes and others where you’ll probably see changes a few times a year.

Gabriella Bock:
Yep. That makes sense. And speaking of new products, we touched on this a little bit, but digital and e-commerce has skyrocketed in recent years and people are now just shopping for things online that they might not have been even two years ago. Are there any examples of products or even categories that you guys make recommendations for now that maybe wouldn’t have been on the site when you joined Wirecutter four years ago?

Leilani Han:
Yeah, absolutely. And I think the first thing that I would say is, I think a lot of people assume that we focus on consumer electronics, but I think you’d be surprised by how much breadth of products we already have. But over the last couple of years, not surprisingly, products related to COVID, like face masks, antigen test. That’s not something that was a blip on people’s radars four years ago.

Gabriella Bock:
No.

Leilani Han:
But believe it or not, we actually already had a review for toilet paper when COVID started, so it existed. But some other things that we have produced over the last couple of years, chicken coops, karaoke machines-

Gabriella Bock:
Interesting.

Leilani Han:
Non-alcoholic drink, ramen even. Something that’s actually kind of a fun very Wirecutter anecdote is something that we recommend now that we didn’t before, is air fryers. We used to always kind of have this, the way that we felt about it is, you don’t need to actually have an air fryer. It’s a convection oven, it’s basically what it is. And we have a wonderful toaster oven pick that has a convection oven setting. I have that one, it’s amazing. But over time, again in just trying to listen to readers and what they’re really looking for, we were hearing feedback that some people don’t have the space in their kitchens for a full on toast oven.

Leilani Han:
I have it, it’s large. And so that definitely changed the way that we thought about like, okay, are we actually servicing the reader if somebody wants this function, but doesn’t have the space for it? So that’s actually something that we do have a guide and recommendations for now that we didn’t before. Category wise is, that’s something that didn’t really exist four years ago was actually style. I think apparel is something that was a little bit tricky for Wirecutter, because if you think about apparel in the sense of fashion, fashion and accessories. It’s a category that obviously is also influenced by cycles and different seasons.

Leilani Han:
And there’s, if you look at others out there who are covering their space, it’s always talking about like, oh, this is the style that’s in season, that’s trending. And that’s very counter to what Wirecutter does. We’re not going to cover the latest fad type of a thing, because we want to be really thoughtful about products that we recommend. The way that we kind of view our recommendations for our readers is, we wouldn’t recommend something to them that we wouldn’t to our family or to one of our best friends. And so I think that longevity and the actual utility of it matters.

Leilani Han:
However, we have since pivoted. If you go onto Wirecutter now, you’ll see that style, which I think is distinct from fashion, is something that we have been diving more into. And so this is where you’ll see examples of things that are like staples. Which, so I think again, kind of really fits into our approach of things that are going to last over time. So best white t-shirts, best cashmere sweaters, or little block dresses, or leggings, or what have you, are some of the things that you’ll see on Wirecutter today that wasn’t there when I first started.

Gabriella Bock:
Interesting. And so for apparel, do you focus more on then the quality of the fabric and the stitching, as opposed to maybe designs and such kind of a personal thing, very personal taste?

Leilani Han:
Right. Yeah, totally. Design is, and I think that obviously transcends beyond just clothing too. There’s other categories that I think have been trickier for us to approach, such as home goods. Because, to your point, style is such a personal thing and what a person is going to gravitate towards could really, really vary from someone else. So yeah, we are looking at overall quality, maybe not necessarily something as stitching, although I think that would probably go into the review of, if this is something that’s going to last. But fit is something that we also think about, because I think in just in terms of inclusion and just being as inclusive as possible of all different people. Like body type is something that a shopper thinks about. And so I think that’s something that you’ll also see really take, that you’ll really see resonate throughout our pieces in style, where the body type and how it fits in different body types is something that we think about.

Leilani Han:
I think the, I’m thinking about our eyeglasses, it’s either our eyeglasses or our sunglasses review. And something that we actually did was to test for different frame types against people’s face shapes. Because that obviously, something that we’re going to recommend might look different on different people.

Gabriella Bock:
Sure.

Leilani Han:
And so if you look at the gallery of images there, we actually have photos showing how it looks on different people. And I know that one thing that, in the panel of testers who actually test out these glasses, these frames … So I’m Asian and people that are Asian our face shapes and our bone structure is very different from other ethnicities. And so the way that glasses will fit and sit on our face will be very different from maybe you. And so that was, we made sure to include that in the testing because we, again, want to be as inclusive as possible in what we recommend.

Gabriella Bock:
Wow. That’s fantastic. Yeah. I know. I mean, for me, when I purchase sunglasses, I do a very similar thing. And oftentimes I look to, like Pinterest or even just Google, I Google search to see what frames are best for my face shape. So having that directly on the site, definitely helps I think kind of remove some of those pain points for us as consumers. So we’ve discussed how you look for new products, but I wanted to dive into a bit on how Wirecutter chooses its strategic affiliate partnerships. What do you look for?

Leilani Han:
Sure. So for Wirecutter, everything, first of all, starts and ends with a Wirecutter pick. If you don’t carry a Wirecutter recommended product, it’s a non-starter, which makes it a very interesting challenge for our team. Anyway, suffice to say, we say no to a lot more opportunities than we say yes to. But assuming that you have overlap with a Wirecutter pick, still reader experience is everything that we go back to. That’s the number one priority, because we really see ourselves as an extension of the reading experience. Like somebody that’s going to read one of our amazing reviews and our advice and decide to actually click through to make a purchase, that buying experience does tie back into their perception and in their feelings about Wirecutter.

Leilani Han:
So if we were to say, for example, accept a million dollars from joeschmoscamerashop.com and you went and made that purchase. And it was more expensive than what you could find elsewhere, took way longer to ship. And you tried to return it and their customer service is rude. I mean, it’s going to have an impact on what you think about Wirecutter. You might not shop with us-

Gabriella Bock:
Sure.

Leilani Han:
Again. So we think about that. And so there’s things, it seems very obvious. You want to have competitive pricing, fast and free shipping. Again, great customer service, warranties also matter. How easy is the return process. And I say that you think that this would be obvious, but it’s kind of interesting, sometimes there’s merchants that come to the table and we go through their checkout experience and it’s kind of wonky. Not surprisingly, the reader experience ties directly back into conversions, which is obviously a very important metric for us. And so we just know that when we’re taking care of the reader’s experience, the monetization follows. Obviously that’s hugely important too, but it’s a balance that we have to strike in terms of our ability to serve the reader relative to our ability to monetize.

Leilani Han:
And our team has done a really nice job of finding that right balance. Outside of those things though, in terms of who is a strategic partner, merchants are going to run the gamut in terms of their approach to their affiliate relationships. But the ones where we have had the most success are the ones who actually want to be a true partner. The ones who take the time to understand our business, who really actually care about, like the editorial process and understand that some of the constraints that we have, or the requirements that we have are actually what makes us also successful. They’re also the ones that also take the time to give us insights into what’s driving their business initiatives and how that actually trickles down to budget allocation. Because when we can have that shared understanding, that’s when we can actually get really creative about like, oh, okay, maybe there’s this opportunity or that, that’s going to allow us to meet both of those together.

Leilani Han:
The best partners are also the ones that are able to effectively advocate for the channel and for Wirecutter. There’s partners who we know will do really good a bet for us. As a publisher we just know that we have incredibly high standards. Luckily we’re able to back that up through our performance, but it’s still a big ask. And so the ones who will go and advocate for us and in certain cases do things like adjust attribution models because they want to be competitive and be a good partner to us, the ones that will go out of their way to be a good partner are the ones that we really look for.

Gabriella Bock:
Wow. Yeah. Love it. And the content boom that we’ve been talking about, it’s really, it has cultivated a sense of mistrust among consumers toward both advertisers and media platforms. So as a consumer it’s great to hear that Wirecutter has prioritized really maintaining a strong sense of editorial integrity and-

Leilani Han:
Absolutely.

Gabriella Bock:
And then for the brands that you do partner with, being featured on the site then it acts like a trusted stamp of approval for not only the specific product being featured, but I’m assuming it also reflects very positively on the entire brand as a whole.

Leilani Han:
Definitely. And it’s funny that you mentioned that because that is actually something that we will mention to merchants, because you’re absolutely right. Our team is really savvy in understanding not just what’s going to convert, but what’s going to lead to the best experience. And so I think our partners do appreciate that, even though the opportunities on our site are finite. Just because something is performing, we’re not going to go to editorials and be like, hey, write more content about this, because it’s making a lot of money. Obviously that’s counter to our mission. They’re very appreciative of the fact that having that share of voice is so meaningful, because to your point, yes, this is the reason why these merchants are working with publishers like us in the first place. It’s not just the distribution and helping with the discovery, but it is helping consumers to make that decision to shop through them. It is a stamp of approval for that brand.

Gabriella Bock:
Yeah, absolutely. And speaking about trust and mistrust, and consumers, we know that gen Z, they are the most mistrusting of advertising, traditional marketing tactics, media. So how are you kind of catering to them on that? Anything specific?

Leilani Han:
That is a really great question. I wouldn’t necessarily say that we have a strategy specifically for reaching gens Z, so much as again, the approach of being as transparent as possible. But I think this is where, if you go on Wirecutter, I mean, FTC disclosures, you see them all over the place. But I think one thing that I will say that is unique about Wirecutter is we had that disclosure prominently displayed at the very top from the very beginning. And it’s not something that other people really started to adopt in earnest until maybe about five years ago.

Leilani Han:
But even outside the FTC disclosure, if you go into every single piece within the review itself, we’re very open about, this was our approach. It’s exactly what we did. And then if you go to the about us, we actually also lift the hood, so to speak, on how, the fact that they are shielded from rates, there’s no business influence. We don’t actually get a ton of free product, which I think probably runs counter to many people’s assumptions. We actually try to source these as much as possible. If we ever do get something from PR, we actually try to return those products back to them. And if we are not able to return it, we donate them. We purchase a number of our products on our own for testing. And as far as unsolicited products go, we actually try to send those back as well.

Leilani Han:
And there’s one journalist on our team that I’m thinking about in particular, in her signature, it says, if you send me something unsolicited, I’m sending this back to you or I’m going to donate it to charity. So we do try to be as impartial as possible. But I think no matter what, there’s always going to be a subset of people that have some skepticism, which is fair. I think people should, especially when you’re trying to put your trust on somebody else to make this decision for you and you’re going to spend your hard earned money on it. But I think again, our approach to being transparent is, and as much as possible throughout the entire experiences, is the way that we try to help address that.

Gabriella Bock:
Yep. That’s great. Trust and transparency is, it’s so important these days, especially to younger consumers. And younger consumers as well, I did want to ask, you guys have dabbled a little bit in video content, which seems to be kind of marketed maybe more toward younger consumers. Can we expect to see more video reviews from you guys?

Leilani Han:
That is a wonderful question. So I would say there’s, I kind of think about it in two different ways. There’s the videos that we have that are on YouTube, and then we have the more short form video content that you’ll see in our Instagram or our TikTok. And so the videos on YouTube, I absolutely love those. I think that when we first started to produce more of those and experiment with more of those a few years ago, I think that was really a way for us to kind of extend our expertise on a product in a different format, in a different, something that isn’t a long form review. And also trying to be, rather than like, here’s the review of the product, an unboxing, so to speak. But really talking about other aspects of like, how to wash a cast iron pan or, there was another piece on the robot vacuum and how well it does in actually avoiding certain objects in your house.

Leilani Han:
And so I think the intent of that, of those types of videos, are really just more so to bring a different type of service related to those products. And I think that, kind of in a similar vein, with the videos that you’ll see on social, we’re trying to bring forth interesting pieces of our research in a more accessible and bite-sized way. And so oftentimes when I’ll see our editorial teams collaborating for something that might be suitable for a TikTok video or for something on social media, that senior editor or writer who have you will maybe highlight some really interesting piece of the review where maybe you wouldn’t necessarily get to it easily, because it’s within 10,000 words.

Leilani Han:
And so we see that. And then again, going back to the service piece and in particular in TikTok, that’s been a way that we have found to reach new audiences and really kind of tapping into what is gardening people’s interests. So admittedly, I’m not on TikTok, but I hear a lot about it. I get a lot of videos. [crosstalk 00:32:09] I know, I get a lot of cat videos from my sister, so I do enjoy the cat content. So you probably know it, and if you’re on TikTok, that cleaning TikTok is a thing. And so-

Gabriella Bock:
Yes, it’s very calming, very soothing.

Leilani Han:
That’s so funny to me. But that’s something when we first started experimenting in TikTok that we really started to see gaining traction on. And I think we’re sort of uniquely positioned to be an authority in that space because we have a lot of subject matter experts and cleaning is very adjacent to it. Whether it’s like, cleaning your air purifier or something else related to that. But as far as that part of it goes, I think you can absolutely expect to see more of it.

Gabriella Bock:
That’s great. Yeah. I’ve definitely learned things from those cleaning videos that I had no idea you were supposed to do. Like drain your washing machine. Yeah, didn’t know that was a thing to do. So definitely some, lots to learn.

Leilani Han:
You know what, I’m almost 40 and there’s a lot of things that I keep learning. Like, “Oh, that’s great to know.” I mean, TikTok is, the ones that I kind of superficially stumble upon not being on TikTok are very educational. And it’s so funny how people are like, why did I go to school? I could have learned it on TikTok.

Gabriella Bock:
Yeah. That’s a great point. So I did kind of in closing, I have a couple of questions left for you. One is just really kind of high level, what your thoughts are, where is the future of affiliate marketing headed? What do you think it’s going to look like over the next decade?

Leilani Han:
So I think I kind of touched on this, but I think it’s going to continue to evolve with changing shopping preferences. We already saw that happen. We talked about the rise of social media usage and that also went hand in hand with the rise of mobile, and how that shifted more discovery through social research and transacting entirely on handheld devices. And so I think live video shopping is testament to that. I think it’s an extension of the type of social shopping that was pioneered early on by bloggers that were early adopters of the channel to reach and engage with audiences through affiliate and also monetize through it.

Leilani Han:
And so I think in a sense, it’s kind of hard to say exactly what direction it’s going to go because we don’t have a crystal ball. I think the one thing that I will kind of mention is, as a potential area to explore, just to think about is, the metaverse. There’s been a lot of talk of the metaverse and e-commerce having a place there. And no one to date, at least that I’m aware of, is really leveraging affiliate in that space. But I don’t think that’s really too far behind.

Gabriella Bock:
Yeah. Fascinating. I haven’t even considered affiliate within the metaverse or what that would look like. And I think many of us are still curious what retail in the metaverse will look like, but it’s definitely very exciting.

Leilani Han:
Yeah, for sure. I think I show my age when I say that I don’t quite understand the metaverse. It’s been explained to me, so conceptually, I kind of get it. And so it’s hard for me to say exactly where affiliate will fit in. But as we have seen, affiliate has found its way very organically into so many other touch points in a person’s life. I have no doubt that it will end up there.

Gabriella Bock:
Yeah, absolutely. And I think probably Gen Alpha probably knows better than any of the rest of us what that will look like.

Leilani Han:
Yeah. It’ll be interesting to see.

Gabriella Bock:
And then one last question, I did want to kind of get your thoughts on embedded commerce. Is there potential for us to see transactions occurring directly on Wirecutter?

Leilani Han:
That is a great question. And to be honest, I have mixed feelings about it. I think as far as embedded commerce, I think it’s very attractive to publishers. Because unfortunately in the affiliate world, with last click attribution publishers are trying to find a way to close that gap so that they can get credit for these great recommendations without losing out if attribution happens to fall elsewhere. But I think, and the whole point of it is also to be frictionless and to make it really easy for the reader or the shopper. But part of the reason why I have mixed feelings about it is because it’s frictionless at the point of transaction, but not necessarily beyond that, and it feels wonky. So I’ve had a personal experience with an online interior design service, which is phenomenal.

Leilani Han:
And they have these great tools and allow you to shop through their your marketplace for every single product that you have in your room. So I’ve done that and it’s kind of a one stop shop. But then I changed my mind and then I had to cancel some things and essentially they had to, this person had to go and talk to these companies, cancel everything for me. And I would’ve preferred to have just done that myself so I could have actually tracked the cancellations and the refunds. As well too though, from a very practical business standpoint, the thing that you also lose out on is the halo purchases. So the thing that happens is when you send a reader off to a retailer, oftentimes they’re buying a Wirecutter pick. Also, oftentimes they’re buying other things, they’re adding other things to their cart.

Leilani Han:
So the ability to increase the cart value, which has a direct tie into increasing your commissions, happens through those means, even though you’re obviously sending somebody off of your site. And so there isn’t at this point, any provider out there that’s able to help solve for that ability to capture those halo transactions that happen. The other big piece of it too that I think is a challenge is the customer service piece. So somebody transacts through Wirecutter. Okay, what happens when they have a problem? And that’s another piece that you have to think through. And I just, I can just imagine, even if you’re going to be as explicit as possible about what somebody has to do if they have a problem or want to change their mind, there’s probably going to be a number of people who end up with the New York Times customer care team.

Leilani Han:
And that’s not going to be the most appropriate team to respond to that. So those are the things that I think about. I can certainly see certain ways where, certain scenarios in which there may be utility for that experience on Wirecutter. But the short answer is, it’s not something that we’re doing today. I wouldn’t rule it out as a never going to happen, but I think there’s other hurdles and challenges that we would have to really be thoughtful about and find the right provider to answer to those before we actually moved forward on it.

Gabriella Bock:
Yeah, definitely. Removing friction, it’s certainly been a top priority for the entire retail industry. And I think any opportunity to incorporate that, it becomes so buzzworthy. But your story certainly speaks to kind of the point that frictionless at one point often results in friction somewhere else. And personally having to return items, that is usually the most painful part of the shopping experience for me and I’m sure for many others as well. Well, Leilani, I certainly appreciate your time today. It was wonderful to talk and learn from you, and I’m excited to see how Wirecutter evolves over the next decade. And I think you’re providing an important service to both brands and consumers. And if a brand wanted to get in touch with you to discuss potential partnerships, where would they go?

Leilani Han:
That is a really great question. So first and foremost, you have to carry a Wirecutter pick. And so I say that because I want to appropriately set expectations, because sometimes a brand will come to us and say, well, we are a relevant product, because you have a review already, so we can just be added in or swapped up, and that’s not happening. So I will say that the first and foremost you have to carry a Wirecutter pick, but all that to say, we’re always welcome to making connections. Commerce@wirecutter.com is a great place to send your interest. If you have an overlap or you carry a Wirecutter recommended product, we will definitely be reaching out to you.

Leilani Han:
But if you don’t today, carry that Wirecutter recommended product, we still encourage people to reach out. Just because we can’t work together today does not mean that we can’t in the future. There have been times where maybe we didn’t recommend your product six months ago, but tomorrow we’re going to publish a piece and now we do. And so that’s a really great place for our team to go look to see if we have a contact so we can reach out about establishing that partnership. So commerce@wirecutter.com.

Gabriella Bock:
Excellent. Well, thank you again for sharing your insights with us today Leilani, and I hope we can connect with you again soon.

Leilani Han:
Thank you again for having me. This has been great.

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