Affiliate Marketing vs Ecommerce (Which is BETTER?) [2024]

affiliate marketing vs ecommerce featured

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This post dives into the nitty-gritty of affiliate marketing and ecommerce, laying out the pros and cons of each to help you make a well-informed choice. Whether you’re looking to start a side hustle or dive headfirst into the world of online business, stick around. You might just find the direction you’ve been searching for.

Which Is Better Affiliate Marketing or Ecommerce? (My Recommendation)

I make the majority of my income promoting products as an affiliate marketer, but I’m also close with a couple of people who make a killing from DTC (direct-to-consumer) ecommerce.

Ecommerce requires a lot of upfront work, including setting up an online store, mastering paid ads, dealing with manufacturing products, and providing customer service.

It’s a business model that lends itself to more advanced online marketers.

For someone just starting out, I would recommend affiliate marketing over attempting to build an ecommerce business. Affiliate programs offer a much gentler learning curve and lower barrier to entry compared to the complexity and upfront costs involved in setting up your own online store.

Given the low startup cost and the potential for passive income, affiliate marketing is perfect for those who are new to online business or are not ready to make large initial investments.

It offers the flexibility to test different products and niches with lower financial risk.

However, those with strong online business skills and sufficient capital to invest may find greater potential in building their own online store.

Though more complex, owning the entire customer journey enables more control over branding, data, and profits.

For the right entrepreneur with patience and business acuity, an ecommerce store presents a steeper but ultimately more rewarding path.

Which One Should You Pick to Make Money?

Choosing between affiliate marketing and ecommerce boils down to your personal preferences, resources, and the effort you’re willing to put in. Each has its own set of benefits and challenges, and your decision should align with your long-term business goals.

Affiliate marketing offers simplicity and flexibility, while ecommerce provides greater monetary upside for those comfortable with complex businesses.

Here are some considerations to weigh as you make your decision:

Pretty Table with Bold Factors: Ecommerce vs Affiliate Marketing
Factor Affiliate Marketing Ecommerce
Skills Leans heavily on affiliate marketing skills. Requires comprehensive digital marketing skills, e-commerce platform management, customer service, and an understanding of logistics.
Initial Investment Typically requires less upfront cost. Varies; can be low with dropshipping models to higher with inventory holding models. Costs include website setup and digital marketing.
Earning Potential Provides a percentage of each sale. Higher earning potential through direct sales; profit margins depend on product sourcing, pricing strategy, and operational efficiency.
Control Limits you to promoting existing products, providing less control over product selection and customer experience. Provides full control over product selection, pricing, brand development, and customer interaction, offering a more personalized business approach.

Remember, success in either model requires dedication, continuous learning, and adaptability.

Your choice should align with where you see the most potential for growth based on your skills, preferences, and financial goals.


While money can be made in both models, affiliate marketing is a great starting point for beginners. You can promote at your own pace with total ownership over scaling your income streams.

Market Trends and Growth

Understanding the current industry insights can help you gauge the potential of each online business model.

Affiliate Marketing Industry Insights

Affiliate marketing has proven to be a massive industry, with a market value surpassing $17 billion in 2023.

This growth is a testament to its effectiveness, as 16% of online orders in the United States are processed through affiliate channels, and 83% of marketers utilize the model for brand awareness efforts.

The industry is not just growing; it’s skyrocketing. From a global perspective, the affiliate marketing industry was worth $8.2 billion in 2022 and is expected to expand at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 9.89%, reaching a market size of $27.78 billion by 2027.

Market Value Projection Table
Year Global Market Value
2022 $8.2 billion
2023 $17 billion
2027 $27.78 billion (Projected)

Ecommerce Industry Insights

Ecommerce is experiencing significant growth, with sales projected to increase by 56% in the next three years, hitting approximately $8.1 trillion by 2026.

This includes the booming dropshipping model, which is expected to grow to $476.1 billion from 2021-2026.

Such figures showcase the potential ecommerce holds for entrepreneurs looking to sell products directly to consumers

A study by NYU Stern School of Business in 2023 revealed that an online ecommerce business could yield a gross profit margin of 42.78%.

Industry numbers and stats are great…but which one is more popular?

In my experience, organic search volume is typically a good indication of overall popularity.

However, popularity can fluctuate based on current economic trends, technological advancements, and shifts in consumer behavior.

Based on Google Trends data, it appears that ecommerce is the most searched of the two business models.

Below is a chart comparing the organic search popularity of affiliate marketing and ecommerce over the last 12 months.

affiliate marketing vs ecommerce google trends popularity

What is Affiliate Marketing?

Affiliate marketing is a popular type of performance-based marketing that involves a business rewarding its affiliates for each customer brought by the affiliate’s own marketing efforts.

This marketing strategy is based on revenue sharing, where the affiliate is paid a commission for every sale or lead generated.

With affiliate marketing, the business and the affiliate benefit – the business gains more customers, while the affiliate earns money.

How Does Affiliate Marketing Work?

In affiliate marketing, you, the affiliate, select products or services to promote.

When a customer makes a purchase through your unique affiliate link, you receive a commission.

This performance-based earning model is attractive because it allows you to generate income without the need to create products or manage inventory.

The amount of commission you can earn in affiliate marketing varies widely and depends on several factors, including the affiliate program you choose, the products or services you promote, the commission structure, your marketing strategies, and the size and engagement level of your audience.

Basics of Earning Commissions

The commission rate you receive varies depending on the program and the product.

Digital products often offer higher commission rates, typically ranging from 30% to as high as 50% or more.

Digital products include software, eBooks, online courses, and memberships. Because there is no physical product to manufacture or ship, vendors can afford to pay higher commissions.

Commission rates for physical products are generally lower, often ranging from 4% to 15%.

This is due to the costs associated with producing, storing, and shipping physical items.

Grasping the nuances of affiliate commissions extends beyond simply knowing the percentage you earn from each sale.

It’s critical to also familiarize yourself with the various commission structures available, as these can considerably impact your earnings and strategy in affiliate marketing.

  • Pay-per-sale: You earn a percentage of the sale price when someone buys through your link.
  • Pay-per-click (PPC): You earn a fee for each visitor you redirect to the merchant’s website, irrespective of a sale.
  • Pay-per-lead (PPL): You earn a commission when referred visitors provide their contact information on the merchant’s site.

Key Players in the Industry

Affiliate marketing has three primary players:

  1. Merchants: Also known as creators or sellers, they create products or services. They establish affiliate programs to incentivize promotion by affiliates.
  2. Affiliates: Individuals or companies that promote the merchant’s offerings. They use various channels like blogs, social media, or email marketing to reach potential customers.
  3. Customers: The end-users who purchase the merchant’s offerings through affiliate referrals.

Additionally, affiliate networks act as intermediaries between merchants and affiliates, providing a platform for both to connect and manage the affiliate relationship.

With 81% of brands having affiliate programs, there’s a vast array of products and services you can choose to promote.

Passive Income Potential

Affiliate marketing is often celebrated for its ability to generate passive income.

Once you’ve established a strong promotional strategy and built a substantial audience, you can earn money even when you’re not actively working.

One key to unlocking this potential is creating evergreen content that continues to attract visitors and drive sales over time.

Another is leveraging SEO tactics to improve the visibility of your promotional content, increasing the likelihood of consistent, passive earnings.

Pros of Affiliate Marketing

Imagine earning money while you sleep, travel, or spend time with your loved ones.

That’s the allure of affiliate marketing – it offers incredible money-making opportunities.

Engaging in affiliate marketing comes with several advantages:

  • Low Startup Costs: You don’t need to create a product. Your main focus is on promoting existing ones, saving you from the high costs associated with product development and inventory management.
  • Passive Income Potential: Once your promotional content is live and traffic starts flowing, you can earn commissions round the clock, even when you’re not actively working.
  • Flexibility: Affiliate marketing allows you to work from anywhere and set your own schedule. You can choose products that resonate with your audience and interests.

Cons of Affiliate Marketing

Even though it’s appealing, there are challenges you’ll face in affiliate marketing:

  • Competition: Affiliate marketing has become highly competitive. Standing out in a crowded market requires creativity and strategic planning.
  • Dependence on Merchants: Any changes in commission rates or discontinuation of products can affect your income.
  • Limited Control: As an affiliate, you have minimal control over the product, pricing, and how it’s marketed. You must adhere to the guidelines provided by the merchant.

What is Ecommerce?

Ecommerce, short for electronic commerce, is the buying and selling of goods and services over the Internet.

It transforms traditional retail by allowing you to access the global market 24/7 without the confines of physical space.

With ecommerce, transactions occur through various platforms, including branded websites, social media, and online marketplaces like Amazon and eBay.

How Does Ecommerce Work?

Ecommerce provides entrepreneurs a digital storefront to sell products or services directly to customers online.

From a bird’s eye view, the core foundations of an e-commerce business include:

  • Setting up an online platform to showcase your catalog
  • Contracting with suppliers or manufacturing products yourself
  • Managing payment and fulfillment operations
  • Acquiring and retaining customers through sales and marketing strategies across channels like search, social, and email

However, transforming these steps into a cohesive business requires some well-executed planning and coordination.

However, when done correctly, it can be a rewarding way to build an online business with the potential for significant growth and scalability.

Pros of Ecommerce

Opting for ecommerce comes with a number of advantages:

  • Global reach: Your store can reach customers worldwide, not just those in your geographical location.
  • Lower overhead: Without the need for a physical storefront, ecommerce can be less expensive to operate.
  • Open 24/7: Your online store can generate sales even when you’re asleep, offering convenience to customers across different time zones.
  • Data collection: Ecommerce platforms allow you to collect customer data for targeted marketing, improving customer experience and loyalty.

Cons of Ecommerce

Even though it has advantages, ecommerce isn’t without its challenges:

  • Competition: The global reach also means you’re competing with a larger pool of businesses.
  • Customer skepticism: Without a physical product to inspect before purchase, some customers remain skeptical about online shopping.
  • Technical issues: Running an online store requires dealing with website downtime, cybersecurity threats, and other technical problems.
  • Shipping costs: High shipping costs can deter customers and reduce profit margins.

Differences Between Affiliate Marketing and Ecommerce

Diving deeper into the comparison between affiliate marketing and ecommerce, it’s essential to understand some critical distinctions.

These differences can significantly impact your decision-making process, especially if you’re aiming to establish a new online business.

Startup Costs

Where affiliate marketing really shines is with its low barrier to entry.

You can get started by signing up for an affiliate program and begin promoting products across channels like social media or search ads without needing any inventory or even an ecommerce store.

Most programs are free to join and only require a website (or a following), making initial costs

very low in most cases.

Ecommerce, on the other hand, demands greater upfront investment into building an online storefront, buying sample inventory, managing shipping logistics, and paying recurring software fees.

Ongoing expenses like paid ads also accrue faster than affiliate marketing.

Here’s a basic comparison of the estimated start-up costs:

Business Model Start-Up Costs Table
Business Model Estimated Start-Up Costs
Affiliate Marketing $0 – $500 (for website hosting, domain registration, and marketing tools)
Ecommerce $1,000 – $5,000 (for website development, inventory, payment gateway, and initial marketing budget)

Customer Relationship

Customer relationship management varies significantly between the two business models.

With ecommerce, you’re responsible for customer support and building long-term relationships, as you’re the seller. This can be both a blessing and a curse, depending on your customer service skills and resources.

Affiliate marketing, on the other hand, allows you to sidestep the nitty-gritty of customer service, as the product owner handles all customer interactions.

Revenue Share

The revenue share structure is another critical difference.

In affiliate marketing, your earnings are a percentage of each sale, which varies by program and product.

Ecommerce offers the advantage of setting product pricing and capturing fuller margins. However, the tradeoff is assuming all inventory and operating risks versus the facilitated sales process of affiliate partnerships.

Control Over Pricing

Control over pricing is a significant advantage of ecommerce over affiliate marketing.

With ecommerce, you have the freedom to set your prices, which can be adjusted to optimize profit margins.

But, in affiliate marketing, the product owner sets the price, and you have little to no leverage unless you possess a substantial audience or negotiating power.

Risk Factors

The risk factors associated with each model can’t be overlooked.

While affiliate marketing offers a safer bet due to low upfront costs, your earnings are dependent on successful referrals, and competition can be fierce.

In contrast, investing in ecommerce has an inherent risk related to the initial outlay and the ongoing need to market the product effectively.

But, the potential for higher earnings might justify this risk for some entrepreneurs.

Affiliate Marketing vs Ecommerce: Final Thoughts

Choosing between affiliate marketing and ecommerce isn’t a one-size-fits-all decision. It’s about aligning with your personal goals, understanding your resources, and being comfortable with your level of control.

So, take a moment to reflect on what excites you and where you see your strengths.

That’s where your best chance of success lies.

Remember, success in online business isn’t just about choosing the right model but also about how well you execute it.

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