How brands in Italy are leveraging affiliate marketing to reach growing e-commerce users

Acceleration Partners

“The change is real, the change is deep, and the change is here to stay”.

This quote by David Parma, Research Institute Ipsos, resonates not just in the Italian market, but across the globe. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, brands across the world have adapted their offering to suit the changing needs of consumers and the new business landscape that has emerged. Italy was the first country in Europe to officially lockdown and soon after we saw more brands adding online services to their offerings, as brick and mortar stores began to close.

Italians have traditionally preferred to shop in-store and pay by cash. However, as a result of the pandemic, consumers began buying items online in record numbers, with 75% of Italians shopping online during the lockdown. Up to two million Italians tried e-commerce for the first time between January – May 2020 and this growing trend is predicted to remain, post social distancing restrictions.

As consumer shopping and spending habits shift online, brands have become increasingly aware of the importance of having both an online division of their business and the value of the pay-on-performance model that affiliate marketing offers.


E-commerce trends in Italy


Accessible delivery services

As more Italians adapted to living and working from home, their purchasing needs also centred around convenience and staying safe during the lockdown. In Italy, the Food and Grocery sector saw the largest increase, with a value of € 2,7 bn a +70% Year-over-Year. E-commerce giant Amazon also became the most popular online store in Italy, experiencing exceptional growth during the lockdown. Shoppers turned to Amazon to purchase staples such as wine and food as well as, home-office equipment and fitness products. Brands looking to expand to Italy should ensure they can offer quick and accessible delivery options. Buyers are placing increasing importance on fast and tailored delivery services, with collection points and couriers offering 48-hour delivery services rising in popularity.



As e-commerce grew in popularity across Italy in 2020, many consumers turned to mobile devices to make purchases, with 51% of B2C purchases taking place on a smartphone. As mobile purchases continue to increase, advertisers and affiliates need to ensure that their website is well-equipped to support mobile traffic. Brands should have a responsive website, mobile site, or app, and of course, a tracking system that can support cross-device tracking alongside the right reporting. Mobile tech affiliates such as Button or Singular can help brands looking to reach consumers on mobile devices via the affiliate channel. In addition, many loyalty, deal, and voucher sites now also provide state of the art parallel tracking, which speeds up load times and boosts conversions.


The rising importance of user experience

As more Italians move to shopping online, user experience and brand engagement are becoming increasingly important. Across 2020 voice shopping tools such as Google Mini and Alexa grew in popularity. This trend is set to become the predominant purchasing method over the next three years. At the same time, social commerce, which allows brands to combine engaging social content with shoppable products, is expected to rise in popularity. Time spent on Facebook soared by 70% in March 2020, with consumers accessing shopping and entertainment within the platform. Deal, content, and voucher partners can leverage this trend, promoting brand offers via their social platforms.


Cross-border commerce

Cross-border e-commerce is gaining prominence, with consumers looking to buy from international merchants, primarily driven by the lack of domestic options available. For advertisers looking to attract target audiences in Italy, it is worth implementing a multilingual website to increase conversion rates. China, the UK and Germany, all benefit from being Italy’s most popular eCommerce markets for Italians seeking variety and choice. Brands in Italy can also work with affiliates such as Discoup, who attract price-savvy Italian consumers looking for the best deals.


Affiliate marketing nuances in Italy


Affiliate marketing maturity

Italy’s affiliate marketing industry is less developed than other European countries such as the U.K. and Germany, however, the importance of affiliate marketing is growing. There are limited affiliate marketing agencies offering complete support for brands and their performance marketing strategy. Those looking to expand to Italy will require a performance marketing agency familiar with the Italian market and who can identify new opportunities with affiliates and partners to increase affiliate programme performance. The performance model offers a low-risk strategy for brands entering the market and we expect to see online penetration in Italy increase significantly by 2024. Examples of successful brands dominating the e-commerce landscape include Amazon, Decathlon Italy and Zalando.


Barriers to entry

Traditionally Italians prefer to close deals in person, which has been limiting during the pandemic. For success in the region, it is best to schedule face-to-face contact where possible to build long-term relationships. Working with a specialist affiliate marketing agency, which has in-market language speakers is essential for building strong relationships with partners across the region. In terms of customer acquisition, advertisers also need to be aware that Southern areas of Italy are still developing, and infrastructure is improving. Potential customers here have below-average rates of online purchasing, due to the north-south divide and lack of internet access.


Online retail market penetration is expected to grow at a faster pace in Italy than all other EU Markets (5% to 10% over the next five years), according to CBRE Global Investors. As Italy’s economy begins to bounce back from the COVID-19 pandemic, brands are continuing to experiment with digital avenues to service customers and meet growing e-commerce demand.  Many brands are seeing the benefits of the affiliate channel to reach and engage with consumers.


You can learn more about expanding into Europe in our EMEA affiliate marketing handbook here.


Do you have questions about global affiliate programme management? Contact our friendly team today, to learn more.


Edoardo Spadaro is an associate account manager at Acceleration Partners.