Refreshed 31st Aug 2021 (Posted 6th Apr 2021)
Update 3
Thanks to everyone for their patience here. We’ve spent the last few weeks assessing the trial, and I wanted to share the outcome. A bit more detail is below, but as I guess it’s the bit everyone is most interested in… Our decision is to not continue this scheme or run further tests at this time.

We genuinely learned a lot from doing this test, and we aren’t ruling out trying to find a way to get great deals shared directly from partners onto the site - but based on what we have found, we believe we shouldn’t continue on the exact same path for now.

Main findings:

  • Verified Partners did not spam the sites, which was definitely a possibility if we hadn’t had the rules we did. Unfortunately, the complete opposite happened - with VPs only providing 0.27% of the activated deals during the test period.

  • The quality of the deals varied massively by partner. But overall, not enough deals got super hot for anyone to be excited about, nor was the average temperature what we were hoping for. I think this is a real shame, as certainly in some of the other countries we ran the test in, we saw a good number of 1000 degree+ deals, but still not enough of them.

  • We appreciate there was very strong feedback from many of you, and of course we took that on board as part of the overall results - it was very much in the Cons columns, as we don’t enjoy annoying or upsetting members.

    We also looked at what the community as a whole did before, during and after the test. We were pleased to see that the number of deal submitters, voters and commenters stayed consistent, and we didn’t see a spike in account deletions. We also ran a survey asking users if they trusted the site, and these numbers stayed the same before and then throughout the test.

  • As intimated above, there was a real issue with Verified Partners use of the test. 45% of them were either totally inactive, only submitted deals we had to decline, or stopped submitting within 4 weeks. This was frustrating, especially as the partners who did post popular deals gave us nice feedback about the test.

  • The click outs to partners and revenue driven was low - especially in relation to the amount of person-hours we had to put in to run the scheme.


Taking all these reasons in combination, we don’t think continuing this as a full time programme, or running a similar test in the short term future, is the right course of action.
We want to let you all know about a trial we are planning to run, aiming to start in May. For an initial period of eight weeks, we will allow a group of up to 30 retailers to post their own deals and vouchers to hotukdeals.

These posts must meet all our usual Publication Rules, and deals from these retailers will be treated like deals from any normal member. This means products must be selling for the best price currently available, and deals will be clearly marked as coming directly from retailers. hotukdeals members will be able to vote and comment on these deals in exactly the same way as on any other deal.

So, that’s the TL;DR version - but I’d really encourage anyone who’s interested to read the detailed information below so you can understand why and how we are approaching this.

Why are we doing this?

We believe that allowing retailers to post their own deals in a way that’s transparent and adheres to our rules will have three main benefits. The eight week trial will allow us to discover whether we’re right about that!

  • For the community… better deals. We want the retailers we choose to create a wide range of deals that will really get our community excited. That’s why we think it’s important members can still vote, comment and click as you would on any normal deal.

    We believe better deals will occur because retailers already spend lots of time and effort on anything that can increase sales, even choosing the ‘right’ cat meme to post on Facebook. They can now use that energy to find the best deals in their shop, and even fight for a better price if they are sure our community will love it. This is because selling something for 10% less, but selling 100s more units of it, is more profitable for the retailer - as well as a better deal for the community.

  • For hotukdeals… more traffic and engagement. Our aim is to have a wider range of content that is often exclusive and always market-leading. This means more people will come to us for great deals, and do more on the site when they’re here.

    We want the hotukdeals community to keep growing, so it can continue to help more and more people make good shopping decisions. More people using hotukdeals to look for deals also means more users who can find amazing deals on their own and share them with the community.

    If this happens, it also means we will grow our revenues - which in turn means we continue to improve the website and get better deals in the future.

  • For retailers… more exposure for their best offers. Partners will obviously want users to buy their deals and use their vouchers. The framework we’ve set up means those deals will need to be of high quality, and that retailers will have to adhere to all of our rules. The retailers who use this new feature most successfully will benefit from expert feedback from our community. This will help them make their future offers even better, and therefore more popular.

How will I know which deals are from partners?

We’ll highlight them in a similar way to editors’ deals. Right next to the username there’ll be an icon and a title tag that says ‘Verified Partner’. We’ll share examples of this closer to the launch date so you know what you’re looking for.

Each post shared by a Verified Partner will also contain a paragraph explaining who they are and how this trial works, with links to further information.

It looks like this...


3700767.jpg
To be really clear, just like at present there will be other retailers who are allowed to offer customer service help via comments and PMs - but these are just marked Verified and look like this


3700767.jpg

These Verified Partner accounts will have limited functionality compared to user accounts - for instance, voting will be blocked. We will also require the participating retailers to monitor comments below their deals, and help out any users having problems.


Won’t this mean the site gets flooded with loads of average deals?

Avoiding this is our top priority. The worst outcome for hotukdeals would be for the website to become an advertising platform for the sort of average deals you see in Facebook ads or spammy promotional emails. That’s why our framework is designed to avoid this:

  • For the trial period, we’ll allow a limited number (c.30) of Verified Partners to post their own deals.

    Retailers are being picked on the basis of having had hot deals on the site in recent weeks, but not LOADS of them (as in that case we probably already have the best deals from that seller).
  • Each partner will have a weekly limit on how many deals they can post - starting at just two. For context, users currently submit around 4000-5000 deals in an average week.
  • A Verified Partner’s deals limit can increase only if the deals posted are seen as high quality with the community. We will only increase limits if the partner posted deals are more popular than user ones, on average.
  • Conversely, the limit can decrease - and partners may even be removed from the trial if the quality of their deals is too low.

As explained above, your votes and comments will work in just the same way as always on deals from Verified Partners.


Will retailers pay Pepper to be part of this?

For this trial period, there is no fee for being a Verified Partner, as we want to make sure we work with the right retailers to really see if this can be a success. We will earn money through commission on clicks to retailers in the same way we already do on much user and editor posted deals.

We don’t intend for this feature to be something any retailer can simply pay to be part of - they have to meet community-focussed criteria we set in order to be involved, even if in future we introduced subscription fees to meet our costs of setting this up.


So is all self promotion allowed?

Self promotion is always a thorny topic, and one we can see both sides of. Right now we delete hundreds of deals per week before they can go live, because the poster has a connection to the retailer.

While in an ideal world, the most neutral thing to do might be to allow all retailers to post their own deals, the problem is that most of these are not shared in a transparent way. Instead, individual employees become members of our community, don’t declare any connection to a retailer and post the deal in a way that implies they have just stumbled across a great offer.

We don’t believe this is how a helpful, fair and open community should work - it undermines the trust we aim to uphold and would mean users couldn’t tell the difference between genuine and spam deals.

However, within those threads we remove there are occasional gems; amazing deals which, if given the chance to go live in an honest way, could be hugely popular with our users. So our solution is to verify some partners and allow them to submit their deals on the platform (initially as a trial). hotukdeals members still get to say which deals fly or fall - but we’ve made it easy for you to identify Verified Partners, so you’re completely clear on who is sharing what.


How does this differ from Sponsored Posts?

Sponsored posts are deals which are proving popular with the community, and receive further promotion in a short-lived, fixed position on the website, in return for a payment from the retailer.

Deals of at least 100° can get promoted on our Hot page, and once a deal reaches 300° it can be promoted in a single slot on our Highlights page. Whether a deal ends up hot enough to be promoted is entirely up to the community; you decide what works and what doesn’t.

Up to now, deals posted by both editors and community members have been put into Sponsored slots. During this trial, deals from Verified Partners will also be eligible for this promotion. You can find out more about Sponsored content in our FAQ.


Next steps

Between now and the start of May, we will be choosing some retailers to invite to take part. Once the participants in our trial have been agreed, we’ll take them through all of our rules and the expectations they’ll need to adhere to.

We will also be finalising the details of the trial and the design of the Verified Partner flags, and will share these with you once we have them.

The trial will run for eight weeks from early May to early July. It will then stop while we assess how it has worked against the three main benefits I outlined above. Primarily, we’ll look at whether the trial has led to better deals being shared with the community. If we judge the trial a success, we’ll work out how it might continue.


We want your feedback…

No doubt many of you will have questions and perhaps concerns you’d like to share with us, and we want to hear them. Please rest assured, though, that our goal is to keep improving our platform as a place where the absolute best deals can always be found, and in a way that users trust. We believe that, if successful, this trial will have benefits for all - not least a tonne of great new content, which our users might otherwise have missed.

We’ve announced these plans a month before the trial is due to start because we want to know how our members feel about it. We’re sure there will be a wide range of opinions, as there have been internally since we started discussing this idea.

We will be running the trial, as otherwise we’ll never find out whether this approach can work as we believe it can - but you now have the opportunity to feed back to us on anything you think we should consider that hasn’t been mentioned here.
Community Updates
Sigma
Update 1 - 7th May

Since posting this thread, we have been working on exactly how the trial will work, what rules we need to give it the best chance of succeeding (ie, creating better deals for the community) and which merchants will be allowed to participate.

We’re now ready to announce that Verified Partners will be allowed to begin sharing deals from next Tuesday. They will each start with a 2 deals per week limit, and this will only increase if we see high quality offers (and can decrease if we see the opposite).

We have created an Onboarding Guide which is being sent to all Verified Partners. This includes the key rules, and lots of information about how we expect them to behave. We want to be transparent with everyone, so you can read the whole guide yourself here: proof.pepper.com/f/7GBNdbxlAp.pdf (https://proof.pepper.com/f/7GBNdbxlAp.pdf)

I’d recommend having a browse through if you have the time, but if not some of the key rules (among many more…) are:

  • Deals must beat the next best price by 10%.
  • Descriptions must include all relevant information, and not be full of marketing speak.
  • We expect Verified Partners to monitor their deals for any customer service problems and help fix them.
Update 2
Hi folks.

8 weeks have passed since we invited some of our partners to post their deals themselves, and as such the test will finish as planned on 10 July.

From then, partners who participated in the test are no longer allowed to post deals, but they are still allowed to respond to comments, in case you have any questions about the deals.

We will now take around four weeks to evaluate the test, based on a wide number of factors including (but not limited to)…

- Number and quality of deals shared, compared to other sources of deals
- Impact on community engagement and trust
- Partner interactions, behaviour and engagement
- Overall costs (eg resources from us) and revenues

I really want to thank everyone who got involved in this thread and told us what you thought of the way the trial worked and the deals/merchants themselves. I know there is some disagreement with us even trying this, but one thing we were always certain of is we couldn’t try it without having a totally open channel of communication with the community, and we have learnt a lot from just the discussion, as well as the test itself

I am not going to pre-empt the evaluation we do, as it involves a lot of data from across four very different countries, and will be a genuine exercise without any pre-determined outcome.

However I thought it might be helpful if I shared just a few numbers, and my own personal ‘big picture’ feelings on how things went.

UK data for VPP

- 81 deals from Verified Partners went live (another 63 were rejected by the community support team for not meeting the rules we set out
- 18 different merchants had deals go live on the platform, while another 4 tried to submit deals which didn’t meet our rules.
- 30 deals went hot (37%) - this is around 46% for ‘normal’ users.
- 13 deals were auto-selected by our highlights page algorithm (16%) - this was 10% for normal users

What went well (my personal view)…

- We found some partners who understood the expectations of the community, both in terms of price and necessary information.
- Also, some partners really got into the groove of monitoring and responding to comments, which was nice to see
- We saw a few deals that were exactly how we imagined this may work - merchants realising they had a chance to get a popular reaction to certain stock by lowering the price and flagging it to hotukdeals users, either through exclusive codes or just telling us first using their VPP accounts
- The community, in this thread and in comments under these deals, gave great feedback as ever and, for merchants who listened, that feedback showed up in an improvement in their next offerings
- Our rules and set up managed to stop below-par discounts/offers making it live (on the whole!) and avoid a spam effect by limiting deals

What didn’t go so well (again, just what I think!)…

- On average, the deals submitted weren’t as strong as we hoped.
- We saw that for a sizeable number of merchants, they weren’t able to do the research or commit the resource necessary to make the deal descriptions and information as good as we wanted
- It was really hard to predict which merchants would work well and which ones wouldn’t - the patterns seem random! So adding and removing partners involved a lot of assumptions and guesswork - and that meant the success of doing so was inconsistent.

As I say though, this is just my view and only looks at the UK. Now it's time to collect the feedback from all four countries involved, both quantitative and qualitative, and to draw conclusions from an in-depth analysis. We will come back in a few weeks with a complete evaluation and next steps, which we will then share with you.
Update 1
The trial period starts today at 10am.

Here are the rules and guidelines we have sent to all Verified Partners: proof.pepper.com/f/7…pdf

Each of the following partners are allowed to submit deals, and will each start with a 2 deals per week limit, which will only increase if we see high quality offers (and can decrease if we see the opposite). A few extra partners may be added in the coming weeks, to a max of 30.

Electronics
Hughes
JohnLewisOfficial
TheVeryGroup
HooverOfficial
BT Shop

Family and Kids
The_Works

Fashion
Bondara
ErnestJones
JohnGreed
justhype
Matalan
Low Cost Glasses

Health & beauty
Justmylook

Home
sleepseeker
WeeklyDeals4Less_uk

Leisure/Travel
buyagift
RedLetterDays
Virgin_Experience_Days

Telecoms
MobilePhonesDirect
Talkmobile
VOXI


We also added the option to allow members to block deals from individual Partners. If you use the Mute function available on the Profile page of a Verified Partner, you will not see any deals they post - allowing you to choose on a partner by partner basis which deals you would prefer to hide. FYI the Mute function on normal users just blocks their comments and PMs.
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