Demystifying the ‘Wirecutter effect’

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In our first #Power100 spotlight, we examine product review and recommendation site Wirecutter and why its such a successful partner for Awin brands.  

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Founded in 2011 by Brian Lam, the product review and recommendation site Wirecutter has since grown to become one of the most-trusted consumer review sites in the US. So trusted, in fact, that the so-called ‘Wirecutter effect’ describes the sudden surge in sales retailers face when one of their products is spotlighted by the team’s editors as a Wirecutter Pick.

That kind of influence over such a huge audience of shoppers doesn’t just happen overnight. It’s something earned over years of rigorous product testing by an impartial team of experts focused on finding and vetting the very best across more than 1,000 products and sharing that information as transparently as possible.

As Leilani Han, Wirecutter’s executive director of commerce explained, “Our founder really instilled from the very beginning that, if you were doing right by the reader and putting them at the center of everything, then the rest will follow.”

For Han, the monetisation of the site via affiliate was therefore a completely natural strategy. “It’s so perfectly matched up from the perspective of being compensated for performance – performance is such a strong indicator of the reader’s trust.”

Of course, balancing that commercial aspect with the editorial integrity of its reviewers was crucial for establishing this trust. So, Han’s team operates completely independently from editorial, with the journalists unaware of any commercial agreements in place.

While affiliate has been a cornerstone source of revenue for Wirecutter since its inception, the site’s acquisition by the New York Times in 2016 for more than $30m subsequently saw the erection of a paywall on its content for the first time last year. This aligned Wirecutter with the subscription model its parent has successfully pioneered for years now, and though Han acknowledges the concerns around how this might impact its reach were not surprising, the shift to a subscription model really signified to Wirecutter’s audience that proper journalism is worth paying for.

This isn’t to suggest the business is abandoning its affiliate roots though. Partnerships with brands remain incredibly important to Wirecutter, not just as a commercial concern but as a means of gauging the quality of its output. “It’s this huge indicator of whether or not our readers are actually taking our advice and trusting us – that feedback loop is never going to go away for us in terms of its importance.”

And thanks to the comprehensive nature of reviews, Wirecutter’s status as a trusted resource is likely to remain that way for years to come. It’s not just about taking into account the quality of the individual product itself and how a person uses it in their daily life, but considering the entire customer experience associated with it. Everything from how easy it is to buy on site, the quality of the customer service, the warranties offered and the inventory levels available, along with a host of other factors that could impact the buying experience.

Looking to the future, Han suggests there are new aspects becoming increasingly important for consumers to be aware of that Wirecutter is factoring in more and more. “We’ve been expanding the scope of our advice so that it’s not just about a product we recommend, but other helpful advice like ‘how do you make sure it lasts?’, ‘how do you take care of it?’ and a variety of other considerations which might be important to you, such as topics around sustainability and accessibility.”

With today’s shoppers increasingly overwhelmed by information when researching a new product, sites like Wirecutter are playing a uniquely important role for them and one that will inevitably contribute to their continued growth and success.

Wirecutter is one of the #Power100 partners featured in the Awin Report 2022. Access your free copy of here