West Marine Destroys Their Own Datafeed

So.... I make money from affiliate marketing. That means, basically, that I help people who are looking to buy stuff find what they need, and the merchant they buy from pays me a small cut of the revenue from the sale.

One of my favorite things to do in my affiliate marketing efforts is to use datafeeds from the merchants that I'm affiliated with. I get a download of their product catalog daily, or once a week, and I can pull appropriate products from the catalog to display to my site visitors.

Merchants are all over the board in terms of the quality of their datafeeds. West Marine, one of my favorite boating-supply merchants, has just shot themselves in the foot with changes to their datafeed. They used to make good use of the "category" field in the datafeed. They also used a secondary category field that allowed me to really target the specific products I wanted to highlight. I could pull out, say, all the aluminum propellers to display on a page about buying propellers.

Suddenly, their datafeed contains no category information at all. I started getting notices from my websites that no data was being found in the database for boat propellers. Or marine paint. Or deck hardware.

I go in and look at the database, and it turns out that West Marine's datafeed contains no category or secondary category information at all. None, nada, zip.

Here's what West Marine's database used to look like:

WestMarine's datafeed with categories and subcategories

WestMarine's datafeed with categories and subcategories

I'm sure you can visualize how easy it is pull items from that database by asking for all products in the category "aluminum props."

And here's West Marine's catalog today:

WestMarine's datafeed without categories or subcategories

WestMarine's datafeed without categories or subcategories

Notice the complete lack of category information.

I guess I could go through their database and spend a ridiculous amount of time to find all the product names or SKU numbers of their products that I want to feature. If I pull products whose product name contains propellers then I get propeller pins and nuts and bolts and replacement blades and rear hub parts .... Lots of products with "propeller" in the product name that's not actually a propeller. Having that category "Aluminum Propellers" made things nice and neat and easy.

So you know what? It's quick and easy to grab propellers from my datafeed from Boaters World or Bass Pro Shops by using their categories.

I feature a lot of boating-related products on a variety of websites. Fishing tackle, engine parts, marine paint, winches and cleats, docking equipment, ground tackle. I do not have the time to tweeze out each West Marine product by some method other than categories — especially when their competition allows me to use categories!

A couple of years ago, West Marine inexplicably changed the location of all of their product images, but didn't update their datafeed to reflect the change. For weeks, unbeknownst to me, all of my West Marine product listings were showing broken image icons where the product image was supposed to be. I notified West Marine's affiliate program manager, but I never heard a word back from him. I did figure out on my own where they had moved their images to, and I wrote a little script that updates the database automatically. I'm not sure they ever fixed that.

And now this. I'm having to go through and change my product display everywhere that I feature West Marine products. Unfortunately for West Marine, those product listings are all becoming displays of Bass Pro and Boater's World products. I haven't bothered notifying the affiliate program manager this time, because I don't expect I would get a response this time, either.


  1. I work for West Marine and I am responsible for the naming of the categories. We actually spend quite a bit of time doing this, and it doesn’t serve us any purpose to omit category names from our datafeed. Why don’t you give me a call at West Marine and we’ll figure out what’s going on. I’d be happy to take any suggestions from you as to how to improve the category names (presuming they show up in the feed). We’re actually pretty easy to deal with.


    Chuck Hawley

    • Wow, thank you! I’ll be happy to give you a call and see if we get this fixed.

      I just checked a fresh download of the feed, and the categories are still not there, so this is still happening. It must be disheartening for you to spend so much time naming and managing the categories, only to find out that they’re omitting the categories from the datafeed.

      I take it you mean I can reach you at the main corporate West Marine number? I’ll wait until after the holidays. Meanwhile, Merry Christmas! I’ll give you a call next week.

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