what is the difference between dropshipping and affiliate marketing

Dropshipping vs. Affiliate Marketing: Understanding the Difference

When it comes to e-commerce, two popular business models that are becoming increasingly common are dropshipping and affiliate marketing. Although they may seem similar, there are significant differences between the two. In this article, we’ll unpack what dropshipping and affiliate marketing are, how they work, and the benefits and drawbacks of each.

What is Dropshipping?

Dropshipping is a retail fulfillment method where a store owner doesn’t keep the products they sell in stock. Instead, once a customer places an order, the store owner purchases the product from a third party, usually a wholesaler or manufacturer, and has it shipped directly to the customer. The merchant never handles or sees the product.

The main advantage of dropshipping is that it allows store owners to start an online business without needing to manage inventory, handling packing or shipping products, or manage a warehouse.

How Does It Work?

The dropshipping process starts with your online store. You can build your store on platforms like Shopify, WooCommerce, or BigCommerce, then add the available products to your store.

Next, you market these products to potential customers, generating sales in the process. Once an order is placed, you purchase the product from a third-party supplier, typically at a discounted price.

The supplier then ships the product to your customer, and you keep the difference in profit between what you’ve charged your customer and the cost that you paid the supplier.

Pros and Cons of Dropshipping

– Low Startup Costs
– No Inventory Management
– Flexible Location and Time – this type of business does not require a physical store, allowing you to work from anywhere and at any time.
– Wide Selection of Products
– Scalable Business

– High Competition – Due to the low upfront cost, it is easy for anyone to start a dropshipping business, leading to increased competition.
– Low Margins – Because the products are sold at a discount to the retailer, the margins can be very small.
– Less Control – Putting your trust in third-party providers means that you have less control over aspects such as the product quality, shipping times, and pricing.

What is Affiliate Marketing?

Affiliate marketing is a process where individuals earn a commission by promoting other people’s or company’s products. They achieve this by creating content that promotes the product, for instance, a blog post, a how-to guide, or a YouTube video.

When a user clicks your unique referral link and makes a purchase, you earn a commission, which is usually a percentage of the final sale value. The commission rate and the payment structure entirely depend on the affiliate program you sign up for.

How Does It Work?

To become an affiliate marketer, you need to sign up for an affiliate program, such as Amazon Associates, Commission Junction, or Clickbank. Once you sign up, you get access to a unique referral link, which you promote through your website, blog, or social media.

When a user clicks your link and makes a purchase, the sale is tracked using cookies that are stored in the user’s browser. The affiliate program’s software identifies the sale and credits a commission to your account.

Pros and Cons of Affiliate Marketing

– Low startup costs
– No inventory management
– No Shipping or Handling
– Wide range of products available to promote
– Ability to market to a targeted niche
– Passive Income

– No control over the product quality and delivery times
– No direct interaction with the buyer
– You only earn a commission from successful sales
– High competition in some markets

FAQs about Dropshipping and Affiliate Marketing

1. Which business model is better, dropshipping or affiliate marketing?
There is no straightforward answer to this question, as both models have their pros and cons. The choice between the two business models often depends on your business goals and personal preference.

2. Can I combine affiliate marketing and dropshipping?
Yes, you can. One way is to use affiliate marketing to generate initial traffic to your store, then use dropshipping to handle the sales and order fulfillment.

3. What skills do I need to start a dropshipping or affiliate marketing business?
For both business models, you need basic internet literacy, a basic understanding of e-commerce, and marketing skills such as Search Engine Optimization and social media marketing.


Both dropshipping and affiliate marketing offer excellent opportunities to start and run an online business with relatively low startup costs. While each model has its merits, the choice between the two ultimately depends on your goals and preferences. Regardless of the model, it’s essential to do proper research, find reliable suppliers or partners, and understand the key aspects of marketing to succeed.