Affiliate Marketing vs. Dropshipping: Which One Is Right for You

by | Apr 13, 2024 | Ecommerce Tricks

There are two low-cost and widely used online business models: affiliate marketing and dropshipping. Both provide individuals with the chance to generate passive income online without the need for inventory or product requirements.Although both models carry low risks, they operate differently and come with unique pros and cons. So you need to fully understand them to find the best business model for you.

What is affiliate marketing?

Join the JetPrint Affiliate Program

Affiliate marketing operates as a performance-based marketing program where individuals or businesses earn commissions by promoting products or services from other companies.

Join a brand’s affiliate program and promote your affiliate link or discount code to your target audience by leveraging your personal blog, social media, and email. When someone clicks on your affiliate URL and makes a purchase or uses your independent discount code, you will receive a corresponding commission based on the amount of each purchase made by your audience.

What is dropshipping?

Dropshipping model process

Dropshipping involves selling products to customers without holding inventory. Instead, dropshippers purchase products from third-party
vendors, who then ship the products directly to customers. This model eliminates the need for inventory management and an upfront investment in inventory.

Therefore, dropshippers act as middlemen between customers and suppliers, profiting from the difference between the buying and selling prices.

Affiliate marketing vs. dropshipping

Pros of affiliate marketing

Passive income
Affiliate marketing offers affiliates the opportunity to earn passive income, meaning you can continue generating revenue from past promotions and content without ongoing active involvement. Once you’ve set up affiliate links and created content, you can earn commissions on those links as your audience makes purchases, even while you’re sleeping or focusing on other projects.

As you scale up your efforts and continue driving traffic to your content, affiliate marketing provides a source of recurring revenue as long as the promoted products remain relevant and continue generating sales.

Low start-up costs
Regardless of your status, you can join an affiliate program. Most affiliate programs are free to join, and there’s no need to invest in product development, inventory, or shipping.

Your main investment lies in building your website or creating content to attract your audience. This is how most entrepreneurs, bloggers, influencers, and content creators reach their audience and aim to monetize their online presence.

No need to worry about customer support
Once you’ve applied to join an affiliate program, your focus shifts to promoting your exclusive affiliate link or discount code. Your goal is to attract your audience to purchase products through your affiliate link.

You can set aside concerns about purchasing products, handling returns, or exchanges, as the company you’re promoting takes care of everything.

Cons of affiliate marketing

Reliance on affiliate marketing programs
Affiliate marketers depend on the affiliate programs they join. These programs provide tracking systems and set payment schedules. Relying on these programs means adhering to their terms and conditions, which could change over time.

If a program you heavily rely on reduces commissions, shuts down, or alters its policies in a way that impacts your revenue negatively, it could disrupt your entire business strategy.

Commission rates
Commission rates vary depending on the industry. Service-oriented industries often offer commissions exceeding 15%, while companies selling products typically provide rates below 10%.

If an affiliate program has a short lifespan and offers low commission rates, it can be challenging to earn substantial revenue. Even if you generate numerous sales, the low commission percentage may not translate into significant earnings.

Affiliate links can be removed
Affiliate links are essential for tracking sales, but they can be vulnerable to manipulation by hackers or unauthorized parties, leading to removal or alteration of the links, resulting in lost commissions for you.

Moreover, violating the terms of the affiliate program can prompt the program or platform to modify or deactivate your affiliate link without prior notice, potentially causing you to lose commissions.

Pros of dropshipping

Better control over pricing and margins
You have the potential to earn higher profit margins compared to affiliate marketing. With dropshipping, you set your own prices for the products you sell without the constraints of fixed rates.

You can also boost sales by offering discounts or promotions on your products. On average, joining dropshipping fulfillment and selling regular products yields a profit of around 15%, while dropshipping jewelry can bring in profits of about 30%.

Brand building
You can establish your brand and cultivate a loyal customer base. You have the freedom to create a distinct brand identity, design your website, and deliver top-notch products to foster trust and credibility with your customers.

Dropshipping allows you to shape your brand image through your products and social media presence, paving the way for significant long-term income.

Get paid instantly
You typically can access payment immediately after a sale.

In contrast, affiliate marketing often involves earning a commission for each sale made through an affiliate link. Payments from affiliate programs are usually disbursed once commissions reach a certain threshold. Some programs pay commissions monthly, while others have longer payment cycles.

Cons of dropshipping

Lack of quality control
Sellers face limited control over product quality and shipping times, potentially impacting customer satisfaction.

Issues like shipping delays, product quality concerns, and shipping errors can all negatively affect you. Finding solutions to these problems can be challenging. Your only recourse may be to continuously remind the supplier to address issues promptly to mitigate customer loss.

JetPrint is a reliable print-on-demand company offering popular products such as shoes, jewelry, and football.

Fierce competition
The dropshipping market is increasingly competitive due to its low entry barrier and ease of startup.

You will encounter many sellers selling the same products as you, and most sellers selling the same products will be beaten by lower prices.

Need for customer service
As a dropshipper, you’re responsible for providing customer service, handling returns, and addressing any questions or complaints directly.

This can be time-consuming, and sometimes you may need to liaise with dropshipping suppliers for product-related issues.

The responsiveness of your customer service plays a crucial role in retaining customers. Excellent service instills confidence and builds trust among users.

The difference between affiliate marketing and dropshipping

Affiliate marketing

You’re primarily promoting other companies’ products and services, and establishing a distinctive brand image can be a challenge.

You’re not responsible for product handling, but your commission rate is determined by the affiliate program.

Your job is to attract customers to click on your link, and when they purchase the product or service you referred, you earn a commission.

You can direct potential customers to the merchant’s website by promoting your content (social media, blogs, forums) with a unique affiliate link.


You serve as a middleman between suppliers and customers, managing marketing and customer service. The business you operate is your own.

You have the flexibility to set your own product prices, thereby determining your profit margin.

Your primary objective is to attract customers to purchase your products and generate profits.

You drive potential customers to your website by promoting your content (social media, blogs, forums).

Which is more profitable: affiliate marketing or dropshipping?

The answer is: dropshipping. Yes, dropshipping tends to offer better profit margins. The primary reason is that you have control over pricing and sales, essentially running your own business.

But if you’re wondering which one is better?

Although both affiliate marketing and dropshipping are low-cost and potentially lucrative business models, it’s challenging to definitively say one is superior to the other.

If you have a substantial following on social media and intend to create a personal blog, it’s logical to consider joining an affiliate marketing program. This avenue has the potential to generate significant income for you.

However, if your goal is to establish your own branded store and gather customer reviews, then dropshipping is the route to pursue.


Can you combine affiliate marketing and dropshipping?

Yes. You can blend affiliate marketing and dropshipping to expand your revenue streams.

Do I need to run ads when doing affiliate marketing and dropshipping?

Affiliate marketing can often start at $0. While dropshipping may involve ads, you can also promote products through social media videos. If you aim to boost sales, investing in advertising is necessary.

For beginners, which is better, affiliate marketing or dropshipping?

Both affiliate marketing and dropshipping are beginner-friendly business models. However, affiliate marketing is often seen as easier because it doesn’t involve the tasks of order management and customer service that dropshipping does.

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