Incentive contract design for internet referral services: cost per click vs cost per sale

Chi ZHOU, Geni XU, Zhibing LIU*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose: Internet referral services are a common form of online marketing operating activities. To incentivize infomediaries and improve referral performance, brand retailers typically apply the cost-per-click (CPC) or the cost-per-sale (CPS) payments. The purpose of this paper is to investigate the effect of referral services on the optimal contract with CPC or CPS payments.

Design/methodology/approach: This paper studies a mechanism design problem for internet referral services. To maximize the expected utility of the brand retailer, an uncertain contract model is established in which the brand retailer's assessment of the infomediary's referral service capability is characterized as an uncertain variable. Then equivalent models under CPC and CPS payments are presented to obtain the optimal solutions. 

Findings: The results demonstrate that under CPC payments, as the referral service capability increases, the optimal sales volume is increasing, and the optimal transfer payment first shows a declining and then a rising trend. The brand retailer is less likely to raise the optimal transfer payment for the infomediary given a higher CPC revenue-sharing fee percentage, which is counterintuitive. Under CPS payments, the optimal sales volume and transfer payment are also increasing in the referral service capability. In addition, an increase in the click-through rate leads to the infomediary's incremental marginal utility. 

Originality/value: The value of this research is its application of incentive contracts to the internet referral services considering CPC or CPS payments. The results of this research can serve as a guide for retailers and infomediaries in their decision-making around online retailing.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)601-626
Number of pages26
Issue number2
Early online date9 Jul 2019
Publication statusPublished - 23 Jan 2020
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019, Emerald Publishing Limited.


  • Contract theory
  • Cost per click
  • Cost per sale
  • Information asymmetry
  • Internet referral services
  • Uncertainty theory


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