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4 ways publishers are looking at partnerships to realise their eCommerce ambitions

Few publishers possess the end-to-end skills and tools to deliver their eCommerce ambitions single handedly. 

As a result, many media organisations are partnering with a wide range of players – from commerce platforms like Shopify and StackCommerce, through to retailers and social networks – in the delivery of their eCommerce activities. 

For publishers to execute a successful eCommerce strategy, these types of partnerships are often fundamental. Here’s four reasons why:

1. Bricks and Mortar: a physical presence 

Partnerships can take many forms; often starting small and growing. This approach has been especially discernable with a number of recent efforts from Marie Claire UK, POPSUGAR and BuzzFeed which have all grown after successful earlier partnerships.

Marie Claire UK partnered with the online British supermarket Ocado, to launch an online premium beauty store, Fabled by Marie Claire in 2016. The site, which also has a physical store on Tottenham Court Road in London, was sold to the fashion retailer Next in June 2019, building off an eight-month collaboration between Next and Fabled by Marie Claire, which included Next selling over 100 beauty brands including Clinique, Benefit, Smashbox, Burberry and Gucci, through Fabled.

Fabled by Marie Claire (via Fabled Facebook page)

POPSUGAR partnered with department store chain Kohls, on a New York pop-up store in both 2017 and 2018, before launching the POPSUGAR at Kohl’s, clothing range. Aimed at millennials, the collection is available at over 500 Kohl’s stores and, A further partnership, Beauty by POPSUGAR, means that alongside being able to purchase products online, they can also be bought at a number of ULTA Beauty stores across the United States.

BuzzFeed’s partnership with Walmart continues to expand, going beyond simply selling Tasty branded cookware, to also feature “shoppable recipes,” whereby audiences can add ingredients featured in a Tasty video to their online Walmart grocery cart. “This is different from advertising,” says Nilla Ali, SVP of commerce at BuzzFeed. “It is very much down-funnel and integrated with content.”

Image: Screenshot of the Tasty app and the Walmart Shopping Cart

2. Tie-in’s with the shopping calendar 

Sometimes partnerships will be more prosaic, building on other events in the retail calendar. Future Media, which owns titles such as TechRadar, T3 and PC Gamer, has seen considerable engagement with sales on Amazon during Amazon Prime Day. In July 2019, they revealed:

“Over the 48-hour period we saw more than 4m global visitors on our websites; increased traffic to our retail partners by 186% and saw an estimated 100K transactions worth over £5m/$6.2m.”

Similarly, in America, NBC’s morning programme, The TODAY Show, purportedly generated more than $12 million in sales during the week after Thanksgiving, against $60 million in e-commerce revenue for the whole year. 

The show sold over 2 million products during the wider holiday season, demonstrating the importance of tapping into established shopping behaviours, such as “Black Friday,” the day after Thanksgiving. “Steals & Deals,” a long-running segment hosted by Jill Martin, is the major driver of this activity for the NBC show. 

Other publishers, like BuzzFeed, have seen similar results. Clickthrough rates on BuzzFeed’s affiliate links were seven-times higher than usual on Amazon Prime Day. 

Image: Jill Martin. Via: Nathan Congleton/NBC

3. Cozying up to Amazon 

Magazines have built their businesses and brands forever via partnerships,” says Andrew Clurman, the President and CEO of Active Interest Media. “Sometimes they work out well for both partners … sometimes they don’t.” 

The same can be said of relationships with platforms and social networks. 

Although these partnerships can, at times, be fraught, most publishers will conclude that the size and reach of these networks makes working with them inevitable. (Put another way, “can’t live with them, can’t live without them.”) 

Amazon, for example, drives 650 million visitors to the site every month through partnerships with publishers. Alongside this, recode has previously reported that the company “is in talks with big American publishers, including the New York Times and BuzzFeed, about deals that would reward them for expanding their international presence, specifically in consumer-oriented shopping sites.” 

Whether these conversations continue in a COVID-19 world, remains to be seen, given Amazon’s recent moves to slash commissions for affiliate partners. 

Publishers have experimented with new formats (such as Facebook Live) through paid partnerships with platforms, but typically haven’t worked with Amazon in this way. 

As recode explains

“Amazon already pays internet publishers that refer shoppers to the company via “affiliate links” embedded on their site, but it thinks that business could grow significantly if US publishers had more readers outside of America.

Right now, publishers are paid when a shopper clicks on a link on their site, heads to Amazon, and eventually buys something. But sources say Amazon has been proposing various deals that would give publishers money up front in order to expand their international sites or open up new markets.” 

Of note here is the two-way relationship between the retail giant and publishers, with both parties seeing the other as a potential gateway to growth and new revenues. 

4. Shopping via Social Networks 

These principles are also applicable to the relationships that publishers have with social networks, especially as eCommerce activity on these platforms, becomes easier. 

Visual social networks – like Snapchat, Pinterest and Instagram – more obviously lend themselves to this type of activity. In 2018, Snap began testing a commerce function with some of its Snapchat Discover publisher channels, while POPSUGAR has turned Sparkle – a fast-loading web page format designed to facilitate e-commerce transactions – into a product that brands and retailers can use. 

Alongside developing their own relationships with social networks, publishers will also need to keep an eye on partnerships being developed with retailers, not least because many of those arrangements will be replicable for content creators, and mimic the type of experience some publishers are already seeking to offer. 

Endicia, an online shipping blog, has highlighted the example of one retailer, which arguably falls into this category:

“Warby Parker is among U.S.-based retailers sharing posts on Instagram featuring an icon encouraging users to “Tap to view products.” When tapped, a tags appear on various products featured in the post (up to five products per post). A user selecting one of those tags is then provided a detailed view of the selected product and a link to buy.”

Image: Warby Parker on Instagram. Via Endicia.

Strategic Considerations – what’s right for you? 

“The trick to embedding new ways of doing business into legacy media companies is finding partners and clients who want to collaborate, and then monetising that in a way that allows you to remain authentic as a brand,” advises Julia Raphaely, MD of Associated Media Publishing (AMP) in South Africa.

In doing this, it’s important to recognise that it’s not just publishers who are looking to diversify their income streams and find new revenue models. Advertisers and retailers are also recognising the need to do things differently. 

As an article in Folio recently observed:

“Amazon and emerging direct-to-consumer challenger brands pressured many retailers to look past search and display and find new ways to get into the real consumer path to purchase, which often begins with publisher content.” 

For publishers there are a wide variety of factors to consider when embarking on partnerships in this space. This includes fit with your existing brand, potential impact/influence on editorial, as well as the underpinning technology, supply chains, third party fulfilment and potential opportunities for mergers, acquisitions and investment.

Heart Media, a publisher of luxury lifestyle magazines in Singapore and South East Asia, is an example of one company which invests in eCommerce, but purposefully seeks to avoid doing it directly.  As Oliver Burlot, Heart’s CEO, explains:

“We stay focused on print and digital media and events, but we don’t build e-commerce platforms as it is a totally different job. We invest in e-commerce to understand how it works, but not to operate it.” 

What these examples demonstrate is that there are a wide range of different types of partnership opportunities open to publishers who wish to embrace eCommerce. There is no one size fits all solution, but there are plenty of potential models to pursue. 

Image: Heart Media titles. Via: Heart Media’s Facebook page.

This article has been adapted, updated, and expanded, from our free to download report, The Publisher’s Guide to eCommerce.