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“Community and trust are everything”: How a UK publisher harnessed its eCommerce potential

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Now in its 17th year, Sheerluxe is a UK-based publisher that has successfully leveraged eCommerce by remaining agile and being in a constant state of evolution. However, at its heart, the publisher has succeeded by fostering a greater sense of community in tandem with strong content. WNIP talked to Sheerluxe’s Founder and CEO, Georgie Coleridge Cole, to find out more…

Based in Clapham Common, London, with 55 staff, Sheerluxe is an online lifestyle magazine focusing on the latest and most desirable fashion, beauty, wellness and lifestyle products. Under a strapline of ‘Your Guide to Your Best Life’, the publisher exclusively engages UK consumers with over 450K female and 170K male subscribers across its channels.

Sheerluxe is one of a growing number of publishers who recognize the potential of eCommerce, and they are not alone. Future Plc already generates over £1Bn in eCommerce sales per year, with Clare Dove, UK Group Commercial Director, telling WNIP that, “eComm must be an all-year-round strategy – it needs to be through time, not just in time – and your business model must reflect that”.

It’s precisely the approach taken by Sheerluxe, and whilst the publisher doubles down at critical peak periods, its eCommerce play is an all-year-round strategy. Founder and CEO of Sheerluxe, Georgie Coleridge Cole says that their success has been built around “putting their audience first” with brands paying to access the Sheerluxe community.

Speaking to WNIP, she says, “We’ve carefully cultivated a sense of community and trust since we launched in 2006. This includes a community forum, with a dedicated full time manager, where our subscribers can post messages and even access our team, many of whom are category influencers in their own right.”

Our readers are highly discerning, and will share information with each other as well as ask questions and engage with our different category editors. Answers are shared within our forum rather than by DM, further creating a sense of community.

Georgie Coleridge Cole, Founder and CEO, Sheerluxe

Revenue model focused on brand tenancy

By fostering a deep sense of trust and community, brands pay a premium to access Sheerluxe’s audience, with commercial partners paying north of five figures to access subscribers, “Quite early on we created a model based on advertising tenancy and we work directly with many brands including Net-A-Porter, Reiss, John Lewis, Marks & Spencers, Charlotte Tilbury, Chanel, Rolex, and many more.

“There is nothing we can’t touch, and we work with brands across travel, car rental, and many other sectors, as just one example we work with Barclays on personal finance.”

The lion’s share of our revenue comes from upfront advertising tenancy with brands booking coverage direct on the site, as well as across our channels which include daily newsletters, social media, podcasts, and our broadcast channel on YouTube.

Georgie Coleridge Cole, Founder and CEO, Sheerluxe

Oddly, for a publisher so focused on eCommerce, affiliate only plays a minor role. Coleridge Cole puts this down to affiliate marketing being a porous model, “We do work with affiliate networks, and it’s growing, but affiliate is a leaky bucket as it is based on last click attribution. For example, someone might read our newsletter but then later that night purchase on their laptop with Google.”

A multi-pillared approach

Coleridge Cole emphasises that a strong community can only be built if the content is equally strong, “For our business model to work, clickbait and sensational content doesn’t bring in the quality of subscribers you to need to drive quality renumeration, it’s that simple.”

“The content has to be exceptional and, once it is created, it is distributed is across all our channels. Our readers will engage and share the content further enhancing our reach.”

The publisher has also taken great care to not pigeonhole itself within a narrow demographic age range, “Our readers are not just young women, they are also mothers with their daughters – we have a Gold edition aimed at our older readers, many of whom are well into their sixties and beyond. We are also developing other supplements, for example, we have one aimed specifically at men.”

The publisher, however, is reticent about developing its own line of products, “We developed our own line of jewellery and whilst it sold quite well, it was quite a distraction, and the amount of effort involved in designing, producing and shipping it outweighed the revenue generated. It was a drain on time. That’s not to say we won’t try again, but commercially it will need to work better.”

Regarding other publishers she takes inspiration from, Coleridge Cole casts her eyes across the Atlantic, “Refinery29 and Who What Wear are both successful and decent eCommerce publishers in the U.S. However, from a content perspective, we’re different and unique.”

Advice to other publishers

To succeed in publisher eCommerce, Coleridge Cole says that being able to spot the right on-trend products is important, “You need a discerning eye, commercial savvy, and a content team that really is able to select and choose standout products.”

eCommerce is also an area where publishers need to be extremely agile, “You need to be a state of constant evolution, continually tweaking and changing everything be it the technology, software, functionality, page load speeds, the complexity of your offering, distribution channels, and much more.”

It’s the next, next, the next. It is evolution in every single way. This time tomorrow we’ll be doing something new, yet I might not know what that is.

Georgie Coleridge Cole, Founder and CEO, Sheerluxe

As if to emphasise the point, she talks about her plans for 2023 which include further developing their recently launched TikTok channel, “We only launched our TikTok channel in late 2022 but it’s developing rapidly with tens of thousands of followers. We’re really only just beginning to understand what the eCommerce opportunity is with TikTok but it’s certainly there.”

However, at the end of the day, Coleridge Cole emphasises it’s all about community:

To be a really successful eCommerce publisher you need to develop a strong sense of community, and that can only be done with exceptional content.

Georgie Coleridge Cole, Founder and CEO, Sheerluxe