Later this year, Marie Claire and Condé Nast are launching separate commerce ventures to add purchasing ability to the inspiration they bring to their loyal magazine readership. Emma Herrod investigates what this means for retailers.
Consumer magazines have been trying for some time to find a way to make editorial content shoppable and bridge the gap between content and commerce to convert their loyal and engaged readership into avid shoppers. Back in 2007, Nicholas Coleridge, now President of Condé Nast International, spoke to InternetRetailing about the publisher’s Stylefinder.com launch, while in the US that same year, InStyle rolled out a shopping site.
Shopper behaviour and technology has since moved on and, so have publishers’ commerce aspirations. For example, last year Bauer Media started working with Atosho to trial its ecommerce platform across its magazine portfolio, while in 2013 Grazia launched an ecommerce site enabling readers of its digital edition to shop the magazine as they read. The digital version of Grazia now contains all of the print edition’s editorial content along with a shopping facility that enables users to shop in-app, share via social channels and save products to a cross-edition wish-list.
Magazines are full of inspirational ideas and can engage their readers from cover to cover whether the subject is fashion in Vogue, beauty in Marie Claire or cars in Top Gear magazine. They have the power to influence consumer spending because of the level of trust built up between readers and the brand. It is this level of engagement and trust that publishers are drawing on when moving their readership further down the sales funnel from inspiration to purchase.
It makes perfect sense and it’s something that’s being requested – especially by readers of fashion magazines. “Magazines are the initial point of inspiration, and when readers feel the urge to transform that inspirational moment into an act of purchase we must listen,” says Franck Zayan, President of Condé Nast’s Style.com venture.
Jackie Newcombe, Managing Director of Time Inc UK’s luxury brands, agrees. “As publishers we know we stimulate demand,” she says. “When we write about products, they sell.”
However, it’s not as simple as just adding a buy button next to products in a digital edition or affiliate links in the text of articles. It has to be done in a way that’s seamless for readers and doesn’t damage the trust that they have in a magazine.
As Zayan points out: “When reading a magazine, consumers are readers before being shoppers. So, if we offer the possibility of purchasing products from magazines, we must respect the readers and not send them away to a third party site, as affiliate models do. When an act of purchase is done on a magazine, the customer must be able to return to the reading afterward, the experience must be seamless and the balance must be respected.”
This autumn sees the launch of Condé Nast’s Style.com, a marketplace through which readers of its magazines – including Vogue, Vanity Fair and GQ – will be able to order products from magazine-branded websites and apps as well as from the Style.com site itself. Readers will also be able to scan items from the printed magazines. The publisher will not hold inventory at this stage to avoid being tied down with logistics and shifting unsold stock at the end of a season.
Initially, Style.com will offer items from between 100 and 200 upmarket brands from the fashion, beauty, travel and technology sectors. It will increase the number of brands offered as sales grow and geographical market reach expands. A US launch is planned for early 2016 and Style.com will then be rolled out globally to reach the 300 million people that read one of Condé Nast’s 140 magazine titles or 120 websites in multiple countries and native-language editions.
Things such as catwalk items aren’t available to purchase when fashion magazines are published, so the publisher has come up with a range of options to overcome this. Zayan explains: “If the product they’re looking at is not available we will offer them the possibility of being notified when it does become available. In the meantime, we have to recommend a set of alternative items. But recommendations only make sense if they are extremely relevant. This is the reason why we’ve spent an incredible amount of resources and energy over the past year to build a very sophisticated recommendation engine that we will launch with our commerce platform.”
THE END-TO-END JOURNEY
Marie Claire UK, part of the Time Inc group, will take a step closer to becoming a retailer when it launches a multichannel retail business later this year. The venture is being launched jointly with Ocado subsidiary Speciality Stores, which brings its expertise in ecommerce and logistics to the business. Beauty products will be sold online and through at least one shop to create a unique and seamless customer experience.
Newcombe describes the proposition as “game changing” and one that will be “shaking up the market not just moving share around”. She adds that it will be “a marriage of compelling content, commerce and community”.
Although she would not be drawn on whether the new venture will be selling Marie Claire-branded products, she confirmed that it “wouldn’t be beyond the realms of imagination”.
Importantly, Marie Claire recognises that its expertise lies in providing compelling content, so it makes sense for it to work in close partnership with another company whose expertise lies in logistics, explains Newcombe. In fact, she’s keen to point out Ocado’s move into being a technology company, with 550 developers, and that it does not want to be seen as just a grocery business.
“We help people find the right product,” says Newcombe. The new venture means Marie Claire will enable them to make a purchase which, she adds, is “core to how we see the future”.
THE IMPORTANCE OF CONTENT
A magazine’s role as an educator or guide that helps customers to find a product is something that will resonate with retailers. The selling journey and engaging content are linked to each other and create a sense of community that’s relevant and right for each retailer’s customers, explains Sarah Curran, Managing Director of Very Exclusive.
In the same way that people choose magazines that resonate with them, so they select which retailers to shop with. How a retailer communicates, the language used, the visual imagery and the style and edit of the products all help to create a space in which customers can feel comfortable and reassured that they’ve found a retailer that’s relevant and right for them.
Editorial-style content enables retailers to hold the customer’s hand providing an edit through the season that’s relevant to them while bringing greater visibility to individual items.
The ‘editor’s pick’ – as used by many of the fashion retailers who use editorial-style content as part of their content strategy – is a strong part of customer engagement. It provides a daily drum beat of content that has been critical to the M&S.com site, according to its Director, David Walmsley. He told delegates at the InternetRetailing Conference in October 2014 that the retailer had to discover the role content plays in its customers’ lives and how they engage with “snackable forms of content” as well as more in-depth articles, and how this could be used to reflect the trends and styles through the M&S collections.
How to inform, educate and inspire and not simply tell is something that retailers can learn from publishers, believes Steve Middleton, Managing Partner at Hangar Seven. Publishers, he says, are better at engaging with their audience because that’s their business. They are turning that engagement into commerce, whereas retailers are aiming to add engagement to commerce.
“If you can combine the urgency of a national daily newspaper newsroom with the sophistication and depth of the monthly periodical then you’re onto a winner,” Middleton says.
One of the challenges, however, is that it isn’t as easy to measure results with this type of content. In addition, there can sometimes be a conflict between being editorially generous in the way that magazine-style content would be and the urge to then add a call to action, product and price. “Ecommerce companies understand it in the broad sense but in the reality of the sales figures it tends to be the first thing that’s dropped,” says Catherine O’Toole, Founder of Sticky Content. “Building a dedicated readership is a long game,” she explains and “with the amount of competition, why would shoppers want to read your fashion tips when they could
Enlightened retailers are now talking consistently about content and strategy. They are looking at the topic as a truly joined-up adventure, that’s ‘always on’, explains Middleton. But everything a retailer does must be designed and developed to be channel and tactic agnostic. It must work in all these places and in ways which allow the consumer to enjoy a truly joined-up experience.
O’Toole agrees: “Retailers need to get to grips with the new formats and the number of platforms.” Companies such as Waitrose and M&S already publish customer magazines but digital is an opportunity to do this in new ways and on different platforms. Rather than sitting down with an M&S magazine, I might sit down with my tablet and read their content, and there and then tweet something or share it on social media.”
Content, though, needs to be adaptive in context and formats so retailers can get the maximum reuse and value out of it. A highly modular format is much easier to reuse in different digital spaces and can be localised in different languages. One of the trends that O’Toole is seeing is retailers attempting to be more efficient in their content creation.
It also needs to be relevant, not just to the device but also to the customer, their previous purchases, the items they’ve viewed and propensity to buy, believes Curran. “Retailers should integrate content accordingly,” she says. “Personalisation and content go hand
So, should retailers see the rise of publishers as retailers as a threat? Curran believes that anything that educates the customer around creating more content and engaging experiences on mobile is only a positive thing. O’Toole agrees but does warn that retailers need to embrace the opportunity.
Content is a necessity of online retailing with customers needing basic product information to be able to make the purchasing decision. While editorial-style content may keep browsers on your site for longer with daily picks keeping you top of mind or leaving the shopper hitting the delete button on your emails, this type of engagement is a long-term game. It’s one that publishers are already very good at but a good fashion editor isn’t necessarily a good fashion buyer or merchandiser. The two together though could make a strong team so while publishers are enticing top retail staff into their sector, retailers need to also look to the future of engaging customers not only through their own channels but also through the complex relationships that already exist between publishers and retailers.