How Bustle Digital Group sets up shoppable options within its editorial content

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Bustle Digital Group is the latest publisher to try and tie commerce and content together as close as they will go. But rather than launch a shop page or an online marketplace adjacent to its homepage, BDG is giving all of its content the ability to become shoppable.

Launching in beta to readers on Friday, editors will select certain articles on Bustle.com to feature shopping carousels of featured products that are mentioned in the story or are complementary to the piece.

“It’s not just limited to [a] storefront. The shopping experience really is baked in across the site,” said Nic Barajas, senior product manager at BDG. Once a reader clicks on the product, its information is featured in a sidebar on the content page so the user doesn’t lose their reading place. They can then see the price, size options, color options, etc., and add it to the cart from that position. “We’re not glomming a shop onto the existing website, we’re baking commerce content natively into the website experience,” he said.

Bustle is the first site that will have the shop integration, called Bustle Shop. The Zoe Report Shop is set to launch in two weeks. The rest of BDG’s nine sites, except W, will be live by June or July, said president and CRO Jason Wagenheim.

Last holiday season, the publisher hosted a virtual holiday bazaar that created a video-game-like experience for consumers to interact with brand partners that sold products during the event. While Wagenheim said engagement was good (he declined to say how many people attended the three-week-long event), sales were only OK, due to “a lot of friction” caused by not being able to check out from multiple retailers at one time during the event.

Using the Swedish-based e-commerce checkout platform Tipser, BDG will be aiming to solve the friction problem by giving readers the ability to check out from as many brands and retailers as they want in one transaction at the end, without having to leave Bustle’s site. Any sales made on BDG’s properties will earn a commission that is shared between BDG and Tipser. Wagenheim declined to disclose what the revenue split is.

Right now, Bustle Shop will have access to dozens of retailers and thousands of products that it can sell on its Shop pages, including Hampden Clothing, Showfields, Linda Farrow and E.LF. Cosmetics. Within the first six months, Wagenheim said he is expecting the number of retailers to grow by hundreds. Tipser is bringing some of its European-based retailers into the fold, but BDG will also be signing up brands that it wants on its site as well.

E.L.F. Cosmetics as well as a department store retailer BDG is not yet able to name, are the two starting sponsors for Bustle Shop. But they are not just taking product images from their websites and slapping them onto a Bustle article. The Shop integrations will be a part of BDG’s branded content offerings that use influencers, videos or slideshow integrations, but rather than focusing on upper-funnel brand awareness goals, the integrations will use real conversion metrics tied to the branded content buys.

These sponsored Shop buys are meant to replicate the window displays in malls or on 5th Avenue in New York, which is a novelty to some buyers nowadays.

“Brands have always liked these kind of ‘malls’ because they reach customers who are actively in the shopping mindset, which is the only reason a consumer would go to these kinds of places,” said Barry Lowenthal, CEO of media agency Media Kitchen. And the more flexibility that brands are able to have in the designing of the storefront, the better, he added.

“We now have this layer to not just send people seven or eight clicks away to go transact. We have the layer to get them shopping the moment they’re interested the same way that you do on Instagram,” said Wagenheim. “The pandemic has accelerated many things, but our advertisers want to hold us accountable for conversion and transaction” more than ever, which is why creating hybrid sponcon-commerce buys is an appealing step to take.

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Wagenheim said he expects this add-on to the company’s branded content business will be the tiebreaker for selling brands on doing business with BDG. “If you had us and some of our competitions in front of you and I had this amazing premium layer to add-on, we will have a much better chance at converting some deals to close,” he said. “This will absolutely shore up our direct advertising business.”

All of the media buys attached to BDG Shops will be direct-sold — no programmatic buying will take place — but through the transactions made on-site, Wagenheim said that BDG will be able to collect first-party data that will ultimately help with its in-direct ad business once the third-party cookie goes away.

Wagenheim said Shops will support more than an eight-figure direct advertising business in addition to a mid to high six-figure affiliate commerce stream in the first year, with the probability that it will become a seven-figure business one to three years post-launch.

Last year, affilIate commerce revenue accounted for about 17% of BDG’s overall revenue. Wagenheim said that that percentage is not expected to change this year as a result of Shop, but that’s due more to an “all boats rise” scenario.

“It will lift all of our revenue boats,” said Wagenheim. “It will definitely lift our brand partnerships revenue boat sooner, [but] longer term — as we understand the behavior and drive some real [gross merchandise value] here — it will lift the commerce boat as well.”

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