With less than three weeks left before the holiday gifting season abruptly ends, how publishers approach the final stretch of their commerce content strategies could be the difference between exceeding this quarter’s revenue goals over meeting them.
Meeting expectations is already an accomplishment for some given the rate of inflation and the state of the economy, which collectively ran the risk of consumers spending less this holiday season than in previous years. But after another successful Black Friday weekend, publishers are confident their December commerce strategies will leave their commerce businesses in good standing despite the headwinds.
“One of the things that we’re seeing, even more so this year, is that the deals are still live [and] as good as ever,” said Emily Silverman, vp of commerce at Hearst Magazines, whose team will remain focused on covering those deals through the end of the quarter. “There’s three weeks left, so we’re going to do everything we can to just help people buy the gifts,” while being cognizant of how far shoppers’ dollars will go, she added.
Not all publishers or commerce writers will remain focused on producing holiday commerce content, however. Following Black Friday weekend, some teams are pivoting back to evergreen content or shifting ahead to categories that typically perform well in the first quarter, like health and wellness.
Here are the cases for continuing with holiday commerce content post Black Friday, as well as why other publishers pivot away after the major shopping holiday.
The case for continuing holiday-specific commerce coverage
Total product sales during Black Friday Weekend increased by about 50% year over year for Hearst Magazines and according to Silverman, the increase in data around which products and brands readers gravitated toward during that period will also help inform the publishers’ commerce content for the remainder of Q4 and even into the new year.
“We can use that [data] as an indicator about where to spend our time for the next two weeks, until those shipping deadlines start to creep up,” said Silverman. “And then it becomes a little easier as we get closer [to Christmas], to be honest, because you start to get more into the last minute gifts, digital gifts, subscriptions, things like that, that can get to the recipient without any kind of shipping issues.”
Foundry’s tech-focused brands are also going to be highlighting deal-oriented content in the run up to Christmas. Given most of its brands’ coverage is around big-ticket items like laptops and headphones, those readers are going to be eager to find discounts all throughout December, said Jon Phillips, editor-in-chief of Foundry’s PCWorld and TechHive brands.
“It feels good to have Cyber Monday behind us, so I’m going to take [Dec. 2] off. All of December is super important when it comes to editorial affiliate, but I am going to take a couple of days to rest,” said Philips, after working the weekend after Black Friday.
Before taking that break, however, Philips said he identified the four most popular categories from Black Friday weekend from PCWorld’s coverage: PC desktops, laptops, monitors and Chromebooks. From that, his team will create new deal coverage within those categories, including round-ups and individual spotlight deals.
What’s more, the publications’ evergreen product round-ups, called “Best Picks” will be frequently updated throughout December with the best pricing and sales information, which also bodes well for the sites’ SEO ranking, Philips explained, adding that maintaining a high search result status in December will be important to the company’s affiliate revenue business.
The case against continuing holiday-specific commerce coverage
At Reader’s Digest, only one or two people out of the whole team will be working on last-minute updates to gift guides and holiday deal content in the weeks following Black Friday and Cyber Monday, said Bryce Gruber, a senior shopping editor at Trusted Media Brands. And the tone of commerce content significantly shifts.
“It’s less sales-focused and less ‘do this emergency action right now,’” Gruber said. And while the days leading up to Black Friday really push the 40% off sales, content after the shopping weekend shifts back to more of a service tone and are far more evergreen in nature, such as how to make your denim last longer with a specific fabric conditioner, or which kitchen appliances will help to declutter your counters.
Leaf Group’s Hunker and Well+Good brands will keep updating their gifting content up until the last possible shipping windows. However, Hunker’s svp and general manager Eve Epstein said that most of that content is accounted for earlier in the quarter. Therefore, the team’s focus by the end of the quarter isn’t completely dedicated to holidays.
Apartment Therapy’s commerce team will roll back on its holiday deal coverage post-Cyber Monday, as many of the retailers the publisher covers have already put out their sales for the season, even if they’re extended beyond the shopping weekend, said Riva Syrop, president of Apartment Therapy Media.
The company’s commerce team will still be focused on refreshing gift guides as well as evergreen content, Syrop added. Despite it being a time of year when consumers are looking for presents, large home purchases, like sofas, are still some of the biggest sellers right now, as people try to capitalize on discounts for big-ticket items.
One late-quarter editorial project that Apartment Therapy Media did launch to help generate fresh commerce revenue in December is its limited-run, single-topic newsletter called The Holidaily, which goes out five times per week for seven weeks until Christmas that incorporates product highlights and commerce opportunities, as well as provide tips and recipes for readers heading into the holiday season. Another one is surrounding a cookie package, which runs as a 12-day countdown to Christmas and incorporates affiliate revenue opportunities for ingredients that readers can buy through the newsletter.
The subscriber bases for each newsletter product is on the lower side, according to Syrop, around 20,000 or so, however, the open rates are between 120-140% because subscribers open the emails multiple times and will forward to non-subscribers, driving up that total.
Q4 is looking better than expected
Overall, this quarter is netting out to be a positive one from an affiliate commerce perspective for the publishers interviewed for this story.
Like any recession or economic downturn, shoppers are more focused on making the most of their money and, even more importantly, getting the best deals possible, which Silverman said was evident from Black Friday weekend this year and ended up being a positive for Hearst’s deals coverage.
“People are so accustomed to the sales that when they see the price they want, they’re gonna jump on it. They’re not necessarily going to wait until the last possible moment,” Silverman said. “We’re really optimistic and I think we’ve set ourselves up for a strong end of the year.”
And despite Black Friday being a strong revenue generator for Foundry — its U.S.-based brands saw a 110% increase in the amount of money earned through affiliate commissions year over year — there is still money on the table this December.
“It’s just like playing a game of football. You want to drive up the score if you can, so we are. We had a great Black Friday, but we want the entire Q4 to look really good. I think we’re on track for that,” said Phillips.
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