Jason Webby, chief revenue officer for North America at Future PLC, isn’t worried about the supply chain issues likely to impact holiday shopping this year.
The British media company’s proprietary price comparison platform Hawk keeps track of inventory stock from affiliate partners like Amazon, Walmart, Best Buy and Target, and as a result Q4 could be an opportunity for Future to help people find and buy the items they want for the holidays, he said. Hawk automatically identifies products and vendors that the company has an affiliate relationship with and embeds those links in product review articles published on Future’s properties like Tom’s Guide, Tech Radar and Marie Claire.
Future PLC drove nearly a $1 billion of e-commerce revenue for its affiliate partners in 2020 (e-commerce affiliate revenue represents more than 30% of Future’s total company revenue). “I’m confident this year we will do more,” Webby said.
The conversation has been edited and condensed.
With all the news about supply chain issues this year, how is Future PLC preparing for the holiday shopping season?
It’s a challenge for anybody recommending products and services if people can’t buy them. As supply chain issues hit consumers, they’re going to be more concerned and confused as to where to go and how can they buy the products they want. But our secret weapon is Hawk. It has direct links to retailers in the space, and we can look at inventory stocks in real time. If inventory is going out of stock or delayed, we get an advance notice of that. The technology does it for us. Our editors will only write about things that are available at the time. They can also edit what they’ve written and update and refresh as needed. They can update articles when something is out of stock. We help direct people to where the product will be available, through Hawk as well as through our affiliate relationships with our partners. We can tell people, “Hey, Walmart is about to get a bunch of these in stock… go to this site because they are getting additional units in stock.” It’s a collaborative effort between our editorial team, the commerce team — which runs Hawk and our affiliate relationships — and the audience team.
So you’re not concerned?
I’m confident because we are prepared. This is not our first rodeo. We have had peak buying seasons before, where things go in and out of stock. Supply chain issues are too bad for the consumer, because they are the ones that are going to suffer. But we are ready and can cover them editorially, and we can direct people to buy, if not now than when it comes back. We are here to be that guide for them, when it gets tough. If it’s hard to get, that’s when people need us more than ever. If products are more scarce and harder to get, more people will turn to sources like Future to figure out: what can I get and how can I get it?
How is the commerce business shaping up for Future this year, after last year’s e-commerce sales boom?
It’s a record year to date in both commerce and advertising. We are really fortunate with the model we have in place. I think this holiday season will be bigger than average for us. The holiday period for us is like our Super Bowl. Amazon Prime Day is a huge shopping day for us in the summer. We take a lot of learnings from that, as a warmup for Black Friday and the holiday shopping season — like what did we do well, and what could we have done better? Do we have to staff up more, are there experts we can bring in where coverage might have been thin, were we updating articles in as quick a fashion as needed to, could we react quickly enough to when stocks were changing?
We have added staff and increased our headcount. [A Future PLC spokesperson told Digiday the company has more than 130 open roles as part of its expansion plans in editorial, commerce and sales, but declined to share how many people were hired this year.] We did surveys of our audience and got a lot of data and details on what they want to buy and how they want to buy for the holidays. Our survey shows our audience is going to spend $169 billion dollars this holiday season, and a lot of that will be online via e-commerce partners.
Will Future publish gift guides and product reviews earlier in the holiday shopping season this year, to get ahead of shipping delays?
We are not pushing anything up, because we cover products and services as they come out. A lot of our coverage is around product releases.
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