The Strategist, New York magazine’s product recommendation vertical, is moving offline to test physical retail with a holiday pop-up.
The pop-up, called “I Found It at The Strategist,” will be open from Nov. 8 to Dec. 30 in New York’s SoHo neighborhood. The brands in the store have been selected by The Strategist editors, and range across product categories, including beauty, home goods and apparel, with the focus on beauty, hair care and skin care products. About 80 percent of the brands, which include Parachute Home, Hairstory, Loli Beauty, Negative Underwear and East Fork, have received coverage on The Strategist in the past, and any specific products featured on the site by editors will be sold in the store, along with brand-selected products.
During the eight-week pop-up, The Strategist will also host in-store events, including a live version of The Cut’s ongoing feature “How I Get It Done” and a panel on the changing beauty industry.
“The goal behind the store is to get The Strategist brand out there in front of a mass audience. We started as an experiment on The Cut, and now we’re ready for prime time. So it’s a marketing and brand awareness play,” said Camilla Cho, the gm of e-commerce at New York magazine. “We don’t see the pop-up as that much of a revenue play, although we do intend to move product.”
For each brand in the pop-up, there’s a different revenue arrangement, either a split or a flat fee. All sellers in the pop-up store paid to participate, while revenue share for in-store sales was arranged on a brand-by-brand basis. Some brands paid a flat fee to appear in the store, while others are paying a commission rate.
The site worked with the physical retail logistics platform Uppercase to put together the store. Uppercase helps brands and other companies looking for pop-up space to find a location, design the layout, operate a point-of-sale system and hire staff. It also tracks metrics with a dashboard that gathers analytics like traffic, sales and return rates.
The Strategist spun out of The Cut in 2016 to serve as New York’s e-commerce push that drives affiliate revenue through editorialized product recommendations. Since, it’s grown from a team of three editors plus rotating freelancers to a team of 16, which includes editorial and business development departments. According to Cho, the site draws 5 million unique visitors per month. The Strategist’s commission rates change depending on affiliate partners’ agendas (inventory clear out sales and holidays, for example), but can range between 5 and 50 percent for a purchase attributed to the site.
Over the past year, Cho claims that revenue has tripled, though she declined to share a specific figure for revenue or conversions. For next year, The Strategist’s goal is to double that business.
Cho said that while The Strategist was first inspired by other publishers pulling off in-real-life stores, the goal of its pop-up is to differentiate itself from the flood of affiliate links online. Other publishers, including BuzzFeed, Clique Media and Marie Claire, have moved off of magazine pages and dot coms to open pop-up retail stores in order to drive additional revenue as well as site traffic. More editorial sites in general are moving into commerce to boost business, as advertising revenue plateaus: PopSugar, Hearst and Clique are dipping into product creation to diversify.
The Strategist, over the past two years, has done little by way of paid marketing besides a paid Facebook strategy. Otherwise, it’s relied on building up organic search traffic with evergreen, but specific commerce-focused posts like “The Best Washable Rugs, According to Pet Owners” and “The Best Composting Toilets, According to RV Owners and Van Lifers.” It also drives readers to subscribe to its email newsletter.
To mine the biggest audience from its in-store debut, The Strategist team looked to its existing audience data to find its angle. So, it’s making a bet behind its biggest traffic driver: beauty. The most popular story on The Strategist is “The Google Doc I Send to People Who Ask Me About My Skin,” by beauty writer Rio Viera-Newton. (Its SEO title is “Best Skincare-Products-Routine.”) The Strategist also has a joint, private Facebook group with The Cut, which has 2,500 reader members that discuss top-of-mind topics, with beauty and skin care frequent among them.
Cho said that the team will be using the first pop-up run to plot out potential plans for more of a retail presence in the future, as well as growth projections for 2019.
“We have aggressive growth plans for The Strategist,” Cho said. “The space is getting quite crowded and competitive, with more publishers getting into the product review space. We need to differentiate ourselves with the right marketing tactics to establish our brand.”