BuzzFeed has long recommended products to its audience, earning a cut of the revenue when readers click the links in its articles and buy from the sites that actually sell the goods.
The digital publisher has now introduced a standalone website called BuzzFeed Shopping that lets visitors complete purchases without going anywhere else.
Many publishers earn so-called affiliate revenue, the slice of revenue they get when they help generate a sale, by linking from product mentions to retailers that finish the transactions. But shopping directly on media sites may become more common as consumer habits change and publishers continue to seek revenue beyond ad sales.
BuzzFeed’s move was enabled partly by the relatively recent spread of checkout functionality beyond traditional e-commerce platforms to a range of websites and apps, said Nilla Ali, senior vice president of commerce at BuzzFeed, citing shopping on Instagram in particular.
People weren’t inclined to shop outside traditional e-commerce sites just two years ago, Ms. Ali said. “But now with Instagram’s native checkout, and more influencers pushing products through their feed, consumer behavior has shifted,” she said.
The new BuzzFeed Shopping site, which is distinct from the Shopping section on BuzzFeed’s main site, executes transactions through a partnership with Shop Bonsai Inc., an e-commerce platform that connects publishers and brands.
The BuzzFeed Shopping rollout describes products for sale such as a face mask from Message Me Inc.’s HipDot and face cream from Elf Cosmetics Inc.
BuzzFeed earns an average commission of 25% on direct sales, it said. Bonsai receives a portion of that commission, but the companies declined to disclose its size. BuzzFeed declined to describe its commissions from affiliate links.
BuzzFeed will collect consumer data on its new shopping experience with an eye toward eventually personalizing recommendations, Ms. Ali said, citing average order value as one potential variable of interest.
BuzzFeed will keep publishing affiliate links on its main site. Articles on BuzzFeed proper can also mention products even if the company doesn’t have an affiliate relationship with a seller.
Editorial staffers on the company’s commerce team will write stories for both sites, though the new BuzzFeed Shopping articles can only spotlight products that are available from Bonsai’s partners.
When publishers ask writers to recommend products on a site that can only feature a certain pool of items—products that are available for on-site checkout—staffers or readers might question the editorial independence of the articles, said Web Smith, founder of 2pm LLC, a media brand and holding company.
Ms. Ali said that wasn’t the case at BuzzFeed.
“We think it’s extremely important that we’re not constraining our editorial team’s ability to link to the retailers or brands that we’re currently featuring,” Ms. Ali said. “We definitely do not intend to be in a situation where we’re telling the writers they can only write about these brands because we have native checkout.”
BuzzFeed’s affiliate links led to $300 million in product sales last year, the company said.
Real Life. Real News. Real Voices
Help us tell more of the stories that matterBecome a founding member
Other publishers have tried similar efforts. PopSugar Inc. attempted to create a universal shopping cart for fashion in 2016, when it owned the ShopStyle Inc. search engine and Cosmic Cart, a mobile shopping company.
The company abandoned those efforts in 2017 and sold ShopStyle to Ebates Inc., now known as
Bonsai debuted a similar experience with Complex Media Inc. last December, with a focus on rolling out limited runs of products, often called “drops.” Past drops include clothes from singer J. Balvin and Japanese artist Takashi Murakami.
Bonsai said 75 merchants use its platform to sell products from more than 1,000 brands, including Adidas AG and
& Co. It has deals to roll out on-site shopping experiences with eight more publishers this year, it said, though it declined to name them.
“Publishers like BuzzFeed that have really embraced affiliate over the last few years and built a solid business, and they’ve actually trained their audience to shop from them and expect to be sold product—those publishers are really ripe for this kind of product,” said Saad Siddiqui, chief executive of Bonsai.
Another publisher, Vox Media LLC , is considering letting visitors buy items directly from its shopping site, The Strategist, without having to click away, according to Camilla Cho, senior vice president of e-commerce at the company.
But Vox isn’t sure whether consumers want to buy directly from a publisher, Ms. Cho said.
“It’s hard to say now whether consumers want or prefer to shop from publishers,” she said. “But there are some market signals we are seeing that suggest consumers are open to shopping from various sources, including multiple retailers and directly from social platforms.”
Write to Ann-Marie Alcántara at [email protected]
Copyright ©2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8
Subscribe to the newsletter news
We hate SPAM and promise to keep your email address safe