Why online retail is the new black

As online retailers move further into the editorial space and publishing giants invest in ecommerce, the lines between commerce and copy are blurring beyond belief

by Gabriella Griffith
Last Updated: 23 Oct 2013

Fashion magazines and retailers have always been close bedfellows. The fashion fans who traditionally pawed through the hallowed pages of glossy magazines, would spot something in a mag, grab their Louboutins and head to the shops to buy whatever they had spied, in-store.

But times are changing. The accessory-adorned limbs of the fashion retailers and writers have never been so intertwined. And it’s the move online by both of these sectors, which has pushed them both closer together.  

The move came from the online retailers first. The likes of ASOS and Net-A-Porter trail blazed the trend – producing fully blown magazines to rival some of the best-established glossies and poaching journalists from them left right and centre.

From online retailers producing magazine standard copy, to our favourite magazines offering us a chance to buy – the lines are blurring beyond belief. The latest investment from Conde Nast into an ecommerce store, only galvanises this theory.

Online retailers have found perks in mixing journalistic copy with their commercial offering. But far from producing physical magazines, these retailers are gaining more from publishing online. Boticca, an online jewellery store which recently finished a $4m funding round, prides itself on its use of editorial content.

‘We have created content on our ecommerce site from the very beginning,’ explains co-founder Avid Larizadeh.

‘We wanted to create an environment that inspired people, one which portrayed the quality and beauty of the products we offer. When you walk into a retail store, you get the smell and feel of it and people greet you. We do this through our tone of voice and images. It also helps people to trust you.’

Larizadeh hired an editor to work on the content for Boticca, ensuring what is produced is of a similar quality to the features being produced by fashion mags.

‘Our editor used to work for New York magazine, we got her on board because we want someone who is proud of their work and can do justice to the brands we’re writing about,’ she says.

Of course it’s not just about providing customers with added value through content. Search engine optimisation is king when it comes to surviving online, and content is a great way to foster back-links and get your web pages shared on social media. And there’s no forgetting Google’s Panda update: it may sound cute, but it made quality content a must for all websites.

‘High quality editorial content is also increasingly necessary for SEO, as Google’s rules state that companies must provide relevant and useful content in order to improve their page ranking,’ says Mitesh Patel, founder of online contact lens retailer Lenstore.

‘Publishing quality content on their own websites is a trustworthy and effective way to do this.’

It’s a pretty good case for retailers to jump on the content bandwagon. But what about the other way round? What do publishers have to gain from links with ecommerce sites?

Condé Nast, the publisher behind fashion bibles Vogue and GQ, has turned the trend the opposite way. It announced its investment in online retail site Vestiaire Collective earlier this week, and already has six other investments in ecommerce sites, including Farfetch.com and Rent The Runway.

So what does this mean? Are fashion magazines and ecommerce sites to become inextricably linked?

‘There’s a whole new world arising in ecommerce,’ said Moritz von Laffert, vice-president of Condé Nast International.

‘There’s a huge opportunity to expand our business.’

Could we see fashion lovers start to consume more of their content on retail sites, rather than in traditional magazines? Readers tend to be pretty loyal when it comes to titles like Vogue – but there is one advantage to getting your daily dose of reading from the person peddling the wares.

‘What readers get in an online store is immediate purchase,’ explains Larizadeh. ‘If they like something, they can click it and buy it in one place. From the moment of inspiration to purchasing, they can get it there.’

The difficult time facing the publishing world is pretty well publicised. Media outlets are struggling to pay for themselves, newspapers are becoming obsolete and magazines are going bust by the dozen. Ecommerce sites close the gap between ‘inspiration’ and purchase.

Are traditional publishing houses threatened? We don’t know yet, but a quick glance across the pond could give us an idea of what plans Conde Nast has afoot.

Hearst, the publishing house which owns the likes of Marie Claire, Harper’s Bazaar and Cosmopolitan, has also made some significant investments into the ecommerce space, including a deal with Amazon and Net-A-Porter.

On the Good Housekeeping website, editorial product reviews are tagged with click-to-purchase availability at Amazon. More profoundly, Harper’s Bazaar launched ShopBazaar – an online marketplace with editorial content and editor-selected products that readers can buy on the same site.

Could this link with ecommerce sites be the future for publishing? There are certainly questions to be asked about editorial independence – something retailers can’t ever truly have.

‘Striking that balance of being an authoritative and independent voice and at the same time selling the stuff is very difficult and it has to be done at an arm’s-length way,’ said Jose Neves, founder of Farfetch.com at the time of his invesment from Condé Nast.

‘The merging of e-commerce and media is still not cracked by any company, although I think there are businesses with e-commerce that have great editorial content and Net-a-Porter is an amazing example. But in essence they are in e-commerce.

‘Then there are great magazines and media businesses, digital on and offline, that have tried and not cracked e-ommerce. To be honest, we don’t know what the formula is and it will take a couple of years before anyone comes up with the right one.’

Some might ask whether these tie-ups could become the norm for publishers, whose traditional revenue streams are being depleted. Could we come to a point where journalism and online retail become one? The founder of Boticca doesn’t think so:

‘Fashion publishing and retail should have very strong ties,’ she says.

‘It is mutually beneficial and you can see this with Conde Nast’s choices – it is becoming a conglomerate by investing in ecommerce and creating an ecosystem, but fashion publishing does not need online retail to survive. Fashion publishing is journalism and there’s something compelling about that.’

What is certain is that these two sectors are meeting in a way they haven’t before. Whether this will change publishing at its very core remains to be seen, but some of its largest chiefs are undoubtedly putting their money where the clicks are.

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