NEW YORK, United States — While they may be powerful arbiters of the latest and greatest in style and beauty, when it comes to embracing and integrating e-commerce into their core content offering, most fashion magazines are so last season.
Top fashion magazines are tremendous generators of purchase intent, inspiring readers to buy the beautifully styled and expertly photographed items featured in their glossy pages. But while publishers may charge handsome fees to brands wanting to advertise in this context, they have generally failed to become harvesters of the purchase intent they create and directly capitalise on sales of the products they feature.
Last month, while watching HBO's “Silicon Valley,” I heard a song I liked, Shazam-ed it (using music recognition app Shazam) and purchased it within 20 seconds. So why is shopping for the items I see and want on the websites and apps of major fashion publishers not this easy?
Although several top titles have been experimenting with e-commerce for years, they have largely struggled to turn these experiments into major revenue streams at a time when traditional advertising revenue is tapping off. There are several factors at play here, but one of the biggest stumbling blocks is user experience.
With no small amount of fanfare, American Vogue recently announced a partnership with affiliate sales platform RewardStyle to make its Instagram feed shoppable. Well, sort of. A would-be shopper must first sign up for the program, then "Like" photos of the items they want, only to get emails with product links they must follow in order to complete a transaction. While it's terrific that Vogue recognises the opportunity to monetise its Instagram following of over 2 million people, there seems to be a disconnect between the instant gratification of the image-sharing app and RewardStyle's cumbersome commerce implementation. Is this really the most user-friendly experience the magazine can offer?
Others, like WSJ, have tried launching their own webshops, also tied to affiliate revenue. But because webshops like these often use datafeeds that require constant upkeep, featured products can often be out-of-stock by the time a reader discovers them and attempts to make a purchase. With these kinds of solutions, it’s also often brand and retail partners, not publishers, who control the composition of the available product pool. What’s more, the webshop model is, by definition, less than fully integrated. Magazines are so good at being magazines. Why should they try to compete with relatively undifferentiated, traditional e-commerce experiences disconnected from their editorial?
Harper's Bazaar, which operates a webshop dubbed ShopBazaar, also stops short of integrating commerce directly into its core editorial content. Instead, it houses e-commerce on a separate site, but provides clickable links throughout the magazine's site and on the tablet edition of the magazine that redirect to products available for sale on ShopBazaar. Perhaps this reflects the magazine’s desire to maintain its editorial integrity and reinforce “church and state,” the traditional policy of separation between the editorial and business sides of a media company. But for the user, the disconnect is palpable and, in the end, ShopBazaar reads more like many other fashion e-commerce sites than a shoppable magazine.
The US and international arms of Condé Nast have both made significant investments in promising fashion e-commerce ventures, including Rent the Runway and Farfetch. But whether these partnerships will result in fully integrated commerce on the publishing giant’s media sites remains to be seen.
At the end of the day, for fashion publishers aiming to exploit the opportunity in e-commerce, it’s fundamentally not about creating a new format, but enhancing a format that readers already love and trust, embedding shopping seamlessly into existing editorial content. Unlike on Net-a-Porter and ASOS, editors should be editors, not window-dressers. And the path from purchase intent to transaction should be frictionless and short.
In a world where I can hear a song on my television and purchase it within seconds straight from my phone, shopping directly from magazines and their websites should be equally as easy. Readers simply want to click and buy straight from the editorial that inspires them.
Yes, publishers may need to rethink “church and state” for the realities and consumer expectations of the digital age. And yes, they may need to take more ownership of the shopping experience, enabling integrated e-commerce that is compelling, seamless and intuitive: no emails, no redirects, no separate webshops, no dead-end paths to sold-out products.
Top fashion magazines are no strangers to ultra-modern clothing made with high-tech processes like digitally-printing. It’s time they apply an equally modern approach to their e-commerce solutions.
Renata Certo-Ware is a writer, blogger and user experience lead at Shopping Cart Technologies, an e-commerce solutions company.
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Editor's Note: This article was amended on 21 July 2014 to elaborate on how ShopBazaar works as a shopping platform in relation to the magazine.