What's on the Wall Street Journal's wish list this holiday season? A real e-commerce business.
As a start, the Journal this week opened a shoppable holiday gift guide in the WSJ Select section of its site, where it plans to center future commerce initiatives from the paper.
"The release of the gift guide is really the new beginning of a more-concerted effort to develop additional revenue streams around commerce," said Alisa Bowen, the chief product officer at Wall Street Journal parent company Dow Jones. "We're looking to build on the success we hopefully have this holiday season to develop merchandising that lives beyond the holiday season."
The Journal already runs some e-commerce programs, such as a mail-order wine business and a partnership with Gilt City to sell higher-end daily deal-type offerings. In recent years, it also killed off its branded merchandise business, which sold items such as mugs that carried the Wall Street Journal brand name. But now the Journal is trying its hand at merchandising goods from outside retail brands that it feels will be attractive to the Wall Street Journal reader.
Curating lists of holiday gifts has been a longtime go-to for magazine and newspaper publishers, but their shopping guides still often send readers off the media property to a retailer's site to buy. A GQ 2012 Gift Guide, for example, links out to sites from companies such as Phaidon, Starbucks and Walmart. The same goes for a travel-themed gift guide at The New York Times.
But the Journal's version allows readers to purchase the gifts -- which range from a $2,900 Tag Heuer watch to a $19.95 book about home-brewing beer -- directly from WSJ Select. Customers can add products from participating retailers, which include Nordstrom, Best Buy and Italian e-tailer Yoox, to a single shopping cart and pay for them all with one payment.
"We're trying to make it as seamless as possible," Ms. Bowen said. "The level of friction with completing a transaction online is still really high."
To make that technologically feasible, the Journal is working with a New York City startup called 72Lux, which started out as a consumer-facing website but has since shifted its focus to selling software-as-a-service subscriptions to publishers that want to enable multi-retailer shopping experiences. The startup charges publishers a software licensing fee and then takes a cut of the goods sold through the publisher. Publishers, of course, get a commission from the retailers for the items they sell.
"The front end of how a publisher uses our technology is really up to them," said Heather Marie, 72Lux's 28-year-old CEO. "We are the software that sits behind the site and lets them create any form of content that is shoppable."
Harper's Bazaar recently introduced a full-shoppable online store called ShopBazaar, which was built by Something Digital using Magento, an open-source commerce platform.
One challenge for the Journal going forward, along with the many other media companies trying to make a commerce push, is to give readers a reason to purchase items through them rather than traditional retailers or e-tailers. After all, what gives a publisher like the Journal the credibility to get into commerce at all?
"For the last two or three years, we've made a heavy push into lifestyle content with the expansion of the Weekend Journal, the Off Duty section, the luxury real-estate section, and of course the WSJ Magazine," Ms. Bowen said. "Each of those initiatives helped propel our position in consumers' minds as being about much more than just business and finance."
The Journal is publicizing the gift guide on its home page with a "Gift Guide" tab along the top header that 's highlighted in red and adorned with an image of a red gift tag. The Journal will also market the gift guide through its social-media accounts.
For now, the "shoppable" holiday gift guide and future ones that the Journal hopes to run for Valentine's Day and Mother 's Day, are curated and managed completely by the business side of the company, according to Ms. Bowen. The GQ and New York Times guides mentioned above are written by editorial staffers.
That, however, could change. Going forward, there's a good chance Journal readers will at some point have the opportunity to buy a product directly from an editorial post. Ms. Bowen said the company is discussing ways to build shopping experiences into so-called "evergreen" editorial work or archived editorial content -- in a way that protects its editorial integrity and avoids giving readers the impression that anything was written just for a chance to sell a certain product. "It's really important that we maintain the boundaries between church and state," Ms. Bowen said.
"Perhaps we only do it a certain number of days or weeks after the content is published," she added. "We haven't exactly decided what's best. It's a work in progress."
UPDATE: After publication of this article, The Wall Street Journal took additional steps to make it very, very clear that the new gift guide has no connection with its editorial staff. The Journal added the word "Promotion" above the "Gift Guide" tag on the homepage. And, atop the WSJ Selection section, it has added the following disclaimer in red: "WSJ SELECT is operated independently of The Wall Street Journal news department."