BuzzFeed builds e-commerce platform to 'reclaim' retail revenue from Google and Amazon
BuzzFeed has built out an e-commerce platform in a move to own its readers’ shopping journeys and reclaim some of the profit Google, Amazon and other digital “middlemen” are taking from its e-commerce business.
The publisher has partnered with e-commerce platform Bonsai for a solution that keeps readers on its website while they are purchasing items on mobile or desktop, giving BuzzFeed the ability to better track their shopping habits and create a more frictionless experience, while earning higher commission rates from sales.
Publishers have long been frustrated with what is known in the industry as the “attribution problem,” where writers recommend certain products or activities and link out to retailers’ sites, or readers leave the website to look up and purchase items on other sites.
“Creating our own e-commerce platform gives us the opportunity to own the entire user journey and create an even deeper, more direct relationship with our readers,” says Nilla Ali, senior VP of commerce at BuzzFeed. “We know that we drive meaningful discovery for our audiences, and we’re now focused on collapsing that journey from discovery to conversion.”
The setup is simple: Within BuzzFeed articles, such as its listicles, readers can click on “Quick View” buttons below items that appear within the story and quickly add them to shopping carts. They can choose to purchase items right away or return to them later by clicking on the shopping bag in the top-right corner of the webpage, a common feature on found on most e-commerce sites.
BuzzFeed began testing the platform on July 27, starting with a new product-focused site, BuzzFeed Shopping, where articles tease products for readers.
Three retailers are onboard for the launch of the new platform: e.l.f Cosmetics, a popular makeup and skincare brand; HipDot, which sells colorful makeup sets; and Bellesa Boutique, which offers women’s sex toys.
Articles take the form of listicles: “20 Things From e.l.f That’ll Show You Can Go Cruelty-Free On a Budget,” “8 Products From HipDot For Anyone Who Likes To Have Fun With Makeup,” or “Just 15 Sex Toys From Bellesa That Reviewers Love.” BuzzFeed notes at the top of these articles that it “may collect a share of sales or other compensation from the links on this page if you decide to shop from them,” similar to how the publisher handles articles with products from affiliates.
The new approach is not replacing BuzzFeed’s existing affiliate business; the publisher will still work with online retailers like Amazon and social platforms like Instagram with native checkout capabilities to drive revenue on recommended products. BuzzFeed is also working with a number of retailers like Walmart and McCormick to cut out digital middlemen and instead use its website and app to offer shopping directly to readers.
“This strategy is intended to be an enhancement to our current affiliate business, not competitive to our existing partnerships,” says Ali. “We absolutely plan on continuing to partner with retailers, big and small, and we do not find it difficult partnering with retailers. They are the bedrock of our affiliate business, and we’ve worked closely over the years to innovate and build a content-to-commerce pipeline that is mutually beneficial.”
Still, owning its readers’ e-commerce journeys gives BuzzFeed a larger slice of the commission pie. Ali said that when BuzzFeed links out to other retailers’ sites, the average commission rate is 10 percent per sale, but with Bonsai, BuzzFeed will earn an average of 25 percent for items sold. Bonsai does get a cut of that commission as well.
The value of BuzzFeed’s ad inventory could also rise with the publisher maintaining more precise audience shopping data. It also allows BuzzFeed to offer a smoother purchasing experience for readers. “Native and frictionless checkout is becoming a consumer expectation—not a nice-to-have—and for publishers to compete in the e-commerce space, we need to innovate as quickly as both the retailers and platforms,” says Ali.
BuzzFeed Founder and CEO Jonah Peretti first aired the decision to launch the platform in a post to readers in January, along with a number of other items designed to grow the publisher's business. “Content creators provide the inspiration to buy a new product, go on a vacation, or watch a new show—but don’t capture much of the economic value created,” he wrote. “We see a real opportunity for us to reclaim some of that profit.” In the post, Peretti wrote that in 2019, BuzzFeed drove more than $425 million in attributable transactions.
Despite Peretti having announced the move before the coronavirus took hold, now is a good time to execute since people are increasingly turning online to shop during the pandemic. “We are well-positioned to provide that service to our audience,” says Ali.
BuzzFeed is far from the only publisher looking to retain more of readers’ shopping money, especially at this time. In July, Forbes partnered with interactive video platform Kerv to allow readers to shop products within online videos. And in April, NBCUniversal debuted its own checkout functionality to shoppable ads and has been experimenting with a Shoppable TV feature. Last year, Complex worked with Bonsai to debut a similar experience for "drops," or products on limited runs.
“Publishers are looking for a long-term revenue solution that affords customer ownership,” says Saad Siddiqui, CEO of Bonsai. “E-commerce provides a natural way for publishers to deepen their relationship with their audience.”