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eCommerce and Publishing in 2023: 5 key charts

After enjoying a giant leap forward during the early stages of the COVID crisis, eCommerce is increasingly ingrained in the shopping habits of consumers around the world. 

It’s a trend that has a number of implications for publishers and media companies. The biggest of these, perhaps, is in the disruption of traditional advertising models, as more and more businesses shift their focus – and advertising budgets – towards these platforms. 

There are content implications too. In response to changing habits and preferences, publishers may need to adapt their content strategies to align with audience and advertiser needs. This may include incorporating more product reviews, sponsored content, or affiliate links into their work.

As we look ahead, eCommerce is only expected to keep growing, making it a market that’s too big for publishers to ignore. Here’s what you need to know. 

1. eCommerce will be a $9 trillion market in four years’ time

eCommerce will make up 19% of global retail sales in 2022, growing up to 25% of total sales by 2027, WPP predicts. Their model anticipates that eCommerce sales were worth $5.4 trillion in 2022, with China and the USA contributing just over half (52%) of this spending. They estimate that by 2027, eCommerce sales will be worth $9.1 trillion annually.

This shift in consumer behaviours is both a challenge and an opportunity for publishers. To succeed in this evolving landscape, media companies need to adapt their content strategies, explore new revenue streams, and prioritise the user experience. 

The move to frictionless shopping, and mobile commerce, for example, are dimensions that consumers expect when they buy products online. Publishers risk missing out if they don’t have this functionality embedded in their own eCommerce propositions. 

As Kate Robinson, svp of content distribution and partnerships at BDG has explained, “If we want to compete against online retailers, we need to offer consumers the same experience and options as they do.”

2. A priority revenue stream for more than one in four publishers 

According to the Reuters Institute’s (RISJ) latest Journalism, Media, and Technology Trends and Predictions Report, just over a quarter of media leaders around the world (26%) said eCommerce was either “important” or “very important” for their company in the year ahead. 

Interestingly, that figure is slightly down from last year (down 6% from 32%). This may reflect the challenges of implementing an eCommerce strategy, as well as the significant growth envisaged in several other areas. 

RISJ’s data shows that native advertising is seeing a huge bounce in importance (up from 58% in 2022 to 76% in 2023). And events are also seeing an endemic-era bounce (up from 38% to 48%) as in-person activities once again become more common. As a result, eCommerce looks to be taking a back seat for some outlets. 

That said, for other media players, eCommerce is a revenue area that some publishers are doubling down on, or moving into. 

For example, Time plans to launch a new commerce website in Q2 2023, Axios reports. The move will be powered by a new product called Taboola Turnkey Commerce. This “provides publishers with ready-to-use commerce recommendations content for them to sell affiliate advertising against,” Axios explains.

Meanwhile, Trusted Media Brands (TMB) recently shared with What’s New In Publishing how “affiliate is doing spectacularly well.” 

“This past Christmas we were up 57% over the previous year,” Bonnie Kintzer, President and CEO, TMB. “You need a great talent base full of commerce experience and you must also make all your publishing assets work hard,” she advised. “It all starts with the content and our brands like Reader’s Digest, Taste of Home, and Family Handyman have enormous credibility as well as scale.”

3. Retail Media is growing fast and might eat publisher’s lunch

Some of the biggest retailers – including Walmart, Amazon and Target – offer opportunities for brands to advertise on their sites and apps. “Retail media is following in the footsteps of search and social as digital advertising’s third big wave,” says eMarketer, “and has already established itself as a force.”

As I outlined recently for Digital Content Next, this has a number of implications for publishers and media companies. Arguably, the biggest of these is the risk of advertisers moving more of their budgets away from traditional publishers to this emerging field. “If 2022 saw brands crack the retail media door, 2023 could see it swing wide open,” predicts Adrien Nussenbaum the co-founder and CEO of the software-as-a-service provider Mirakl.

At the same time, as Retail Media grows, it is increasingly becoming a content provider. Beyond simply serving ads, retail channels are featuring live shopping events and multimedia content (videos, podcasts etc.) designed to provide inspiration and purchases. This offers opportunities for publishers as content creators and to leverage their own brands in partnership with major retailers. 

As we have previously highlighted on WNiP, media brands like BuzzFeed, PopSugar and Marie Claire UK have successfully demonstrated some of the ways that traditional publishers can marry their content with retailers, as part of their wider eCommerce strategies

4. Amazon is biting into the duopoly

“Amazon’s advertising arm is eight times as large as Snapchat’s entire business,” reports GeekWire and nearly seven times as large as Twitter. It is increasingly taking market share from Google and Facebook, the longtime digital advertising kingpins.” 

This remains a trend to watch. More widely, the rise in eCommerce habits, and the sheer volume of transactions conducted through Amazon, lends itself to editorial opportunities too. The growth of publishers’ review and recommendation sites is an embodiment of this reality. 

By providing valuable information about products and services, publishers can position themselves as trusted sources and generate new income streams through partnerships, online stores and affiliate revenue. 

These possibilities are not unique to going all in with Amazon. But, although it has cut back on the percentage it pays affiliate partners, Amazon remains a platform that’s too big for publishers, purchasers and advertisers, to overlook. 

5. Social Commerce is becoming too big to ignore

An increasing number of publishers are exploring eCommerce as a plank in their revenue diversification strategies. In doing this, many publishers are seeking to capitalise on the inspiration for purchases that their content often provides. Underpinning this is an (understandable) aspiration to avoid sending traffic and revenue to third parties, especially when your content has triggered this next step. 

As a part of this mix, it is important for publishers to also consider the potential for social commerce and how some audiences use social as part of their purchase journey. Although there are increased opportunities for consumers to buy products through social channels, it can be hugely influential in shaping purchase decisions. Gen Z, for example, uses social media to research brands more than they use search engines.

“Commerce is everywhere,” observes Arpan Podduturi, Director of Product Retail and Messaging at Shopify. “The purchase journey is non-linear. It can happen from seeing an ad on Instagram, an influencer on TikTok, a drop on Twitter. You might be window shopping in person, or a friend might send you a link.”

Moreover, nine in 10 people buy from brands they follow on social media. How can publishers tap into that phenomenon? It won’t work for every vertical, but areas such as fashion, tech, travel and food may be ripe for this type of conversion. 

Like Retail Media, this sector is growing fast; three times faster than conventional eCommerce, Accenture finds. As publishers seek to refresh and keep their social media presence up to date, social commerce opportunities may become an increasingly important part of their social – and eCommerce – strategy. 

Looking Ahead

We have already seen for some time that an increasing number of publishers are exploring eCommerce as part of their revenue diversification strategies. 

As these charts show, this is a substantial market. Given this, it’s no wonder that it’s an arena that a substantial number of publishers are already seeking to tap into. Although often driven by shopping events like Black Friday and Cyber Monday, eCommerce has the potential to be a year-round income stream.

We’ll explore that potential in more detail in the coming months, starting in March with how publishers can build powerful stand-alone brands to drive affiliate commerce without it negatively impacting their journalism.