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STORYTAILING: Where retail and publishing converge


While content has always been ‘king’, it now plays a central role in search engine optimisation and social media management. In this five part series, Grant Arnott outlines why and how online content has become a powerful online tactic for achieving commercial goals. [PART THREE of FIVE]

There’s a significant trend occurring in retail, and that is the convergence of retail and publishing. Some of the most interesting investments that have occurred in the e-commerce landscape in the past few years have been investments by media companies in e-commerce businesses.

Yahoo!7 bought group buying business Spreets for $40 million in 2010. Online shoe retailer StyleTread received a significant capital injection from Nine Entertainment, and most recently private shopping club brandsExclusive attracted APN Media as a major partner.

What this tells us is that as traditional revenues from advertising dwindle, media companies are looking to e-commerce as an alternative revenue stream. It makes sense – media companies have significant engaged audience bases, and e-commerce offers them an opportunity to sell direct to customers without the need for traditional store infrastructure. In the digital realm, it’s a match made in heaven.

As this trend continues, ‘storytailing’ is emerging as one of the hottest areas in retail marketing. Storytailing is where retailers combine storytelling, authoritative information and content marketing to engage customers on site directly with the brand and products.

In the online retail environment, where new retailers have to work much harder to establish a brand than established bricks and mortar rivals, storytailing is a powerful weapon in gaining ascendancy.

The queen of storytailing online is Net-a-Porter, whose founders built one of the world’s most successful online couture retailers. From the beginning, Net-a-Porter published highly editorialised, authoritative fashion content from respected sources. The Net-a-Porter digital magazine was and is core to the company’s marketing strategy, so much so that increasing numbers of customers see the retailer as their primary source of fashion advice, styles and trends – over and above the glossy magazine market.

For the gents, Mr Porter (Net-a-Porter’s male-oriented offshoot) has reached the same status in the eyes of its clientele, taking on GQ and other established sources of fashion advice.

The success of Net-a-Porter’s storytailing strategy has inspired a rush for editorial supremacy in the online fashion retail sector. Retail/media partnerships are emerging – locally, Fairfax has partnered with virtual fashion mall StyleTread to offer content and product together.

However, what’s most interesting is that retailers are investing in establishing well-staffed editorial teams. Journalists and editors are being plucked from magazines and newspapers and tasked with creating vibrant, engaging content to position retailers as leading authorities in their markets.

Gilt Groupe, the number one online private shopping retailer in the US, is leading the way here. Gilt has made no secret of its intentions to combine compelling content with e-commerce, hiring prominent magazine editors from food, fashion and design magazines to add serious authority and quality to its online ‘voice’.

US home décor private sale club One Kings Lane credits much of its success to excellent content curation. CEO Doug Mack says this is what differentiates One Kings Lane from its competitors – the retailer also engages celebrity stylists for its special Tastemaker Sales, giving its range a stamp of authenticity from a respected authority. That’s powerful.

Now, retailers are increasingly jumping on board the content bandwagon, creating ‘storytailing’ destinations online with blogs, videos, tutorials and advice from authorities and/or celebrities. More and more, retailers are either partnering with publishers or becoming publishers, in an effort to retain customers and improve engagement.

Locally, Ted’s Cameras does a great job of tapping into the passion of photographers with quality content. From novice to advanced shutterbugs, www.teds.com.au offers a range of non-product content to inspire visitors, including a ‘Which Camera Is Right For You’ tool plus a library of stunning images, with tips from the photographers who took them and details of the equipment used.

Sears, America’s largest department store company, announced at the beginning of the year the launch of FitStudio, featuring blogs from health and fitness experts, exercise videos and a database of more than 130,000 personal trainers that members can locate by ZIP code. Members can join for free, and are also able to purchase fitness equipment on the site.

There is no doubt that as competition in online retail heats up, storytailing will prove a critical differentiator. As media companies battle for survival, retail and publishing will continue to converge, with e-commerce providing some light at the end of the darkening advertising tunnel.

Want the next in the series? To read this series from the beginning, click here.

Grant Arnott is a business media veteran with over 12 years experience, and a sought after expert on e-commerce and content marketing. He is publisher of the E-Commerce Leaders’ Playbook, Power Retail, Power Content and also serves as chair of the Online Retailer Conference and judge of the Online Retail Industry Awards. This article is the second in a five part series.