E-commerce has seen years’ worth of growth in a short few months. Consumers, stuck at home, have rapidly become habituated to purchasing online, which has benefited online marketplaces and publishers with strong affiliate and e-commerce programs of their own. But for publishers with a strong print portfolio the question has become how they can use those print products to open the funnel to e-commerce revenue without being too interruptive.
Bauer is betting on the advancement of image recognition technology to close that gap between print and digital. Both Grazia and Heat are set to incorporate new scannable images – without the need for QR codes or watermarks – from May 17. These images, once scanned, will then take readers directly to a storefront for more information and purchase options.
Clare Chamberlain, sales director of magazine media at Bauer Media, says: “Brands are always keen to discover new opportunities and innovations to target their audiences in more relevant, relatable and exciting ways, to both grab their audience’s attention and drive action.
“By including this new technology from Phuzion, we are able to enhance that proposition – whether it’s buying a product offering, watching video content or even signing a petition, we can provide advertisers even more opportunities for them to speak to their audiences and drive action off the page.”
For consumers the lack of interruptive QR codes or watermarks is a step along the road in terms of shoppable magazines. Julian Linley is partner and director of Phuzion Media, which provides the tech. He said: “Creating seamless shopping experiences straight off the page is what consumers and advertisers expect so we’re proud to be teaming up with Bauer Media and power this new experience for their readers.
“We make this possible without the need to add scannable codes, watermarking or fingerprinting, and we can also retro activate anything already produced too. It’s non-intrusive to the content consumption experience and doesn’t affect the creative direction or pagination of the asset.
“The piece we are most excited about is how one piece of creative can result in unlimited of consumer landing pages – using our proprietary personalization layer, brands can apply a vast variety of first and third party datapoints and with some IF/THEN conditional logic they can tailor the landing page to improve conversion rate, decrease bounce rates etc.”
There is still an onboarding process, however, and the magazines are including a ‘how to’ page in an effort to ameliorate the hassle gap for readers.
For Bauer, which was significantly hit by the reduced footfall and frozen marketing spend during lockdown, it’s an opportunity to more closely associate that e-commerce boom with the premium magazine formats for which it is known.
It is also an effort to retain the direct relationship with audiences. Previous iterations of shoppable magazines would insert an intermediary between publisher and audience, while that provided by Phuzion Media allows Bauer to gather consumer data directly from the process, in addition to “personalization opportunities and the ability to create connected campaigns on multiple platforms”. It also allows Bauer to maintain control of the branding.
Everything old is new again
Shoppable magazines are nothing new. There have been efforts to link the printed page directly with storefronts for years now, to varying degrees of success. In South Africa Associated Media Publishing went all-in on the QR code version of the tech in 2019, and saw audiences respond positively.
Its CEO, Julia Raphaely, said: “We started placing QR codes around the magazine but in a very integrated way, because you don’t want to suddenly become a catalog. We also had to upskill our editors who were curating the product because you can’t just plunk any product in your inverted commerce shop window.
“From mid-December 2018 to mid April 2019, which is a short period of time, our QR scans have grown from 7000 to 17,430.”
Previous iterations of shoppable magazines have effectively been pilot trials. Cosmopolitan, for example, has been including QR codes linked to Amazon storefronts for years, having expanded the practice to its US market in 2019. Experimentation has gone on for at least a decade prior to that, however, with Business of Fashion reporting on a few early efforts in 2007.
Notably, most of the experiments have been in fashion and beauty brands, with only a few publishers like Hearst UK experimenting with including them in entertainment and tech brands like Digital Spy. In-house brand magazines like Lush Times also include QR codes as a major part of their marketing funnel. One potential explanation is that readers of those fashion magazines first and foremost interact with those recommendations and features in print; the magazine itself is the source of expertise when it comes to fashion and beauty brands.
Chamberlain said: “We know that our Grazia and Heat readers are highly engaged with our fashion, beauty and lifestyle content and act on our advice and recommendations, and we see this demonstrated month after month through growing affiliate revenues across our sites.
“It therefore made most commercial sense for us to launch the tech in these titles initially – giving us a chance to apply that strong relationship those brands have with its readers through to our print channels – but there is potential for us to launch this across other titles at a later date too.”
Linley notes that Phuzion Media is readying deployment of the tech among other titles too. The less interruptive the transition between page and digital storefront becomes, the more likely it is that print can act as part of the e-commerce funnel – another entrance to the storefront. Given the huge amount of growth in e-commerce, it’s no surprise that publishers like Bauer are looking to convert more readers – and to keep greater control of audience data as they do so.