What is the future of online content and commerce? Their fates may be more interwoven than previously imagined. FierceRetail spoke with Greg Mason, CEO of content-commerce giant Purch, to find out some of the best practices for getting the most out of both worlds in content and commerce.
FierceRetail: How long have you been involved in content-commerce?
Greg Mason: The business going back to the foundation of TopTenReviews was very much oriented around decision enablement. You produce great quality review formats and consider purchase-product categories—that attracts in-market in tech-based consumers, and once they've made that brand selection decision, the next step is obviously commerce. Now, we don't always view commerce as literally in that we take responsibility for fulfillment. More often than not we hand that purchase off to a partner. It might be a click to Amazon. It might be a click directly to a marketer. From a business perspective we have a broader view of what commerce means. We're trying to be very efficient in terms of connecting buyer and seller, whether we actually make the transaction or not.
FierceRetail: When you started to really practice that model and home in on it, how did it immediately impact your business?
Greg Mason: The business has had a steady growth trajectory throughout its lifespan and I think that as we've accelerated that thought process we've seen a lot of the growth you've probably read about over the last couple of years. We're pacing toward that nine-figure level in terms of company size, and that's almost triple the size of what it was just two years ago.
FierceRetail: Do you think there was something in particular that really stimulated that hyper growth?
Greg Mason: Yes, some of it is related to acquisitions, but what I think stimulated it as much as anything was a pure focus on satisfying user needs. We produce great content to answer those questions and to provide comparison sorts of environments; content, tools and services to help someone make a decision on what product they want. And we've really embraced the idea of connecting that user to a marketer. When you compare that to how other publishers contemplate that idea, they're so centered in the content side of the equation. They're not nearly as focused on also trying to create the direct connection with the seller of the product or the marketer. And I think that, as much as anything, is what spells the difference between our success and what a lot of traditional publishers have been trying to do.
FierceRetail: Do you have a lot of competitors that are practicing the same types of strategies?
Greg Mason: We look at Amazon as a competitor, certainly from the standpoint of how consumers increasingly use user reviews to inform their purchase decisions. One of the areas where we think we differentiate is [that] Amazon is more likely to be used at the actual point of purchase. So you've already spent time on TopTenReviews, you've made your brand selection decision, you might then go to Amazon because you have an account and it's a super neat way to buy the product. There's another competitor out there we've been watching pretty closely called FindTheBest. And they more or less try to do what we do, but they do it 100 percent through automation, so it's purely an algorithmic-based approach to creating review formats. We have staff editorials and we have real expertise and categories. Certain aspects of what we do, we do try to automate, but it's not nearly to the level of what FindTheBest has been trying to do.
FierceRetail: What about mobile commerce? Does content-commerce comport with mobile platforms well?
Greg Mason: A significant portion of our content is now consumed by a mobile device, so everything we've been successful doing on the desktop we're transitioning to mobile platforms as well. We're super excited about the potential of mobile. It's driving a reasonable amount of revenue for us, and it represents a major growth opportunity for us as we go forward.
FierceRetail: What do you think some of the biggest difficulties are in getting into the content-commerce model?
Greg Mason: I see publishers struggle with marrying content and commerce [because] they fall back on sort of legacy mindsets. The editors worry that they're compromising their ethics by including any sort of commerce capability in the experience. From our vantage point, we've said we want to make complex buying decisions easier: That's our core mission as a company. And so we think an implicit component of that mission statement is to physically make it easier for them to buy products, make it easy for them to know where to buy it and how to buy it. We want to make that integration as simple and seamless as possible.
FierceRetail: What do you think the biggest discrepancy is between managing a content model and a commerce model and how do you reconcile that?
Greg Mason: We're developing this as we go and developing the thought process and the strategy as we go, but we find a lot more commonality than we do differences between the traditional content approach and the traditional commerce approach. You can imagine as you're pursuing that—think of any topic you're passionate about—it naturally extends to products you might be interested in, in some shape or form. So imagine BatCountry.com linked with Outside Magazine. That seems like the perfect complement to me. When you think about Outside Magazine, they're so caught up in being a traditional content player, they can't even contemplate the idea of commerce the way they probably should.
FierceRetail: What do you think the importance of the niche market is in content-commerce?
Greg Mason: I think it will have a big say in the success of the entity. We're under no illusion that we can out-Amazon Amazon, by any stretch of the imagination. We believe that in the age of an Amazon-like world where Amazon sells everything under the sun, there's still a lot of interest on the part of consumers in more of a specialized, customized kind of experience, and that's the opportunity we see, so this is not the be all, end all for our business. Right now about 10 percent of our total revenue is e-commerce. We don't expect that composition to change dramatically over time. I think this plays a lot better in more specialized kinds of topic areas as opposed to more homogenous, generalized kinds of approaches or topic areas, just because in those environments what can you offer that's better than Amazon?
FierceRetail: What are your biggest generators of revenue?
Greg Mason: A little less than half of our revenue is advertising. And that's split (almost) equally between direct sold advertising and programmatic advertising. And a little bit more of our revenue is what we call performance marketing. And so, we have one big slice of our pay called pay-per-action (PPA), and those are direct referral fees when we have direct relationships with marketers but also indirect referral fees through affiliate partners. Then we have lead generation, where we're actually capturing information on a user and we're selling that information to a marketer, and then we have e-commerce as well, and so those are all of our performance marketing avenues.
FierceRetail: What is your vision for Purch going forward?
Greg Mason: We're launching a lot of new product review categories, so at any given quarter we'll be launching 20 to 100 new review formats. We're expanding the review formats across the brand portfolio at the same time, so it's not just happening at one brand. All the brands are expanding their review formats, so that's a big area of emphasis for us. We benefit from the fact that there's so much innovation taking place that is creating all these complicated new products people are researching. The other big opportunity we see, and we're very much in the same camp as a lot of other publishers in this regard, is mobile innovation: creating mobile experiences that meet the needs of our mission, meet the needs of consumers and meet the needs of markets. When we think about our mission of making complex purchase decisions easier, we don't think one size fits all.
To learn more about how content and commerce can work for retail, see our feature story here.