October 12, 2016

If you like your socks with milkshakes and French fries, good news: BuzzFeed has a store for you.

This summer, the online news and entertainment giant launched Shop BuzzFeed, a store where fans can browse for swag created by the site’s illustrators and designers.

The shop, initially open to BuzzFeed employees only but made available to the public in June, is part of BuzzFeed’s plan to grow its new e-commerce business.

Below is a question-and-answer session with Tessa Gould, BuzzFeed’s head of commerce, about Shop BuzzFeed and the company’s small but fast-growing commerce business. The exchange, conducted over email, has been edited for length and clarity.

Can you talk about the origins of Shop BuzzFeed? What gave you this idea in the first place?

We originally had an internal BuzzFeed Swag Shop that opened online about a year ago for employees to purchase swag for family and friends. It was a big success internally, and we have also consistently heard from our community that they’d love the opportunity to purchase BuzzFeed swag and merchandise, so we decided to highlight some of our favorite internal swag and most popular illustrations and BuzzFeed designed art and share it with our larger BuzzFeed audience and community. Jamie Urso, an early employee who formerly lead culture and swag at BuzzFeed is now formally leading Shop BuzzFeed as our Director of Merchandise.

All the designs are made by BuzzFeed employees — our in-house graphic designers, illustrators and artists — and often it features some of our most popular moments across social. You might, for example, notice some art on BuzzFeed’s Snapchat Discover channel that has been adapted as merchandise for the shop.

Why did BuzzFeed decide to create an on-platform vendor rather than sell its merch through a third-party like Amazon? Or, if you are also selling on a third-party site, why have a combination of the two?

We wanted to have full control to experiment and figure out what worked best for our company and customers so as a result we felt that building out our own site on Shopify best fitted our needs. That’s not to say we won’t sell elsewhere in the future; we’re always looking into selling on other platforms and re-evaluating our strategy as we build it out.

How much revenue has the shop generated so far? Or, if you can’t say that, can you give me some idea of how sales have been?

We can’t share that quite yet, but we’ve been pleased with the results since launching in June and expect to continue to experiment as we grow.

I didn’t know BuzzFeed had a head of e-commerce! When you were brought aboard in 2014, I think your title was VP of ad innovation and monetization. Has your role changed since you joined? If so, how?

Yes, my role has definitely changed. When I first joined the company I was largely focused on creating new products and packages for our advertising clients, however I also spent some time thinking about ways to monetize our editorial content (as you know BuzzFeed doesn’t sell traditional ads) which in turn led to me entering two major affiliate agreements with Skimlinks and Amazon.

After seeing how well this worked for us as a ‘passive’ monetization strategy I put together a proposal for Greg Coleman, our President, that centered on us experimenting with a more ‘proactive’ commerce strategy. He signed off on the proposal in January and thus myself and the small team I oversee have been focused exclusively on commerce since. I’ve always been fascinated with the retail and ecommerce space and this role allows me to marry two of my passions – shopping and technology.

How does BuzzFeed Shop fit into BF’s larger e-commerce plans? What do they encompass?

Shop BuzzFeed is just one part of a much broader e-commerce strategy. It’s still early days, but we have already built out a dedicated market team under that is focused exclusively on creating shoppable content for our readers. The team of ten editors is overseen by our former DIY Editor, Jessica Probus. Separately, we’re also experimenting with ways to create a more frictionless way to shop our content across all platforms.

How much revenue do you expect the shop to generate, as a proportion of BuzzFeed’s total business? Do you expect it will be a sliver or a big chunk?

We already have a very sizeable advertising business and it’s still very early days for commerce, so it’s fair to say that commerce is currently a small but fast growing revenue stream for BuzzFeed. Right now we’re laser focused on producing shoppable content that resonates with our audience and getting the right technology and analytics in place to best support and inform that process.

In general, do you think e-commerce is a growth area for media organizations? Why or why not?

It can be, but you’ll find the folks who are leading the way and doing some of the most impressive work in this space take a much more proactive approach versus simply putting some javascript on your site and ‘dusting off your hands.’ We’re certainly excited to see how things progress as we really dip our toes in.

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Benjamin Mullin is the managing editor of Poynter.org. He previously reported for Poynter as a staff writer, Google Journalism Fellow and Naughton Fellow, covering journalism…
Benjamin Mullin

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