Written by Brook Schaaf
If you want to better understand the commerce content space you could do worse than to read “Under Review,” a piece by Will Tavlin, a former writer for New York Magazine’s product recommendations site, The Strategist.
His journey of disillusionment hits on several terms worth exploring:
- Commerce content – Commerce content is the strategic partnering of brands and media publishers, especially for monetized reviews and recommendations. This is not just a fancy way of saying affiliate revenue; it can also refer to a shopping cart on a publisher site (as powered by StackCommerce and others) or to retail media networks, which are already larger than affiliate in the U.S. and pegged to reach $100 billion by McKinsey in 2026. Affiliate may again be pushed aside.
- Service journalism – Often synonymous with “e-commerce journalism,” the sole purpose of service journalism is to help people live lives that are more efficient and more productive. These articles typically start with how, why, or what. It seems this is something like wedding or product photography — an area with a lot of opportunity that much of the talent may disdain.
- “Safe shopping experience” – This emphasizes the importance of providing consumers with a secure shopping experience, free from issues like misleading pricing and aggressive upselling. Carol Lappin, a director at Consumer Reports, is quoted as saying because “There was a lot of bait and switch in terms of pricing and upselling and all of that … We felt we had to help our consumers get a safe shopping experience.” I’ve heard similar concerns from other commerce content sites that are very particular about the reliability of the links they offer to users.
- “Review hijacking” – Amazon or other marketplace sellers swap out one product for another while “retaining old feedback in order to give the product a boost in Amazon’s queue.” This practice potentially misleads customers who may not discover the reviews or comments are specific to the product for which they are shopping.
- “Transparent wall” (my favorite) – Camilla Cho, Senior Vice President at Vox Media, uses this to describe what is traditionally known as a Chinese Wall, or a virtual barrier between advertising and editorial. Many of the key players take pride that they succeed well in both areas.
Based on other articles I’ve read and podcasts I’ve listened to, these terms seem to have been around a number of years within the commerce content space and are now seeping into broader consciousness in the affiliate marketing world.
The language touches on the complexity of the space, which can be highly profitable to the companies that navigate it correctly. (Vox Media announced that The Strategist netted about $14 million in 2018 and Tavlin references that a single article might be worth more than a writer’s salary.)
As it continues to evolve, staying informed about these critical terms and insights is crucial for those interested in this industry.