What Is Content Commerce: An In-Depth Look

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In recent years, brands have been finding new ways to promote their products conversationally through social posts and informative content. This approach has led to a demand for content commerce where brands can nurture more meaningful connections with buyers.

“Why, all of a sudden, have retailers decided to become publishers? To answer this question, ask yourself another one: how do people see traditional advertising? That’s right — they’d rather not see it at all.”

Styla

What is content commerce?

Content commerce is media that allows viewers to inform their buying decisions and take action within the content itself. 

For example, there might be multiple calls to action allowing readers to purchase recommended products in a blog that explains how to take care of your skin during the winter months. The blog informs readers, inspires them to explore possible solutions, and then gives them multiple clickable/shoppable options to purchase.

Bar and line graph of Retail Ecommerce Sales from the US, 2021-2025 showing sales increasing and percent change decreasing
Image via eMarketer

Retail Ecommerce Sales

US, 2021-2025

2022: $1,052.93 billion; 9.6% change

2023: $1,163.49 billion; 10.5% change

2024: $1,292.64 billion; 11.1% change

2025: $1,438.70 billion; 11.3% change

2026: $1,605.59 billion; 11.6% change

Content commerce is similar to Facebook’s in-app shopping feature, where users can see a product they like in a post, add it to their cart, and complete a transaction without ever having to leave Facebook or Instagram. But in content commerce, publishers partner with ecommerce brands and offer shoppable content on their own platforms and vice versa.

The key to successful content commerce is relevancy and authenticity

Any content featuring a product or service must only offer products that align with what the reader hopes to gain from the blog, video, image, etc.

Similarly, people don’t mind a thoughtful product recommendation when it is relevant to the topic and accompanied by credible information. A relevant endorsement is authentic, and authentic content builds trust with consumers.

The history of content commerce

While the concept of content commerce is a fairly recent trend, using content to inspire and guide consumers has been around for a long time. Since the rise of search engines and the information age, news publishers and magazines have struggled to keep readers engaged as cutting-edge brands deployed various content marketing strategies.

Additionally, online publishers with little-to-no overhead changed the way people consumed information. And traditional print media struggled to maintain profits. 

bar graph of

Image via Statista

Estimated revenue of newspaper publishers in the United States from 2010 to 2020, by source  (in billion U.S. dollars)

2010

Advertising space: 20.38

Subscription and sales: 8.49

All other operating revenue: 2.01

Printing services for others: 1.21

Distribution services: 1.27

2011

Advertising space: 18.88

Subscription and sales: 8.22

All other operating revenue: 2

Printing services for others:1.25

Distribution services: 1.18

2012

Advertising space: 17.25

Subscription and sales: 7.86

All other operating revenue: 2.21

Printing services for others: 1.33

Distribution services: 1.15

2013

Advertising space: 16.13

Subscription and sales: 7.98

All other operating revenue: 1.95

Printing services for others: 1.46

Distribution services: 1.08

2014

Advertising space: 15.76

Subscription and sales: 8.09

All other operating revenue: 1.91

Printing services for others: 1.46

Distribution services: 1.06

2015

Advertising space: 14.87

Subscription and sales: 8.96

All other operating revenue: 1.24

Printing services for others: 1.11

Distribution services: 0.62

2016

Advertising space: 13.8

Subscription and sales: 8.96

All other operating revenue: 1.16

Printing services for others: 1.09

Distribution services: 0.55

2017

Advertising space: 13.79

Subscription and sales: 9.16

All other operating revenue: 1.37

Printing services for others: 1.15

Distribution services: 0.54

2018

Advertising space: 12.79

Subscription and sales: 9.26

All other operating revenue: 1.77

Printing services for others: 1.16

Distribution services: 0.46

2019

Advertising space: 11.65

Subscription and sales: 8.85

All other operating revenue: –

Printing services for others: 1.19

Distribution services: –

2020

Advertising space: 10.22

Subscription and sales: 8.8

All other operating revenue: –

Printing services for others: –

Distribution services: –

Source: US Census Bureau

Additional Information: United States; 2010 to 2020; includes all taxable employer firms

Image via Statista

Newspaper publishing revenue in the United States from 2010 to 2020, by media type (in millions U.S. dollars)

2010

Print newspapers: 26,973

Online newspapers: 1,614

Other media newspapers: 282

2011

Print newspapers: 25,035

Online newspapers: 1,811

Other media newspapers: 249

2012

Print newspapers: 22,417

Online newspapers: 2,449

Other media newspapers: 234

2013

Print newspapers: 21,456

Online newspapers: 2,284

Other media newspapers: 369

2014

Print newspapers: 20,545

Online newspapers: 2,919

Other media newspapers: 387

2015

Print newspapers: 19,171

Online newspapers: 4,615

Other media newspapers: –

2016

Print newspapers: 17,936

Online newspapers: 4,780

Other media newspapers: –

2017

Print newspapers: 17,679

Online newspapers: 5,207

Other media newspapers: 60

2018

Print newspapers: 16,985

Online newspapers: 5,011

Other media newspapers: –

2019

Print newspapers: 14,717

Online newspapers: 5,730

Other media newspapers: –

2020

Print newspapers:  13,642

Online newspapers: 5,332

Other media newspapers: –

Source: US Census Bureau

Additional Information: United States; 2010 to 2020; includes all taxable employer firms

Before long, print ad sales shifted to digital ad sales. These digital ads worked for a time but have decreased in recent years, forcing brands and publishers to rethink their approach.

Social media as a publishing channel extended the life of digital advertising because platforms like Instagram and Twitter could embed ads seamlessly into user feeds and target audiences based on third-party cookies. But with the recent consumer privacy policy changes, these channels have struggled to gather the information they need to tailor ad campaigns to certain users.

Overall, print and digital advertising have experienced a shocking decline in effectiveness.

As a result, forward-thinking marketers focused on offering readers and viewers a more compelling content experience. Brands began investing more into content marketing, and publishers looked for ways to partner with brands in a more sustainable way. This marriage of retail content marketing and publishing produced what is now content commerce.

Both parties learned quickly that integrating products into informative content resonated with consumers in a new way. This approach both inspired and guided future purchases while simultaneously increasing ROI for brands and publishers.

Today, there are two branches of content commerce:

  • Content-driven commerce – In this approach, a retail brand leverages content to create a seamless shopping experience within the content itself.
  • Commerce-driven content – In this approach, a publisher partners with a brand and features their product(s) organically within its content.

The effect of content commerce on a brand

The traditional approach of “talking at” customers no longer has the same effect it once did. Brands must earn trust with consumers by giving them accurate information and acquiring authentic endorsements from credible people, publishers, and organizations.

Additionally, consumers are growing impatient with content that offers a great solution but requires them to jump through hoops (copy/paste a link, create an account, etc.) to complete a transaction. Frictionless ecommerce — where customers can complete a purchase in fewer swipes/clicks — is revolutionizing online shopping.

In content commerce, information, recommended solutions, and the ability to shop all take place within the content. The consumer can learn and buy in one place.

The difference between content commerce and affiliate marketing

Content commerce can include affiliate marketing, but affiliate marketing isn’t necessarily content commerce.

In affiliate marketing, someone with a publishing channel has a commission-based relationship with one or more brands, using links and/or discount codes to convert visitors into customers. 

Many affiliate campaigns aren’t focused on frictionless shopping experiences in the same way that content commerce initiatives are. For example, most affiliates deploy links to third-party domains versus embedding shopping features within their content.

But with content commerce, there are two key differences:

  1. Content commerce usually involves shoppable content features that make completing a purchase more convenient than jumping across multiple links.
  2. It’s not just an affiliate that can post shoppable content — the retailer can also publish commerce-driven content on their own channels.

Benefits of implementing a content commerce strategy

1. The call to action feels more organic.

Scrolling past a “See more here” or “Shop now” button within a list of best solutions for solving a particular problem is more natural than seeing a random ad at the top of a search engine results page or email inbox. The content is clear in its message, helps the viewer wrap words around what they want, offers one or more relevant solutions, and then provides a simple conversion option.

2. It’s more cost-effective than traditional advertising.

Creating commerce-driven content on your own publication channels or partnering with a publisher is less expensive than running traditional digital ad campaigns. In many cases, retailers can enter into an affiliate partnership with a publisher so that there are no front-end costs at all.

3. It focuses on giving consumers helpful information.

Users are more receptive to offers and products once the brand earns their trust by providing helpful information. Content commerce focuses on inspiring and informing consumers before trying to convert them.

4. It’s optimized for a more frictionless ecommerce experience.

In ecommerce, “frictionless shopping means that customers can do more browsing and buying with fewer inconveniences along the way.” Giving your audience the option to take action right away makes the shopping experience more enjoyable and convenient.

How social media networks are adapting content commerce to their platforms

Pinterest is a channel that often follows the content commerce model. Brands and affiliates love how easy it is to incorporate shoppable links within posts, pins, and boards.

In the example below, betterme.health.coaching maintains a collection of visual posts, each linked to a helpful article on the infographic topic.

Screenshot of betterme.health.coaching main page
Image via Pinterest

When you click on the link, you arrive on an informative blog that thoroughly explains the topic and offers helpful solutions. Because the brand is a health and wellness app, it strategically integrates CTAs encouraging readers to download the app.

Screenshot of install now button above an article
Image via BetterMe

DTC brands already using content commerce successfully

“So here we are, on the verge of content and commerce. Whatever perspective you acquire, integrating content into commerce (and the other way around) is easier said than done. Product has to be worthy, content has to be authentic, and the transaction experience — a bridge between publishing and retail — must be seamless.”

Olga Rabo, content marketing and community manager at Styla

ChefSofi

BuzzFeed is well-known for partnering with retailers for their listicle blogs. In the article below, ChefSofi — a kitchenware brand — joined the list of gift ideas in a blog published just before Christmas.

Screenshot of BuzzFeed gift guide in example of content commerce
Image via BuzzFeed

In the article, BuzzFeed didn’t even mention the brand’s name. Instead, it featured an aesthetically pleasing image and product description for an adorable charcuterie board, along with a buyer review, and linked the listing to ChefSofi’s product page on their Amazon Store.

Screenshot of Buzzfeed gift guide item 4, a charcuterie board in example of content commerce
Image via Buzzfeed

Appleyard Flowers

Tourist and hospitality publication TimeOut decided to feature a handful of florist brands available to consumers in London. The article was regionally specific and offered readers a variety of retailers to choose from.

Screenshot of TimeOut article on best online shops for flower delivery in London example of content commerce
Image via TimeOut

One brand, Appleyard Flowers, made the list. Their write-up included a beautiful photo, a short description of the brand, and the opportunity to “Read more” or shop on their online store.

Screenshot of Appleyard Flowers listing on TimeOut shopping guide example of content commerce
Image via TimeOut

Shopbop

Shopbop offers a variety of women’s casual and dress shoes at an affordable price. When Vogue decided to create a celebrity-focused blog on affordable fashion, Shopbop was able to get a feature since Angelina Jolie had worn the brand’s Dolce Vita Fraser loafers.

Screenshot of Vogue article example of content commerce
Image via Vogue

This example was compelling because both a reputable publication and celebrity endorsed Shopbop. Readers could easily equate affordable, high-quality fashion with the Shopbop brand.

Screenshot of Dolce Vita Fraser loafers in example of content commerce
Image via Vogue

Integrating influencer marketing with content commerce

When implementing content commerce with the help of creators, the creator becomes the “publisher” of commerce-driven content. But just as content commerce must be relevant and authentic to be successful, brand-influencer partnerships must work just as hard to keep their campaign consumer-focused.

“For a creator/brand relationship to have any shot at success, consumers need to believe it’s the real deal. This means taking critical steps to build trust and authenticity with your creators.”

– GRIN, Creator Management: Inspire Belief

Brands can achieve the best results with influencers by making sure that they and their creator partners are a good fit. The influencer should genuinely love the products they promote, and the brand must share the creator’s audience.

Conclusion

Now that third-party cookies and remarketing are declining across the digital space, it’s critical that brands find better ways to connect with their audience. By crafting relevant content around quality products that meet consumer needs, brands can save money on traditional advertising and build deeper relationships with their customers and prospects.

Learn more about influencer marketing: Influencer Marketing 101

Updated: June 2023

Frequently Asked Questions

Content-driven commerce is a marketing strategy that seeks to convert readers/viewers with the help of authentic content — such as shopping guides, product reviews, etc. — that includes convenient shoppability features within each piece of content.

An ecommerce platform is a web-based marketplace optimized for selling products on an ecommerce website.

Content-based marketing is any marketing that uses relevant content (blogs, video, images, eguides, podcasts, etc.) as a foundation for building brand awareness, nurturing prospects, and converting customers.

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Written by GRIN Contributor

GRIN is the pioneer behind the world’s first Creator Management platform built to support every brand’s journey to connecting with consumers through authentic creator relationships. Thousands of the world’s fastest-growing brands—including SKIMS, Warby Parker, Allbirds, Mejuri, and MVMT—use GRIN to make creators feel like trusted, empowered partners and work with them to build their brands into household names.

All-in-one creator management platform helping ecommerce companies build more valuable brands through the power of creator partnerships.

© Grin Technologies Inc. 2022. All rights reserved.

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