• Lauren Riera

Three things publishers should consider when automating their e-commerce reporting

Unpredictable ad spend and rival subscription models are putting pressure on publishing executives to rethink their monetization strategies. As a result, more and more are turning to e-commerce to grow their revenue streams.

Future Plc’s recently relaunched e-commerce tech platform, T3, enjoyed a staggering 120% year-on-rear revenue surge in 2018, overtaking display advertising. And perhaps the most impressive content-to-commerce story comes from U.K. media company, Dennis Publishing, whose Buyacar platform became so popular that it now accounts for a fifth of the country’s online motoring spend and is on course to bring in $83M this year alone. Meanwhile in the U.S., Time Inc. recently hired marketing experts from Amazon, Visa, Netflix and Procter & Gamble to help drive its e-commerce division, while Condé Nast recruited talent from Expedia, Barclaycard and eBay to help double its year-on-year e-commerce revenue in 2018.

E-commerce has become an attractive proposition for digital publishers. With three of the key elements e-commerce platforms require already in place – an established website; a built-in audience; and a robust SEO strategy – publishers can confidently enter the e-commerce market knowing they have a competitive advantage, and without the burden of significant start-up costs.

Aside from CMS integration or an online storefront, affiliate link programs are also becoming a popular method of monetization, with platforms such as Skimlinks connecting publishers with brands to drive sales and build best practices for e-commerce. With two-fifths of subscribers seeking product endorsements on platforms such as GQ’s ‘Recommends’ – whose revenue skyrocketed 500% between 2017 and 2018 – the opportunity for publishers is too great to ignore.

So if integrating e-commerce is proving so lucrative, why hasn’t every digital publisher tapped into this opportunity already? Here’s the thing: each of the methods above relies on accurate user data to effectively optimize an e-commerce strategy. However, the number of disparate data sources for the Editorial and Rev Ops teams to manage can be overwhelming. For many publishers in the process of adopting e-commerce – whose manual reporting processes are already becoming unsustainable – this is the perfect time to automate. However, for those who do decide to automate their e-commerce reporting, there are three important aspects to consider:

  1. Data is a living beast As publishers begin to add e-commerce platforms to their already complex data stack, the volume of data to harness will increase exponentially. For example, some subscribers may be visiting a site for their next content fix; some may be looking for a product recommendation; while others are seeking a combination of both. To gain the most accurate overview of behavioral data, ops teams need ‘lookbacks’. The lookback window is crucial because even the most granular e-commerce reports become stale within hours if you don’t have a mechanism in place which allows you to constantly ‘look back’ to data from a specific point in time, and as far back as necessary, to pinpoint any hiccups. Traditional reporting windows can be up to 120 days – depending on the e-commerce partner supplying the data – meaning that without a lookback function in place, teams are left searching for these hiccups. By using a powerful data unification platform, teams can gain access to a continuous rolling window, which means user data is always up to date and accessible in real time.

  2. Expected the unexpected While e-commerce can provide an invaluable opportunity for publishers to bolster customer engagement and loyalty, it’s important not to become complacent. There will be returns; there will be cancellations. Reporting reliably on unforeseen requests, or changes to an order, can be really difficult, especially as each data source will use different metrics to report on these changes. If reporting systems aren’t able to leverage disparate data using standardized and consistent criteria, publishers are at risk of losing long-standing customers in an instant. Therefore, if executive teams invest in the infrastructure to make purchasing as smooth as possible, then the data reporting technology driven by Editorial and Rev Ops should be equally as sophisticated.

  3. Each data source is special The fact is, no two e-commerce data sources are the same. Each will have its own idiosyncrasies with custom rules – or algorithms – that need to be built into the API calls before data can be captured correctly. For Editorial and Rev Ops teams in particular, who typically manage between 20 and 40 data sources at any one time, having a truly aggregated view of all e-commerce activity – alongside traditional ad campaign and subscription data – is essential for effective optimization.

Automating e-commerce reporting removes a great deal of the headaches to which operations teams have become accustomed. Both Editorial and Rev Ops can tap into their own customized report to gain access to the right insight, at the right time, consolidated using the right metrics. As more and more publishers recognize the e-commerce opportunity, choosing a data unification platform that can easily overcome the above hurdles will enable a smooth transition from content to commerce. The only thing they’ll question is: Why didn’t we do this years ago?

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