Amid the e-commerce slowdown, Barbarian launches new 200-person commerce division

Despite warnings of an e-commerce slowdown after the pandemic-era boom, some marketing agencies are creating new commerce-specific teams.

New York-based creative agency Barbarian has created a new 200-person team it’s named Barbarian Commerce, which will combine new content creation capabilities with other efforts such as first-party data and R&D offerings. As part of the plan, 200 staffers from the content studio Mint Global — a sibling company that creates content for Samsung — will become a part of Barbarian Commerce with offices in Canada, Germany and Poland. (Both Barbarian and Mint are under Samsung’s Cheil Worldwide umbrella.)

The goal is to connect sales and marketing across online, offline and metaverse platforms, according to Barbarian CEO Steven Moy, who will oversee Barbarian Commerce along with CTO Lawrence Edmondson. He said Mint and Barbarian have designed Samsung’s website for the past decade and now want to use those same capabilities for other clients across social media, connected TV, virtual and augmented reality and other types of content. (Samsung’s subsidiaries already support the tech giant with content across 70 countries on a weekly and monthly basis.)

“After you create all the experiences and you launch it, you have to run it,” said Moy. “Running an e-commerce website is as critical as building it.”

Agencies’ continued investment into digital commerce capabilities is a “natural extension” to their core business model, said Ant Duffin, senior director analyst in the Gartner Marketing Practice. In some ways, things have come full circle. In recent years, new agencies specializing in digital commerce were created to support the growth of marketplaces like Amazon and Walmart, but now full-service agencies are also making the pivot.

Although “shop now” ads and shoppable content are more mature than other formats like live streaming social shops and in-app purchases on platforms like Roblox, a recent report from Gartner predicts social commerce’s exponential growth could reach $6.2 trillion by 2023.

“In the content space, many brands are still facing the challenge of operationalizing the digital shelf at scale,” said Duffin. “The digital shelf is a foundational building block of omnichannel digital commerce execution, but the production and ongoing data-driven optimization of content remains a challenge.”

Barbarian Commerce debuts during a time of dissonance across the world of digital commerce. Increased e-commerce options across social platforms, retail media networks and giants like Amazon has led advertising giants like WPP to acquire a number of e-commerce startups to build out new data and marketing capabilities. However, tech giants such as Meta, Shopify and others have recently cited a slowdown in e-commerce growth as part of the reason for recent layoffs.

Despite recently cloudy forecasts, others still expect growth. According to a new report this week from Comscore, online retail consumer spending in 2022 grew 21% in year-over-year, reaching $1 trillion for the first time and with mobile devices accounting for 40% of all digital commerce. Social commerce continues to grow — both for shoppers and marketers — with sponsored content from U.S. retailers and CPG brands grew 153% on Facebook and 175% on Instagram between the third and fourth quarters last year. Although the new report didn’t track ad spending in particular, Ian Essling, Comscore’s senior director of survey insights, said the types of ads and volumes of content made by retailers have also grown over the past few years.

“Retailers are adapting to knowing that consumers are more willing to make those types of purchases and the ad dollars tend to follow to that as well,” Essling said.

Barbarian isn’t the only company looking to integrate various capabilities. When digital marketing agency Blue Wheel merged with e-commerce marketplace agency Retail Bloom last week, Blue Wheel CEO Eitan Reshef said the economic slowdown factored into the decision. According to Reshef, offering various products and services as a merged company will help when clients are deciding to work with one or multiple partners.

“When times are tenser from a macroeconomic perspective and brands have to really consider all of their costs and all their values that are brought into the organization, they’re going to be very scrutinous of who they work with and of what capacity they work with them,” Reshef said.

Companies looking to enter new platforms still see hurdles when exploring new tech. A recent survey by Deloitte found that 45% of brands listed implementing new tech as a key barrier for choosing to not engage yet in the metaverse, while just 10% said the metaverse is “not relevant” to their industry.

For Barbarian Commerce, the goal is to take more of a “platform-agnostic” approach, Moy said, adding that Barbarian works with clients that have their own consumer data platforms along with other partners such as Adobe, Tealium and Lytics.

“More and more, especially CPG clients will create even a new organization just to focus on Amazon,” Moy said. “And when you get to Amazon, it’s a brand new ecosystem just like Facebook and Google. You need to not only understand your own digital ecosystem, but you have to familiarize your partners’ ecosystem. I have no doubt that TikTok will launch their own DSP someday.”

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