How Refinery29’s Simone Oliver is complementing content with commerce

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As a publication specializing in fashion and beauty, Vice Media Group’s Refinery29 has its origins in commingling content and commerce. Now the outlet is looking to extend its expertise to live shoppable video.

“We’re going to start live testing [live shoppable video] in the spring. We’re considering YouTube as a our starting place, and we’re probably going to start with beauty because it’s a strong category for us,” said Refinery29 global editor-in-chief Simone Oliver in the latest episode of the Digiday Podcast, which was recorded in front of a live audience at the Digiday Publishing Summit on March 29.

With live shoppable video, Refinery29 expects to take a similar tact that it has adopted with its commerce content overall: Allowing its audience to experience products vicariously through its editorial staff. “We know for us creating that sense of community, having our editors out front, having their faces in front is really important,” Oliver said.

As Oliver said of Refinery29’s overarching approach to commerce content, “we’re not gatekeepers. We’re here to experience the trends with you. Our audience is savvy as heck. They don’t need us to tell them the trends. What we do is we test-drive those trends for people. And that’s one of the ways we generate trust.”

Here are a few highlights from the conversation, which have been edited for length and clarity.

Getting into gaming

I didn’t want to just approach it through the lens of let’s make money off of gaming. We do community well, so what’s important for us? Women [and] underrepresented communities. Our biggest opportunity is not just the insider gamers and streamers. It’s also everyone else. The definition of gaming is broadening. There’s so many people who have identities and communities within the gaming world that we connect with and that’s in our wheelhouse.

Stepping up in search

We have someone who leads [search engine optimization]. Right now we’re going through an exercise, a mini audit, across different verticals to see are we stacking up as we should be. Are we really leveraging our search the best way we can be? An example of that is home well-being, but what does that mean? Home, to me, means office chair. My back is hurting; that affects how I perform. And we noticed that we haven’t been specific enough. So there’s a lot of room to grow there.

Contending with supply-chain challenges

The supply chain issue is always going to be there. We have very little control over that. One of the tactics that we try to work around that is knowing what our audience likes. We know there are certain price points that are the sweet spots for our audience. The other thing is the audience experience is vital. We don’t want to send anyone to anything that’s sold out. So we’re constantly checking or updating. If something is sold out, we will update that link in a timely fashion.

Closing commerce communication gaps

In recent months, our vp of commerce Samantha Baker slacked me and was like, “Listen, I’m noticing that only 70% of your articles across all of dot-com have [affiliate links from] Skimlinks.” I’m like, “70? Yo, we could do better than that.” Our fashion and beauty teams, all the other verticals, they’re on Slack all day with the shopping editors who have the expertise and they know the audience really well. To me, 70%, like that’s a C. I couldn’t come home with a C in school. We could do better as team; let’s close that gap. So closing those communication gaps across different teams is really important.

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