Snapchat has not yet become a meaningful driver of commerce for publishers

In early 2018, Snapchat started letting publishers sell products through its platform. As of early 2019, the tests have driven scant revenue for publishers, with many still electing to take things slowly and treating commerce as a side experiment on Snapchat. 

In the fourth quarter of 2018, “about 10” Discover partners, including Bleacher Report, Tastemade and Barstool Sports, used either their Snapchat publisher channels or shows to sell products directly to their audience, according to a Snap spokesperson. Sources at publishers that have tested Snapchat as a commerce channel said commerce on Snapchat has not become a substantial driver of commerce revenue yet.

One publisher participating in Snapchat’s test made “tens of thousands” of dollars in commerce revenue on Snapchat, according to a source.

“Snap is not driving meaningful commerce revenue in any way,” said another source at a publisher that participated in Snapchat’s commerce test. “I have yet to hear of anyone making meaningful money off of that.”

Most of the publishers contacted for this story would not share raw numbers from their fourth quarter tests. In a statement, Tastemade said it was seeing “three-digit quarter-over-quarter growth in revenue” from its Snapchat commerce tests, and that it would continue to test selling products that fit the Snapchat audience. Another source said the results of its Snapchat commerce test were decent enough to be “a sprinkle of promise.”

Some publishers still see potential for commerce on Snapchat. Barstool Sports, which figured out back in 2017 how to sell merch on Instagram, now reliably sells hundreds of products per day through its eponymous Snapchat show, much of which is viral merch created by the publisher’s stable of creators, Barstool Sports CEO Erika Nardini said. Nardini declined to disclose how much total commerce revenue Barstool makes from its Snapchat show.

Publishers that have not yet used Snapchat for commerce remain skeptical of its ability to drive sales.

“We hear little to nothing about Snapchat as a commerce channel,” said the chief revenue officer of one publisher with an eight-figure e-commerce business, which did not participate in the test. A top executive at a second commerce publisher, which earns revenue from the affiliate as well as products it makes itself, said Snapchat was not on its list of channels it would focus on for its commerce strategy.

Some observers, asked about Snapchat’s potential as a commerce platform, think part of this is a function of how new Snapchat’s tools are. “My gut is that Snap is still a year out from being the [commerce] channel it could be,” said Lance Muranaga, vp of strategy and partnerships at Abacus Agency.

But, Muranaga cautioned, even in its ideal form, Snapchat may only be effective at driving certain kinds of purchases. “Thirteen- to 18-year-olds only have so much spending power,” he said.

Native e-commerce has been held up as a future component of Snapchat for years — for Discover publishers as well as advertisers. Back in 2016, Hearst’s chief content officer Joanna Coles (and Snap board member) said e-commerce was core to the long-term strategy for Sweet, the Discover publisher that Snapchat created in partnership with Hearst. (Late last summer, Sweet abandoned its daily magazine format after some layoffs to focus on a Snapchat show instead.) Snapchat has also made investments in companies designed to power e-commerce, including Spring.

But shopping features didn’t really start to crop up on Snapchat as a product until last year. It began testing the ability for publishers to sell products directly inside Discover in the spring of 2018. On Black Friday last year, Snapchat debuted “Shop and Cop,” a show that promoted flash sales created by brands, retailers and a couple publishers. Snapchat did not release information about how many sales the show drove.

These additions rolled out in parallel to several commerce ad products. In June, Snap rolled out shoppable ads inside Stories for advertisers. A tracking pixel, also released in June, has been an early hit with marketers, who found that it lowered their customer acquisition costs by as much as 50 percent. Collection ads, which allow users to browse through a carousel of advertiser wares, debuted to all advertisers in October.

Snapchat managed to produce a few enticing case studies before making its ad products broadly available in the fall. It helped Nike, then Adidas, sell out limited quantities of sneakers in a matter of minutes (in Adidas’s case, a matter of hours). In remarks made during its most recent quarterly earnings call, executives touted the higher engagement rates that brands including Wish, eBay and Guess saw from Snapchat’s shoppable ads. The engagement rate on Wish’s Collection ads were 17 times higher than average, the platform told Adweek.

Snapchat’s parent company finds itself in a precarious position. Its stock price has slid precipitously, down 58 percent over the past 12 months and 79 percent from the $27.09 it fetched the day Snap went public. Most recently, its CFO, Tim Stone, departed after less than nine months on the job. In the past year, its chief strategy officer, head of global strategic partnerships and other key executives have left. Commerce could be a way for Snap to show growth at a time when the company needs it the most — but the results are not there yet.

For publishers, meanwhile, developing new kinds of revenue on any platform typically takes years, not months. Most publishers on Discover said they still like Snapchat’s audience and platform. But as one source familiar with Snapchat’s publisher commerce tests put it, it’s not guaranteed that publishers will stay focused on the opportunity.

“It just doesn’t make sense to put time and effort into it when other channels are more lucrative,” that source said.

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