Shoppable Media Catapults E-Commerce into the 21st Century

Originally posted on Hacker Noon by Co-Founder & CEO Andrew J. Chapin.

One of the lesser-told stories of the internet is the shift in content distribution and access brought to the mainstream by Facebook.

This isn’t a hot take — most would agree that’s what happened — but the shift is fundamental in a way most aren’t aware of.

Facebook spoon-feeding content to the masses has removed the need for the once-holy NYT.com homepage: more than two-thirds of traffic to major publishers heads directly to a content page, negating the work done by homepage editors around the world.

Facebook has greatly diminished institutions of journalism, given rise to questionable upstarts and in seizing control of the news feed algorithm, shaped the very world view of its users.

All because they made it easy. And they’re not done: e-commerce is next.

First, a brief history lesson.

After dialing up in 1995, most users followed the same flow: go to a web directory (like Jerry and David’s Guide to the World Wide Web, later renamed Yahoo!) and click through categories and topics to find a list of websites curated by humans. It’s easy to call this clunky in retrospect, but it was necessary—you couldn’t assume any given business had a website.

By 2005, the web directory became obsolete because you could safely assume a news outlet or business — from the mighty New York Times to the minescule Caledonian Record — had a website. With that ubiquity, the user flow changed: for business news, one could open a browser and type “wsj.com” with confidence.

The conversion funnel, from the thought, “I want to read business news” to reading an article shrunk from 7+ to 3. Conversion funnel and bandwidth improvements meant the speed of consumption increased several-fold.

That was an enormous leap, but one that wouldn’t hold a candle to the decade that followed.

The spark came from Facebook when the social media leader introduced Facebook Pages in 2007. News outlets and companies flocked to the platform and by 2015, users could safely assume a news outlet or business — from the mighty New York Times to the minescule Caledonian Record — had a Facebook page.

With that, the user flow changed again: for business news, one could open Facebook and know the news would be waiting.

No more directory or browser. No hunting for content or even typing. If the user went through the one-time action of following a page, Facebook promised to keep the two parties in touch. Other tools enabled similar action: messaging applications and the resurgence of e-mail newsletters served to deliver content directly to the user.

With this shift, the conversion funnel shrunk to 1: see it, click it. That’s it.

Content delivery had taken yet another enormous leap, one that had nearly 7 in 10 American adults receiving the bulk of their news from social media by 2018.

E-commerce didn’t take that leap.

Users could find New York Times content in many different places and enjoy it many different ways but when it came to e-commerce, users had two choices: hunt through the web directory that is Amazon.com, or go to JCrew.com to access J. Crew content.

How 90s of us.

E-commerce is catching up. Finally.

Following the trail blazed by content providers, MikMak and Benja have worked to shrink the e-commerce conversion funnel. Both companies built shoppable media experiences: MikMak inside of video, Benja inside of online display ads and native mobile.

Benja has chipped away at the opportunity, working with major brands like Nike, Patagonia, Levi’s, and Lululemon. We booked a good amount of business and pushed meaningful results (sales), but it’s been small relative to the overall size of e-commerce and advertising.

“You’re at the ballpark ready to hit a grand slam and I think you will, but I think you’re digging into the batters box in February. The pitcher’s still at Spring Training in Florida.”

— A VC, January 2019

And then something familiar happened: Facebook showed up. 
Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

In March, Facebook announced they are bringing native commerce to Instagram. The social media giant has set the scene for a leap akin to what Facebook Pages did for content distribution in 2007.

Adoption of shoppable media by an industry giant means we’re about to go mainstream. Between MikMak, Benja, and Instagram, consumers will be able to complete a transaction wherever they live online — inside video content, ads in sidebars, games, and social media feeds.

Commerce everywhere.

Looks like shoppable media season is here. Batter up.

Andrew Chapin