Content and commerce: the power couple of the moment. It’s difficult to go more than minutes without someone reminding you of the importance of strong, engaging online content in winning the respect of your customers. And, sure, they’re right: an inspired visitor is more likely to become a loyal shopper. But really there’s no guarantee that interest translates to a purchase.

Brian Mahoney, CTO of beauty brand Glossier, talked recently about the importance of treating Glossier customers and Into the Gloss blog readers as different entities.The business found that Into the Gloss readers were 40 percent more likely to purchase products than users who visited Glossier only. So clearly there’s potential to use data to create an optimised experiences across the two platforms. But what exactly is the journey from one to the other and how do we track it? The challenge for retailers is now to connect the dots.

Over the past few years, we’ve seen some of the bigger name brands developing community-style or “social commerce” platforms. Image-based, inspiration-focused networks that aim to connect users and move them towards purchase. The opportunity to discover, share and shop in a virtual community space is an appealing one for potential customers. And these kinds of platforms have the power to act as the space between content and commerce.

Who’s getting it right? 

Furniture and interiors retailer are. A focus on great design, combined with reasonable price points set them up for success, and this is a company committed to eCommerce innovation. In 2014, they launched Made Unboxed – an online “Pinterest-style” platform that allows users to upload and share images of products styled in their own home. The products featured are tagged, and customers can follow a “Buy Now” CTA back to site to purchase. Users can comment to ask questions and they can search for images using the name of the product or collection.

A huge part of’s offering was always their style inspiration features and Unboxed turns that part of the experience into an external “community”. It works because it empowers the customer: it gives them access to honest feedback and they feel involved in a conversation.

Of course, there needs to be some kind of measure of success. tracks the dwell time on site and AOV of people who also visited Unboxed. They found that dwell times were three times higher for these visitors plus average order value is up 16% on the site average. We can see that this communal discovery space, an experience shared with other customers, is a valuable link between inspiration and purchase.

Why isn’t everyone doing it? 

Well, for two reasons. have come up with an interesting measure, but it’s difficult to track the success of a platform like this. We know that less than 14% of people who see an item on social media buy it immediately, and the same is likely to be true of social commerce platforms. If customers are returning to site to purchase hours or days after first seeing a product, we can’t be sure of the connection.

The second reason is that platforms like these are difficult to build. They require a robust CMS that can allow for ongoing updates to content without any compromise on speed. There are also challenges when it comes to design. Unboxed, for example, combines different sizes and styles of images from different users. They’ve managed to create a consistent and unified feel in keeping with their own minimal aesthetic, but it’s no small task. Is it really worth retailers investing time, money and resource?

Is community commerce the future?

Although community platforms might sound like the magical blend of content and commerce that the world of online shopping has been crying out for, it’s unlikely we’ll see retailers move away from traditional eCommerce. These kinds of platforms are a valuable link in the chain, and it’s clear that content-driven experiences motivate customers to buy. But it’s probably more useful to frame them as a stage in the purchase journey as opposed to the destination.

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