7 February 2018 Issue 21 Feb/Mar

Shoppable stories of the rich and tasteful

As more retailers start publishing 'content', startup Semaine is flipping the tactic on its head.

In a bid to find the business model of the future, publications are increasingly introducing ‘shopping functionality’ into their stories. Food blogs such as ‘Serious Eats’ have teamed up with Amazon to sell ingredients, while tech magazine Wired’s online gadget reviews are now largely shoppable.

Consumer brands, meanwhile, tend to do the opposite. The mattress company Casper recently launched its own print magazine, Woolly, and companies from Net-a-Porter to Asda publish widely read magazines attuned to their target customer.

Semaine is aiming to be something in between: a digital publication that happens to sell items it features in its stories. Or alternatively, as it likes to call itself, ‘an online magazine-meets-concept store’.

According to Semaine’s co-founder Michelle Lu: ‘What we saw in the competitive landscape was publishers and brands trying to retrofit the aspect they didn’t have. We thought, why can’t we make this whole ecosystem genuine?’

Tastemaker stories

Lu and co-founder Georgina Harding, who met while working for fashion photographer Mario Testino, wanted Semaine to publish aspirational stories based on people’s lifestyles, with shopping plugged into it from the start.

Each week Semaine invites a ‘tastemaker’ to share behind-the-scenes insight into their lives and the products they
love. Previous contributors have included the burlesque dancer Dita Von Teese and the footwear designer Charlotte Olympia, who have recommended products ranging from vintage lamps to Saint Laurent coats.

The concept has been inspired by the popularity of Instagram influencers.

Mechanics of shoppable

Semaine launched in 2015. After getting brands on board, the next step was figuring out how to integrate products from dozens of retailers into one website.

Semaine has yet to hit on a one-size-fits-all method. ‘A lot of these little brands have just three people working for them,’ Lu says. ‘Integration is not necessarily that easy.’

At first Lu and Harding were keen to make shoppable videos but scrapped the idea as the films failed to resonate with readers.

Now, products are sold largely via affiliate links, which take the reader directly to the brand’s website for purchase. Semaine receives a fee for each purchase made this way.

Staying on Semaine

While the affiliate sales model has allowed Semaine to get its business off the ground, it’s not a long-term solution.

‘I think the Semaine customer wants a lot more than being chucked off to another page to buy a product they found,’ says Lu.

She is currently meeting with tech providers to work out a ‘one-click’ solution which will allow customers to purchase items without leaving Semaine’s website. ‘Customers are incredibly frustrated by the fact they can’t store their payment details or actually pay on Semaine,’ Lu adds.

She’s still on the hunt for the right provider.

Not a stockist

Semaine enjoys the benefits of being a retailer which doesn’t carry stock: it can sell anything that is already being sold online, and it is never beholden to stock not selling.

This leaves it with just two jobs: keep producing stories its audience wants to read, and make the buying process as simple as possible.