TL; DR: In only six years, StackCommerce has emerged as an innovator in both sponsored content and native commerce. The Venice, California-based company’s high-quality, product-focused content and innovative e-commerce platform have helped brands grow sales and web publishers generate much-needed revenue. StackCommerce remains true to its mission and tight-knit company culture while experiencing rapid growth. That growth is a result of StackCommerce providing its partner publishers a user-friendly way to monetize audiences that avoids intrusive banner and pop-up ads.
Josh Payne knew there had to be a better way for manufacturers and brands to get exposure than traditional marketing avenues. So, he developed a strategy to enable consumers to organically discover products and brands on the sites they already engage with daily.
That idea led to the founding of StackCommerce — a native commerce platform that supports both retailers and online publishers — located in Venice Beach, California, in 2011. As CEO, Josh helps clients take a fresh, content-driven approach to online advertising.
The StackCommerce strategy revolves around publishing high-quality, product-focused content on websites and blogs that make sense for the brands at hand. For the brands, it’s a way to garner attention and sales without investing heavily in traditional marketing channels. For the online publishers — many of which are currently struggling with declining ad revenues— it generates fresh incremental revenue streams to support their missions without intrusive banner and pop-up ads that spoil the user experience.
“It’s about creating a narrative around your product and embedding that story in the publications that people read, organically, on a daily basis,” Josh said. “We fundamentally believe that traditional display ads are dead. I think most people would agree with us.”
StackCommerce’s innovative approach can also be applied to affiliate relationships. The native commerce platform allows online publishers to create and host online shops, with products and offers targeted to their specific audiences. Either the publisher or StackCommerce then crafts high-quality commerce content designed to connect with the readers.
This creative and effective strategy has led to six years of rapid growth.
StackCommerce started with a handful of employees and now has 10 teams of employees. Still, Josh says the company maintains a tight-knit family culture and remains committed to helping consumers discover amazing products and media websites generate necessary revenue. Today, StackCommerce has more than 750 publishing partners, including AOL, Hearst, Scripps, CBS Interactive, IAC, Gizmodo Media, IDG, and Business Insider.
Empowering 750+ Publishers with Integrated E-Commerce Solutions
StackCommerce is focused on more than business success. Josh said the company is passionate about starting a movement that helps brands and publishers alike. Part of that mission is enabling brands to tell their stories without a substantial up-front investment.
To that end, StackCommerce generally works off of revenue-sharing agreements.
The complementary mission revolves around helping online publishers — particularly those facing difficult times — tap into a new revenue stream. Josh notes that it’s particularly important at a time when journalism is “under attack from all angles,” including from Facebook and Google, which have taken over a good chunk of their web traffic.
“We want to help those news sites monetize differently,” Josh said. “We have really seen a decline in the quality of advertising in the last 5-10 years.”
Today, sites use tools like content recommendation widgets and pop-up ads just to make enough money to survive. Too often, that content is generic or uninteresting, and pop-up ads can ruin the reader’s experience on the site.
The commerce content crafted via StackCommerce is rooted in an understanding of the publisher’s audience and the brand’s unique stories. They focus on developing unique narratives for each product and brand, and showcasing them on relevant publishing partners so consumers can discover organically.
It’s essentially sponsored content that’s professionally crafted and informative, so it’s able to add to the reader experience rather than distract. For instance, Engadget works with StackCommerce articles that provide readers with both information and great deals.
Readers can follow links within the content to arrive at customized white-label shops that are stocked based on demographics, StackCommerce’s merchandising expertise, and performance data. Finally, customers make purchases directly on the publisher shops, rather than being redirected to third-party sites.
“The movement is about discovery of new brands, makers and products through storytelling, and I think it affects brands, publishers, and consumers positively,” Josh said.
Digg, a content discovery destination with more than 10 million monthly readers, is one of more than 750 partner publishers that work with StackCommerce. Digg saw $100,000 in annual incremental revenue and a 200% year-over-year increase in its commerce revenues after partnering with StackCommerce.
Tech news site Slashdot and open-source code repository SourceForge saw a 200% increase in year-over-year business thanks to StackCommerce’s innovative tech deals and content targeted at their tech-savvy readership.
Large national brands have also benefited from collaborating with StackCommerce. Rosetta Stone, a leading digital language learning solution, used the platform to reach a younger, mobile-centric audience.
Publishers, including Boing Boing, The Daily Dot, and Gothamist, posted more than 65 pieces of native content on Rosetta Stone, helping the language platform reach its target audience. Rosetta Stone sold more than 1,200 units and attracted more than 96,000 deal page sessions in 175 white-label publisher shops thanks to those content partnerships.
Scaling Operations While Staying True to Company Mission & Culture
At StackCommerce, the motto is “work hard, play hard,” and the company certainly accomplishes both. On the work side of the equation, the company has helped consumers discover 4 million products, saved customers $1.5 billion, and paid out $50 million to its partners. As for play, StackCommerce has five office dogs, an office keg, and eight office surfboards for workers to catch waves at the beach.
Josh said the company has scaled from 10 employees to 10 full teams, without losing its tight-knit, collaborative culture or its mission to help brands gain exposure and publishers generate revenue.
“As you grow, one way to maintain your culture is to communicate your values, your mission, and your vision,” he said. “As you interview people, you not only look for those things in them, but you also have people who apply and opt-in based on what they’ve seen.”
Native Commerce Facilitates the Organic Discovery of New Products
Six years ago, Josh was looking for a better way to help brands gain exposure online. His solution has helped lead the way by incorporating commerce content and e-commerce to the benefit of brands, publishers, and readers.
“That’s the whole advent of native commerce. If it includes an affiliate link, it is sponsored content; there’s no way around that. But you can still write about products you believe in. It doesn’t have to be mutually exclusive,” Josh said. “I think we really started that evolution six years ago, and I’m really proud to see it coming through now.”
In the first half of 2017, StackCommerce welcomed 42 new publishers, reported a 20% average gross margin for its partner publishers — compared with the typical range of 4% to 8% for affiliate networks. The company also launched a partnership with Mashable that led to more than 18,500 transactions in its first 60 days.
StackCommerce uses its own growth to help more publishers, brands, and content creators thrive in a digital world where native commerce can have a significant impact on their sustainability.