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Meredith Pushes Into E-Commerce

New channel offers a one-stop shop for the home

Better Homes and Gardens, which for decades has guided people in furnishing their homes, is now making it easier for those readers to do so without leaving them.

In its first major e-commerce initiative, the Meredith flagship has quietly stocked a channel at BHG.com/shop with products in dozens of categories from bedroom sets to salt and pepper shakers. Meredith plans to promote the new channel in earnest next year and follow it with similar channels from Parents and Divine Caroline, Meredith’s online community for women.

Meredith is one of the larger magazine publishing houses, and its product-heavy periodicals seem ready-made for e-commerce. As these magazine efforts go, BHG’s seems pretty rudimentary.

Built with help from ShopNation, an e-commerce company Meredith acquired in May, the channel has no virtual shopping cart where people can park their items while they shop. In fact, shoppers have to click through to each retailer's website to make a purchase, potentially depriving BHG.com of traffic. Also, the channel isn't easily accessible through BHG's mobile site, although Meredith is working on that, along with an iPhone/iPad app just for shopping.

And while the magazine will get a cut of each sale (or click-through to the retailer), it isn’t holding or manufacturing any inventory, which limits its upside (as well as its risk). Then again, other publishers have had mixed success with e-commerce so far, so it's unclear that anyone's found the magic formula just yet.

BHG said that other features might be added down the road, but that having a robust selection was paramount at this juncture (indeed, as of last week, the site had about 500,000 products representing 58 retailers). Executives said they’re also not worried about losing people who leave the site to shop because the venue’s users are highly engaged to begin with.

“To me, it’s not a big deal at all that we’re sending them somewhere else to complete the purchase,” said Janell Pittman, gm of BHG digital. “We know they’ll come back.”

When magazines enter e-commerce partnerships, they may blur the line between the editorial and business sides. The products on BHG.com/shop are a mix of editors' and retailers' picks, and when it’s deemed appropriate, items are surrounded by related editorial content. Naturally, Gayle Butler, the magazine’s editor in chief, said the brand’s business relationships weren’t a factor in editors’ choices. “Our product selections are going to be totally independent of that,” she said. The company pointed out that along with well-known retailers like Target and Crate & Barrel, the site also carries products from smaller vendors like Blomus and Viva Terra.

And as for BHG’s own branded products, they’re also featured in the store, but executives insisted they wouldn’t get preferable treatment.

BHG execs said that in addition to the large selection, what sets apart its e-commerce venture is its ubiquity. The print magazine, multiple email newsletters and social networks all point readers back to the online channel. The channel’s traffic is relatively small—about 600,000 visited the shopping section in November, a small percentage of the site’s total monthly uniques of about 11 million, per Omniture SiteCatalyst, but that of those who do, 30 percent clicked through to a retailer’s site. Meredith executives said they don’t know what percentage actually ends up making a purchase, but money apparently is changing hands; it claims the average basket is $125 per trip.

At a time when all publishers are looking for new sources of income, Meredith executives said they view the shopping channel as a potentially lucrative business. “We are doing this to provide a service to the consumer but also bring in incremental revenue,” said Karla Jeffries, e-commerce director for Meredith.

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