Beauty, Not Bling, Brings in the Fashion Bucks

Refinery29 says utility is a big sales driver

What do millennial women want? Jewelry, and especially engagement rings, according to Refinery29. In March alone, the fashion portal attributed a whopping 4 million pageviews to the sparkly bands.

That’s not necessarily what women are buying, however. When it comes to clicks that translate into sales, Refinery29’s users splurge on beauty.

“The products that drive a lot of the click-through buys are the items that have utility for [our readers],” said Connie Wang, Refinery29 style director.

Kristin Faucher, engagement director of digital agency Huge, said Refinery29’s numbers make sense. Huge’s research has shown that makeup is purchased frequently because it is seasonal and a lower investment. As for engagement rings, they fit in with the millennial life stage. “You’re on a hunt. You’re on a mission for that engagement,” Faucher said.

Still, converting an interest in jewelry to actual sales can be difficult considering that most women would rather try on expensive items before making a commitment. Gartner media analyst Jennifer Polk also noted that some women may choose to browse safely in Refinery29’s pages rather than heading straight to because they want to sate their curiosity while avoiding the online ad tracking that would result from visiting an e-commerce site. “If you’re a woman who’s looking at rings, how creepy would it be for your boyfriend to see ads [for rings] on your computer if he hasn’t even asked the question?” she said.

Brands also use sponsored partnerships with sites like Refinery29 to build loyalty among young women, even if that segment might not be ready to buy their products quite yet. “This is the age where women start to define themselves and what brands they associate with,” Faucher said.

Companies are now trying to create that loyalty at earlier ages thanks to the growth of social discovery online. Some high-end retailers are targeting teens as young as 16, claims DAC Group New York president Kiran Prashad. Huge’s Faucher notes one way is by shilling lower-priced products—such as branded diffusion lines, collaborations with mass retailers or beauty products—to ensure positive associations and future sales of luxury products. “Millennials are starting off young with brand awareness,” Prashad explained.

Refinery29 believes its authoritative voice is why advertisers seek its native content. For example, Neiman Marcus signed on to sponsor the site’s On the Verge articles, which highlight up-and-coming stars, like Issa Rae of the Awkward Black Girl Web series modeling garb from its store.

However, Polk warns that if publishers don’t use tracking data to target editorial content at readers, it may not make sense to show young women sponsored ads for products out of their price range. “While at some point you may need Depends, showing that to you now is not going to be relevant,” she argued.