Flipboard Moves Into Commerce With New Shopping Channel

App evolving from content discovery to products

After establishing itself as an editorial content discovery engine, Flipboard is hoping to do the same for commerce with a new shopping channel that will let people discover, view and share products.

Flipboard will now let users collect products from the new shopping channel or any online retailer into their own Flipboard magazine. They can also browse content that's pre-loaded into the channel, like custom catalogues from brands like Birchbox, Banana Republic and ModCloth and celebrities including Daniel Boulud and Cynthia Rowley.

Flipboard has been moving from discovery to curation already, having introduced a personalized magazine feature last spring and encouraging brands to publish their own magazines, tapping into the rise of custom content. Flipboard CEO Mike McCue said users have already shown strong interest in using the app for shopping, and the new channel would give retailers another way to reach them, especially as the holiday shopping season kicks off.

“The major issue with retailers is, their products aren’t discoverable enough,” McCue said. “This helps solve a discoverability problem.”

Despite its popularity (Flipboard claims 90 million users), the mobile app has faced skepticism from publishers about its financial advantages to them. Flipboard lets publishers sell ads at print-like rates, but only big titles are well positioned to benefit. McCue said the new shopping channel will encourage retailers to create brand magazines and promote them through ads, to publishers' benefit.

Banana Republic and Levi’s are two such retailers that are already running ads in multiple publications on Flipboard to promote their catalogues.

For Banana Republic, the app as a way to reach new and existing customers, said Catherine Sadler, the brand's global CMO. “Flipboard allows us to participate in our customers’ lives by connecting with them where they are to keep Banana Republic top of mind, create buzz and drive engagement with our brand,” she emailed.

Flipboard’s “beautiful interface” makes it ideal for browsing products, said Rebecca Lieb, an analyst with Altimeter.

“There are a lot of shopping channels, and Flipboard would be a whole new one,” Lieb said.

It remains to be seen how much Flipboard will end up being a commerce driver as opposed to merely a place to browse, though. E-commerce has its share of obstacles, like the fact that some retailer sites aren’t optimized for mobile and there’s consumer insecurity about buying from mobile devices, she noted.

McCue is bullish on the idea that content curation can be applied to a whole host of categories, though, like video and music. “We’re just getting started,” he said. “We want to enable curation for all different sorts of things.”