Mashable Offers Readers Some Perplexing Shoppable Images in New Partnership With eBay

A number hail from free stock photo sites, but why?

While the products may meet Mashable's "rigorous standards for awesomeness," the stock images, by definition, don't. Mashable
Headshot of Lisa Lacy

Following the likes of Instagram, Pinterest and PopSugar, media and entertainment company Mashable is embracing shoppable content. The site teamed up with online marketplace eBay to tag images in a pilot meant to explore what compels readers to click and buy.

“Through the partnership, Mashable journalists will enable readers to shop the looks featured in Mashable by independently curating matching fashion items and more available on eBay’s global platform,” reads an eBay press release. “By clicking on shopping tag icons embedded within Mashable stories, users can view, compare and buy the Mashable team’s selections.”

The release added that the effort combines “Mashable’s expert recommendations with the consumer discovery power of eBay” without ever having to leave the Mashable site. An eBay rep said the initiative will include 160 shoppable articles.

Shoppable images are denoted by a sales tag icon in the upper right-hand corner and include disclaimers like, “Heads up: All products featured here are selected by Mashable’s commerce team and meet our rigorous standards for awesomeness.” Unlike some of its aforementioned predecessors, a number of the pilot’s shoppable images hail from free stock photo sites, raising the question of why they’d tag generic images—and why consumers would feel compelled to shop from them. While the products may meet Mashable’s “rigorous standards for awesomeness,” the stock images, by definition, don’t.

Shoppable content on Mashable includes images of celebrities like Tom Hardy from Shutterstock and Kelly Marie Tran from Disney, but also images from Mashable itself and stock photos from sites like Pexels.

For its part, Shutterstock didn’t seem bothered by its images being used in this capacity, saying in an email, “Generally speaking, it is interesting to see this technology in place and being used in this manner.”

Images from retailers UncommonGoods and ThinkGeek also appear, but the tags direct readers to buy the products in question from eBay. (UncommonGoods had no comment, while ThinkGeek noted the use of its photography was not something it was aware of, and it does not have a first party presence on eBay.)

An eBay rep said the platform has no control over the types of images included in the trial.

“This is decided by Mashable as the owners of the real estate,” the rep wrote in an email. “Mashable uses a mixture of stock and original photography and even some hand-drawn illustrations, so it’s likely we’ll test across various types of imagery.”

Citing an NDA with eBay, Mary Gail Pezzimenti, vice president of branded content at Mashable Brand X Content Studio, said the program is “midstream” but could not disclose how Mashable and eBay are creating this content. She also didn’t disclose whether consumers have made purchases, but she said Mashable is testing and learning as it explores the connection between content and commerce.

“It’s more about: If a consumer is inspired by the content or if the content increases awareness behind a product, will that compel the reader to want to click to buy?” she said. “We’re playing with a couple of different things in this campaign.”

Pointing to the shoppable story about investing in cryptocurrencies, Pezzimenti said the stock photo of a woman in front of a laptop (above) is a good example of discovery and “trying to pull in people to see if they’re interested in engaging with something like that.”

Dan Burdett, head of eBay research arm EMEA Marketing Lab, said in a statement, “We know a lot about how people shop on our site, but less about how they shop off it, so we wanted to bring a simplified shopping experience that brings products to Mashable’s passionate audience rather than expect them to come to us.”

Similarly, the release said the pilot will help eBay understand the factors that matter most to eBay buyers, such as seller reputation and delivery time.

“We’re trying to play with the notion that sometimes all of us end up buying a product that we didn’t set out to,” Pezzimenti said. “We’re playing with the customer journey … some of it is about inspiration, some of it is informational … another aspect is the purchase. [The customer journey] used to be more linear. Now—particularly because of social and discovery—people may come in at different places.”

@lisalacy Lisa Lacy is a senior writer at Adweek, where she focuses on retail and the growing reach of Amazon.