Ssense is building out its in-house editorial team to fortify its focus on contextualized commerce.
The Montreal-based e-commerce store (pronounced “essence”), which sells more than 200 luxury brands including Comme des Garcons, Vetements and Hood By Air, relaunched its editorial operation in January in conjunction with bringing on Joerg Koch, founder of 032c magazine, as its editor-in-chief. The rest of the team is made up of seven editors split between Ssense’s offices in Montreal and Berlin, and the company is seeking to add up to four more in order to boost its content as well as its site engagement. Right now, the retailer sees about 27 million visits a month, driven by organic search and social efforts on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.
Blending content and commerce is not a novel strategy. Net-a-Porter has two editorial arms, for instance: The Edit, an online content blog, and Porter, a Net-a-Porter–powered quarterly print offering. To Koch, what separates out Ssense’s strategy is how loosely the company actually links commerce to its content. Despite identifying editorial content as a substitute for traditional advertising, Ssense doesn’t run sponsored content or link out to products in its features.
“There’s editorial freedom that goes with it, because it’s about engaging readership with meaningful content,” said Koch. “The commercial reasoning is that the longer people spend with content, the more they spend on clothing. But the content doesn’t necessarily correlate to product. We use fashion as an interface to see what’s happening in culture.”
Koch said that right now, Ssense publishes five pieces of content a week, which include a range of videos, insider interviews and cultural news. Ssense has covered topics such as the global economy crisis, the Black Lives Matter movement, subculture and sustainability. Around 70 percent of Ssense’s content isn’t related to products, according to Koch. When it does relate to product, it’s loose. On Monday, Ssense editor Reva Ochuba published an interview with Matthew Williams, the designer behind indie fashion brand Alyx. The Q&A is accompanied by a film “I Am Velocity,” which Ssense commissioned director Nick Knight to create alongside Williams to showcase the brand’s spring collections.
The article and video were in production for weeks by Ssense’s team and its outside collaborators, and on the day it launched, it was prominently featured on Ssense’s homepage. While Alyx clothing is carried by Ssense, a direct link to shop the brand from the feature is nonexistent. Koch said that it’s not interested in a hard sell, and that click-to-shop prompts aren’t included in features.
“Editorial is an important part of building up the company,” said Koch. “You could blow up the budget by doing advertising, but this is more interesting. The customer of this generation is immune to advertisements. If they see that a company produces meaningful content that’s smart, then the company benefits from that.”
According to Koch, brands aren’t paying to be covered by Ssense’s editorial team. If a new Miu Miu collection is added to the store, for instance, a corresponding post featuring the collection will also surface. The company doesn’t make money from its content, beyond the correlation to sales and engagement that Koch mentioned. Ssense doesn’t break out revenue figures, but the company said that money it spends on traditional advertising is funneled to the editorial efforts.
Competitors like Net-a-Porter link the content they create to the products they carry more clearly. Issues of Porter can be shopped with the Net-a-Porter mobile app by scanning the pages. Online, The Edit is centered around editors’ latest fashion obsessions and product picks. Non-commerce-related features, like celebrity interviews, fill in the rest.
Lucy Yeomans, Porter’s editor-in-chief, sees the shoppable pages of her magazine as an improvement on the traditional fashion publication: “In traditional magazines, it’s selling the customer, saying, ‘Sleep with me, sleep with me,’ and then — ‘Never mind,’” she told Glossy in a preview interview.
Koch sees Ssense’s continued investment in editorial content as a testament to the engagement it’s driving to the site. Rather than separated out into a content blog, features are weaved into the homepage and product category pages, driving shoppers to the features and not the other way around. With plans to build out the team, the company plans to publish more often, at a rate of about 10 more features per week. Koch believes that with today’s heightened retail competition, maintaining an e-commerce company that has a strong point of view and is not overtly trying to sell something is the key to unlocking customer loyalty.
“This is a modern way of featuring content — no sponsored posts, no traditional advertising, no print,” said Koch. “When you compare it to the type of content being produced on Ssense to that of other media platforms, the level of quality is higher. For me, coming from media, it’s exciting to see the opportunity here.”
As a tech-driven retailer — Ssense was founded by engineers — Koch said that the company has more resources to explore different forms of content, thanks to its team of 70 in-house programmers and developers who spend time working with the editorial team. Offline, the company has tentative plans to translate its online presence into brick-and-mortar concept stores that would operate as “cultural hubs,” according to Koch.
“You’d see how content would fit in there,” he said. “Building up this voice is very exciting to me because it’s relevant everywhere.”