Flipboard Goes Catalog Crazy

Flipboard on Monday launched an e-commerce initiative that lets both consumers and brands create online product catalogs.

Consumers can browse online commerce platforms for their favorite products, and then add them to their personal catalog. In addition to serving as a convenient central storage area for their most desired goods, the catalog can serve as a wish list, as users can provide family and friends with a link to access it.

Brands can also promote their products via the platform. Several retailers — including Banana Republic, eBay, Fab, Etsy, Levi and ModCloth — are helping Flipboard to roll out the feature.

The retailers can take different approaches to displaying their goods. Fab, for instance, developed five magazines featuring different products, including holiday gifts and tools for entertaining. ModCloth launched catalogs devoted to wedding, kitchen, beauty and craft products.

The catalog layout looks like a digital version of a traditional print catalog, with online pages that flip to display products and their descriptions. Some of the retailers, like Banana Republic, also have sprinkled their catalogs with links to editorial content featured elsewhere on the Web.

Moving Beyond Curation

The catalog feature is an outgrowth of the site expansion Flipboard undertook last March, when it started allowing users and brands to curate their own online magazines. Since then, users have created 4.5 million magazines.

That is an indication users have responded well to the platform, said e-commerce consultant Rob Abdul. Developing a commerce component was a logical next step for Flipboard.

“The beauty of a digital platform is its ability to harmonize with converging technologies,” he told the E-Commerce Times. “It lends itself to expansion easily. It makes total sense for Flipboard to enable digital purchases.”

It was smart for Flipboard to go an extra step by allowing retailers, not just individual users, to take advantage of the catalog feature, said Jordan McKee, mobile marketing & commerce strategies analyst at Yankee Group.

“Retailers are constantly hunting for ways to drive brand engagement and interact with shoppers in new ways,” he told the E-Commerce Times. “Social sites like Flipboard, Pinterest and Instagram provide an excellent avenue to accomplish this.”

Next Step: Revenue

It is unclear how Flipboard will leverage its catalogs to improve the company’s bottom line, said McKee.

“It seems like a bit of missed opportunity that Flipboard isn’t opening up a new revenue stream with this initiative,” he added. “Taking even a fraction of a percentage of converted purchases generated through its catalogs could prove quite fruitful. However, Flipboard will likely see benefit in driving more users to its site, which in turn will make it more attractive to potential advertisers.”

Generating more revenue from those advertisers falls in line with the company’s overall strategy, said Jennifer Kent, senior analyst at Parks Associates.

“Flipboard is falling back on its existing business model of selling full-page ads at a much higher rate than traditional banner ads,” she told the E-Commerce Times. “It would not surprise me if the ability for consumers to click directly from a catalog through to the retailer’s product page would allow Flipboard to charge even higher rates in the future.”

There will be time for Flipboard to figure out more revenue opportunities, but right now the company is smart to focus on building out its platform with an e-commerce focus, said Kent. “Flipboard’s lean-back discovery and curation services will fit really well with e-commerce, fitting in the time consumers typically spend researching and browsing desired products before actually making a purchase.”

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