By Max Willens

On Monday, The New York Times announced it had purchased The Wirecutter and its sister site, The Sweethome, for just over $30 million. The deal gives the Gray Lady a new source of income and its first taste of affiliate marketing, a revenue stream publishers have been exploring to supplement display ad revenue.

The Times is hardly the first publisher to go there. Publishers have for years been trying to get credit for the purchases they inspire on their pages and websites. Some experiments are now scuttled, like New York magazine’s Shop-A-Matic and, but new ones are popping up all the time: In the past two months, relaunched as a commerce hub, and New York unveiled The Strategist, a web page offering product recommendations.

But these days, publishers aren’t trying e-commerce out as an experiment. Several publishers’ operations have gotten more sophisticated. Here are three ways publishers are making e-commerce into a real business.

Rewarding loyalty
Two years ago, Purch, a publisher of B2B and B2C brands that earns more than half of its revenue from e-commerce and lead generation, decided that it was overly reliant on search traffic, and that it needed to find a way to get more people to come back to its owned and operated sites.

Purch launched Perks, a loyalty site similar to another site it acquired, Active Junkie. Perks customizes its look and feel based on the site its visitors arrive from and has a loyalty program that offers cash to shoppers as a reward for buying there.

While Perks has only been live for a month, it’s already attracting the same number of daily users that Active Junkie did. “I’d much rather make $3 off you three times than $5 off you once,” said Phil Barrett, Purch’s senior vp and gm of shopper services. “Give away and build trust, and you will be rewarded.”

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By John Divine, Inc. (ticker: AMZN) does pretty much everything retail.

What started as an online bookseller quickly expanded into other product verticals like electronics, clothing and toys, and eventually morphed into an all-encompassing web store with virtually every legal product you can imagine. AMZN even helped put a few billion-dollar businesses – RadioShack, Borders and Circuit City being three of the most prominent – out of business along the way.

There’s arguably no other American company ever that’s been so successful in so many areas.

That’s not to say there haven’t been flops. Amazon Local, the Fire Phone and Amazon Destinations each failed; the Fire Phone arguably registered as one of the biggest tech flops of the last decade. Still, Amazon’s track record of success far exceeds its failures, and with a hard-charging billionaire intent on taking humans to Mars at its helm, Amazon investors and competitors alike should be prepping for its next ambitious business expansion.

Search. “When people are looking for products and they want to buy something, they’re already starting on, not Google (GOOGGOOGL),” says Phil Barrett, senior vice president and general manager of Purch.

Barrett believes that Amazon Alexa, the company’s AI-powered, voice-activated personal assistant, could become the Google Search of what he calls the “post-app” world.

Alexa products like the Amazon Echo and Amazon Echo Dot have been surprise hits for Amazon, and that, combined with Alexa’s ease of use and impressive functionality, makes Alexa a serious contender to be the search engine of the future, Barrett says.

Alexa is also an open platform for developers to add skills, enabling the assistant to become even smarter. In contrast, Siri had been closed to developers until very recently, and Google Assistant is only now commercially available in the Pixel phone.

“In the future it’s not gonna be Android vs iOS, it’s gonna be Alexa vs. Siri or Alexa vs. Google Assistant,” Barrett says. And that makes Amazon’s sizable head start in virtual assistants all the more valuable.

“That for me is potentially very scary for Google,” Barrett says.

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By Phil Barrett

Google recently released a report on the rise of comparison shopping, quantifying the growing trend as brand loyalty continues to decrease and shoppers are slower to pull the trigger, looking for the best product or waiting around for the best deal. As this consumer behavior has become the norm, many publishers – from Gawker, to Lifehacker, to Business Insider, to Food & Wine – have capitalized on comparison shopping. But many have only gone as far as offering holiday gift guides, product comparisons, or other sales-orientated content to their readers.

Just as consumers are fickle about brands, looking for the best deal, they can be fickle about content. Oversaturating users with products won’t keep them coming back – they seek unique, quality information that makes purchase decisions easier, as more and more product choices and shopping destinations (online and off) flood the market. Today’s consumers are looking for content and tools to help them make the most informed purchase possible, and publishers are uniquely suited to sit in the middle of that transaction in ways that extend beyond traditional content.

Many publishers have already diversified to meet this emerging need, creating tools that act as service extensions on top of their content. This can lead to user loyalty, which generates repeat traffic that you don’t have to acquire otherwise. TripAdvisor, for example, has created an engaged and loyal audience by offering its users helpful content in the form of reviews and expert advice along with booking services that together serve a very specific need, travel in this case. It’s low-funnel marketing at its best and it’s helping boost the bottom line.

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By Phil Barrett

You’re an entrepreneur who has successfully navigated the shopper journey ecosystem to generate new customers – only to see most of them never return. We all know the way to a great, positive ROI is to keep more customers than you lose, so what can you do to increase retention rates and actually create loyal customers?

1. Forget spray & pray.

If you’ve had success in driving new customers to your business, chances are you already know quite a bit about them, including where they came from – referring website, social media platform, search engine, etc. – as well as a few things about who they are and what motivated them to come to your website, app or place of business in the first place. Given that, why are you sending all your customers the same message with the same offer at the same time?

Whether you are sending emails, mobile or social notifications, text messages or even direct mail, make sure you personalize your communications beyond including their name and address. The more you personalize your interactions with your audience based on what you’ve learned from them, the more likely they are to reward you with a second click, call or visit.

You don’t need to personalize each communication to every single person – we call that 1:1 marketing, which really isn’t practical for most businesses. Instead, create customer groups, also known as segments, of customers based on common traits, including buying or intent behavior.

You can start simple and create a few broader segments like geography, age and sex, which can then be refined into smaller segments once you have learned more about your customers.

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By John Divine

Alibaba Group Holding (ticker: BABA), the largest Chinese company listed on a U.S. exchange, easily beat earnings and revenue expectations for its fiscal first quarter, the company says, sending the company’s stock roaring as much as 5 percent higher in early trading.

BABA stock hit a 52-week high of $87.73 on Wednesday, so Thursday’s numbers are only continuing that trend, with the stock sure to touch new yearly highs in intraday trading. Shares traded above $91.50 in early trading.

Adjusted earnings per share rose 33 percent to 74 cents, easily beating the FactSet consensus of 62 cents. Revenue growth of 59 percent to $4.84 billion also easily topped expectations, which called for $4.56 billion.

Mobile monthly active users rose from 410 million in March to 427 million in June – or about 100 million more mobile users than the entire population of the U.S. Mobile growth is a vitally important statistic, as gross merchandise volume is increasingly driven by those users; mobile GMV is now responsible for 75 percent of total GMV.

“With revenues from mobile representing 75 percent of China’s commerce retail, BABA is on their way from being a mobile-first company to a mobile-only company,” says Phil Barrett, senior vice president and general manager of Purch, a digital content company.

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