September 27, 2012, 11:48 AM

Punchbowl opens a shopping aisle for party planners

The digital media company makes its foray into consumer goods e-commerce.

Lead Photo

When a shopper creates an online invitation, Punchbowl.com suggests products that suit that event.

Gearing up for Halloween and the holiday season, online party-planning site Punchbowl.com has launched an e-commerce-enabled “shopping aisle,” where it sells party supplies, costumes and gift cards.

Because millions of consumers already provide the site with information about themselves and the events they’re planning—from the size of the guest list to occasion, location, date and theme—Punchbowl can target customers based on their party supply needs, says Matt Douglas, CEO of Punchbowl Inc. Punchbowl.com attracted 885,114 unique visitors in August, says online measurement firm Compete.

“The real excitement here is around providing products for the customers who are actively using our site for event planning and sending digital cards,” he says. Even so, within the first 24 hours of opening the shopping aisle, Punchbowl also received a slew of traffic from first-time customers, many of whom bought items, he adds, though he declined to provide details.

The shopping aisle renders well on all devices thanks to its responsive web design in the HTML5 programming language, Douglas says. That means the site adjusts to fit the size of the screen of the device a consumer is using, whether it's a computer, smartphone or tablet computer. A team of about 20 in-house engineers built the site over the last year, he says.

“It’s pretty clear to us that the next wave of e-commerce is going to be deducing what customers need and optimizing that over all devices,” he says. “If you’re a retailer on the Internet in the next decade, it’s not good enough to just sell stuff, you have to engage consumers in some way.”

To Punchbowl that means getting consumers to do what they do already—use the site to send out electronic invitations and plan events, which they can do for free—and then offering additional options for sale, such as party supplies that fit the occasion. With the information it collects, Douglas says Punchbowl will be able to suggest relevant products, such as age-appropriate party plates to a woman planning her daughter’s seventh birthday party. Or if she visits the site and puts those plates in the cart first, Punchbowl at checkout can ask if she’d also like to send out electronic invitations.

“In the future we’ll be even more granular,” he says, such as being able to offer products tied to the age of the birthday girl. Punchbowl calls its strategy of data-driven targeting “deductive commerce.”

As a web-only retailer, it has been working on highly focused e-mails, Douglas says, including building its own e-mail marketing system in-house.

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