June 28, 2012, 12:53 PM

E-magazine Refinery 29 goes into e-commerce

The fashion and lifestyle media company launches a marketplace.

Lead Photo

Wouldn’t it be nice to flip through your favorite magazine, point to a picture, say “I want that” and watch it immediately fall into an online shopping cart? That’s the idea behind 6-year-old media company Refinery29’s launch of R29 Shops, a boutique-style marketplace which went live today on refinery29.com.

R29 Shops now offers 14 brands, and plans to add another 15 to 20 brands each week. The brands will have what the magazine calls "mini boutiques." A mini-boutique is page that acts as a storefront for an individual brand, with items selected and presented by R29 editors. To access the shops, a consumer must either make an account with her e-mail address or she can log in via Facebook or Twitter.

One million subscribers already read about fashion, lifestyle and shopping at Refinery29, and many of them have bought exclusive items in flash sales through the company’s “Reserve” section, launched in 2010. Now with R29 Shops, which appears as a separate tab on the web site’s header, the company is selling goods to its readers directly, handling every part of the sale—showcasing, shopping cart, ordering and customer service—except for carrying inventory. The brands that sign on with R29 Shops hold the merchandise and drop ship items to consumers.

“To us, the vision for this business is uniting and unifying advertising, content and e-commerce,” says Philippe von Borries, Refinery29 co-founder and CEO. “At the moment, every media company in this space is trying to figure out the commerce formula, and the commerce ones are trying to figure out content,” he says. “The people who previously did that were the QVCs and HSNs of the world.”

Refinery29 posts 40 to 50 original articles daily about art, life and fashion—all focused on up-and-coming young designers and artists—and maintains offices in Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, Washington, D.C., San Francisco and Miami to report on local trends and styles. The company shoots its own photography and videos.

Keds Apparel, a new arm of the century-old athletic shoe brand, is one of the product lines in the new marketplace. In advance of the launch, Keds sent editors in each Refinery 29 city the pieces in its spring line. The editors pared those items down from about 60 to 15 to 20 pieces that will be featured for sale in the Keds mini-boutique in R29 Shops, says Chris Hoffman, vice president and division head of the group at Keds that includes the new apparel unit. Refinery29 created all the images and content surrounding the pieces based on the particular outfit a city editor chose—for example, the “Chicago look” from Keds.

“It’s that edit and that point of view that will make them different in everything that they do,” Hoffman says. “I go on the site every morning—what I need to know for the day I can learn from Refinery29 in five minutes. What they’re bringing to us is over 1 million subscribers who also trust them. I don’t know how we could ever access these subscribers in the same way.”

Refinery29 averages 5 million monthly visits and subscriptions have increased 730% since May 2011, the company says. The average site visitor spends more than five minutes scrolling through 10 to 13 pages. “What they have now, six years later, is a highly curated and dedicated consumer following,” Hoffman says.

Keds apparel won’t even be sold on Keds.com until 2013 because its warehouse system is set up only for shoes, Hoffman says. Instead the clothes can be found at specialty store Opening Ceremony, plus now at R29 Shops; Opening Ceremony sells Keds online and in-store in the United States.  As part of its plan to grow the apparel lines, Keds will also work with Refinery 29 for promotions as it opens about a dozen boutique stores of its own across the country in trendy neighborhoods, many in cities that  Refinery29 focuses on, Hoffman says.

Lingerie retailer Cosabella is also opening a mini-boutique at R29 Shops; for two to three weeks it will sell a promotional set of panty packs designed expressly for the launch, says Pallavi Ramamurthy, Cosabella’s global marketing manager. “It’s almost like a pop-up boutique online,” she says, adding that the way the company is building the marketplace could lead to longer-term stores later. Cosabella is already discussing future sales on the site, she says. It ran a successful discount coupons promotion with Refinery29 Reserve last February.

“R29 Shops is going to be a marketplace, but also an event place with new boutiques and things happening every day,” von Borries says.

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