Chicago Tribune generates digital revenue with local merchandise

By Shelley Seale

Launched in February 2013, Chicago Trib Shops is an e-commerce platform created to generate digital revenue. The online store sells collectibles, gifts, and memorabilia produced by the media company, along with specialised products from 20 to 25 other retailers in the Chicago area.

Keeping the merchandise local was the priority for the Tribune. “We wanted to maintain a strong local brand and help our local economy,” said Karrie Sullivan, digital marketing director. “We’re not saying we won’t expand, but during this first generation, we’re focusing on local.” 

Items for sale include Chicago-themed T-shirts, posters, books, comic collectibles, coffee mugs, jewelry, bags, and more – including sports team items from the Chicago Bears, Blackhawks, and White Sox. The Web site is updated daily with new products. 

The Tribune studied Web site traffic to determine what products to sell, Sullivan said: “It made sense to go with sports,” she said. “It has a high-volume audience and there’s a passion in that marketplace. We wanted to leverage that traffic into dollars.”

When partnering with retailers, the Trib Shops requires each seller to provide its own customer service and shipping. The e-commerce shop does not carry inventory from these retailers, but acts as a selling platform that manages the transaction.

Trib Shops are promoted in the print newspaper and through social media. The shops work with the Tribune editorial team for audience knowledge to understand what is scheduled on the editorial calendar to plan future offers.

The long-term goal is to partner with more Chicago sellers to launch additional stores with different product genres. Investing in the right platform and technology to create the online store was highly important. Sullivan says that patience is also important.

“My advice is to be methodical. Test the business model and understand it’s not a three-year, US$5 million project.”

About Shelley Seale

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