Condé Nast is defining what commerce success looks like

By Jodie Hopperton


Los Angeles, California, United States


I recently spent some time on Zoom with Patrick Gray, executive director of commerce at Condé Nast, talking about the work that he and his team do. Namely, they have increased revenue five fold in the last four years and are expecting double-digit growth again this year.  

Condé Nast commerce is built deeply into their site. They have a different approach to product reviews and lists such as The New York Times Wirecutter or New York Magazine’s Strategist.

The following is a summarisation of our discussions. 

Why commerce? 

Digital media has historically sold impressions to advertisers who would hope consumers then go on to buy by clicking through to their site or visiting a physical store. “Commerce” takes one step away, reducing the purchase funnel by presenting consumers with buying options directly at time of purchase. 

A purchase funnel usually has four steps: awareness > consideration > conversion > purchase.

With commerce, the media organisation takes on the first steps of the funnel. Attracting to people to a certain product through editorial (or editorial adjacent content — we’ll talk about that later). Within that editorial or recommendation, the consumer usually has enough information to convert, demonstrated by them clicking through, leaving just the “selling” to the retailer.  

The standard business model for this is affiliate revenue where the media organisations receive a percentage of the sale. Most retailers now have a standard affiliate fee that they are willing to pay until you have significant, proven sales and are in a position to negotiate. Patrick wasn’t able to share exact percentages with me because their agreements are mostly bespoke.

Commerce has been around for a while but has been slow to get off the ground for a number of factors, including resistance to compromising editorial integrity, lack of expertise, and technical challenges.

But that is changing.

A few organisations, including Condé Nast, have shown commerce can be presented in a way that protects editorial and brand integrity and can provide significant revenue without a high cost base.

Relevance for media 

What struck me most about the conversation with Patrick is that commerce isn’t just about money. It hits on so many of the topics that my colleagues and I talk about within INMA every day:

  • Service journalism: Condé Nast firmly believes their offering is in service to their readers. If a consumer reads about something they want, it’s almost counterproductive to make them leave the page to search elsewhere.

  • Brand engagement: Consumers do more than read. They are interacting with the brand, taking their recommendations, and often bringing physical products into their lives or making memories (like travel with Condé Nast Traveler).

  • Unifying vision: Commerce only works if it truly represents the vision across all departments.  

  • Sustainable revenue: This is low cost, which, if done well, can produce high margins.  

  • Individuals vs. brands: Condé Nast does well at leveraging their brands, and they recently launched a feature that brings readers closer to individuals with their editor picks on Vogue, Architectural Digest, and GQ.

  • Matrixed organisation: Media companies are now mostly working in a more matrixed style, which is essential for commerce to be effective.  

Condé Nast is a private company so doesn’t share many statistics, but Patrick told me that up to 50% of the audience of a brand interacts with commerce. 

This is huge. And shows it is highly linked to the core proposition.

One thing Condé Nast feels strongly about is that almost everything is tested before going on the site. This isn’t a round-up of online finds; it’s genuine products their teams have tested and liked. More on those products here.

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About Jodie Hopperton

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