Hearst’s new commerce platform, FirstFinds, wants to solve the social media shopping problem once and for all.
Slightly reminiscent of other publishers’ past commerce marketplaces, FirstFinds is inspired by how Gen Z shoppers discover products they want to buy on social media, but Hearst wants to find a way to shorten the time between discovering a product, learning more about it and ultimately buying it, which is a clunky process on social platforms and often requires a user to leave the app in favor of a Google search.
“It’s not to compete with the social platforms themselves. I look at it a little bit more like a community platform,” said Sheel Shah, Hearst’s svp of consumer products and partnerships. His hope for FirstFinds is that users will willingly go to the platform on a near-daily basis, vote on products they like and ultimately buy items using the affiliate links.
FirstFinds launched in beta on Oct. 24 with over 1,000 products that were hand-selected by a five-person team. The commerce curators were tasked with finding new products — 50 per day — that met at least one criteria on a 16-point list of requirements, including “if you see it all over your feed” or “it’s never on sale but it is today” or “you ordered it and can’t stop checking the tracking for when it will arrive,” said Christine Anderson, executive director of commerce and content strategy at Hearst. Once an item is selected by a curator, Anderson is then responsible for creating its product page and putting it up on the website.
FirstFinds will be primarily monetized through affiliate commerce, and while Shah declined to comment on the type of affiliate model or the overall revenue goals for the platform, he did say that primary goal is to build a recurring user base for the marketplace that comes to the website on a daily basis and votes on products, rather than earning revenue right off the bat.
Officially launching on Nov. 1, the platform allows users to “upvote” or “downvote” products in the marketplace, which then counts toward that product’s trend score. Top trending products are featured more prominently on the website, and Shah said that, over time, this will skew the marketplace to appeal to the people who use FirstFinds the most.
At the time of launch, more products seem to appeal to a female-identifying customer base, like a $10 The Grinch-themed eyeshadow palette or a pair of $129 cowboy boots that Carry Underwood wore in a music video. But there is also a pair of corduroy pants that are a collaboration between Supreme and Dickies that might appeal to a more male-identifying audience. Overall, Gen Z and millennials are the primary targets for this platform.
The biggest challenge FirstFinds is facing is getting audiences to intentionally come to the site and use it. It’s very hard for a non-tech company to build a product that’s competing for the same attention typically reserved for TikTok or Instagram, said Alexandra Greifeld, an independent e-commerce growth consultant.
“At the end of the day, it’s just another way that you can click through on affiliate links,” said Ben Zettler, a digital marketing and e-commerce consultant and founder of Ben Zettler Digital Media. Getting Hearst’s homegrown audience to actively visit and shop FirstFinds will rely on the “trickle down effect” of promoting it across its various publishing websites, similar to how its branded shops business is currently marketed to audiences.
With FirstFinds operating as a separate entity from the editorial brands in Hearst’s portfolio, Zettler said he is skeptical that consumers will care enough about the social shopping platform to intentionally go to it for product discovery.
What the site also lacks is a search function to find a specific item, brand or product category. Everything is promoted based on what’s trending now within one of five somewhat vague categories: It’s hot, it’s fresh, it’s wild, it works or it’s green.
In order to build the user base, Anderson said that she will be working with the commerce teams within Hearst’s portfolio of editorial brands, to promote specific products featured on FirstFinds in their on-site commerce content that links to the platform. In addition to that, Shah said they will hire social media managers who take a guerrilla-marketing approach of promoting FirstFinds in the comment sections of social platforms like TikTok or Instagram where people are organically already talking about products they want to buy. On top of that, paid marketing will also be a part of audience acquisition, though Shah declined to share how much money will be spent on that.
Zarina Lam Stanford, CMO of Bazaarvoice, said turning the platform into a community experience will potentially provide enough differentiation from the other alternative shopping platforms to keep users coming back. “Above all else, you need to elevate this sense of belonging, the value exchange and the shared interest. [It’s] an incredible way to create loyal and long-time customers for your brand,” she said.