Ecommerce Winter or Digital Shelf Spring? Your Call

ecommerce digital shelf illustration feature

Many brands and retailers may feel like they are navigating uncharted ecommerce waters.

Call it a perfect storm of rising interest rates, nerves about a slowing economy, a turbulent stock market and consumers returning to stores. Some brands and retailers are second-guessing Ecommerce strategies and are discussing the potential of an ecommerce winter.

According to recent reports, consumers spent $870.78 billion online in the U.S. in 2021, up 14.2% from the previous year. However, last year’s ecommerce growth was less than half of the record-breaking 31.8% during the 2020 pandemic lockdowns.

The past couple of years have fundamentally changed consumer preferences and shopping patterns. Despite the omnichannel buzzword, too many brands and retailers have siloed ecommerce, retail and direct-to-consumer strategies. The consumer now dictates how, when, and where they make purchases. More often than not, it’s a combination of multiple touchpoints:

  • According to Forrester, the share of digital-influenced (offline and online) retail sales in the U.S. will reach 60% in 2022 and 70% by 2027.
  • Shoppers are 3.5x more likely to purchase when engaged by multiple channels. Nine percent of shoppers purchased from campaigns that used three or more channels, compared with a 2.6% conversation rate for single-channel campaigns.
  • According to recent Salsify consumer research, 46% of U.S. shoppers will not buy a product, on or offline, if they don’t find detailed information online. And, 30% say they will not purchase if images are missing or of low quality. Forty-five percent said they’re willing to pay more for a product from a brand they trust

Industry leaders have recognized these shifting trends and identified the need to win on the digital shelf as a critical element to increase revenue and convert more consumers into buyers.

The digital shelf is the ecosystem of how consumers interact with brands and retailers to discover, research and purchase products. To win there and convert more buyers, brands must provide consistent, relevant and up-to-date product information across digital touchpoints. This includes retail sites, DTC sites, marketplaces, apps and social commerce, as well as store kiosks and POS terminals.

The Digital Shelf Journey

Until recently, brands and retailers controlled the shopping journey by targeting consumers with specific messages through specific channels at specific times. In this model, they had control over when product content required updating. The original concept of product information management (PIM) was to provide business users at retailers with a central repository of product information.

Larger retailers dictated proprietary connections for brands to provide content in their specific format. The result was an unmanageable network of connections to dozens or even hundreds of retailer networks and online storefronts.

Consumers are now armed with the right technology for any part of it, anytime, be it screen, shelf or storefront. They also dictate how they receive the product: store, curbside or delivered to home.

Success on the digital shelf requires brands to have instant control over product information at every digital and physical interaction. You need to act more like individual retailers to succeed and win, creating gathering, managing and distributing information digitally at scale.

This transformation to the digital shelf and the shift in consumers controlling their digital interactions is an evolution. It moves from product information to product experience management to using every digital touchpoint as an opportunity to influence a consumer.

In truth, an ecommerce winter is coming for those unable to optimize the shopping experience for consistency, accuracy and availability across every channel. No matter the steepness of the ecommerce growth trend line, it is where the growth is coming from, and the digital shelf content it has spawned influences stronger sales across all channels. This is a digital-first omnichannel strategy, and the brands that embrace it are winning.

The digital shelf addresses all these points with a collection of diverse and rapidly evolving touchpoints that shoppers use to engage with brands to discover, research and purchase.

When executed correctly, the digital shelf provides consistency in terms of how brands and retailers interact with consumers, regardless of channel. Optimizing performance and brand building across the digital shelf means optimizing experiences, everywhere. With this digital-first omnichannel mindset, brands and retailers can double down on telling a consistent, accurate, inspiring product story everywhere.

Leading brands have already demonstrated substantial successes in deploying digital shelf strategies.

  • Danone, the leading global food and beverage company, has improved how its brands show up on the digital shelf. Danone syndicated over a thousand SKUs and 15,000 digital assets in under six months.
  • Barcel USA is using its digital strategy and capabilities to consolidate a single source of truth for its product content that supports both ecommerce channels and in-store supply chain through the Global Data Synchronization Network (GDSN).
  • With a portfolio of 5,000+ quality, trusted products in 200 categories, UNFI Brands+ uses the digital shelf to assure digital-first consumers have the information they need to make confident food decisions.

Given the acceleration of ecommerce during the pandemic, brands and retailers still leading with an uncoordinated omnichannel strategy could face many cold, dark days ahead. Leading brands already have the foundation for a digital shelf spring, poised to provide consumers with access to the right product data when and where they need it.

Joe Gaudreau is Vice President, Product Information Management (PIM) at Salsify