Consumers with access to physical stores, ecommerce sites, online marketplaces, apps, and social selling seek consistent and frictionless shopping experiences. This makes it tough for brands to maintain product messaging. Call it the dilemma of the digital shelf.
It’s especially acute for consumer-packaged goods brands that have sold their products via retailer networks for years.
For these businesses, centralizing product content and disseminating that content has changed.
It once was enough to supply retail outlets with a quarterly planogram that described how to arrange products on a physical shelf. Well-organized brands might also have provided seasonal merchandising materials.
But that’s not enough in the era of the digital shelf, wherein product searches on Google or Amazon might produce a different set of results just hours apart.
A digital shelf is “the little shopping cart in your pocket that’s open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with a collection of products on that shelf that no human could browse in an entire lifetime. And the digital shelf is ultimately where the modern consumer goes to search, browse, and purchase products and services,” said Joe Gaudreau, vice president of presales at Salsify, during a live interview with the CommerceCo by Practical Ecommerce community on July 22, 2021.
For some brands, the digital shelf may represent their various sales channels.
“Take, for example, Lululemon. It is a brand manufacturer and a retailer. They operate brick-and-mortar stores. They are their own online marketplace. They sell on Lululemon.com. They operate a third-party distribution model. They’re huge in social media… All of these selling destinations don’t just define the brand, but they define the selling paths to monetize the brand,” said Gaudreau.
Any of these sales channels could be independently or collectively impacted at any time. Lululemon might top the Amazon results page for “yoga pants” one moment and then behind a dozen competitors the next.
This happens because algorithms power the digital shelf.
CPG brands used to develop relationships with retailers for guaranteed shelf space. Relationships and supply chain efficiency were the brands’ big challenges.
On the digital shelf, the tasks are much different: keeping up with algorithms, demand, and listing requirements across multiple platforms.
During his interview, Gaudreau described a phased approach his company calls the digital shelf maturity curve.
The approach describes and monitors how brands migrate to the digital shelf.
As Gaudreau explained, a traditional CPG brand early in the process may think about winning a top position. Conversely, brands with a digital-first mindset may seek opportunities beyond algorithms.
“We like to think of this maturity curve based on an organization’s challenges … as well as what they’re doing really well,” Gaudreau said.
“We see [the maturity curve] more as hockey stick growth [up and to the right]. We don’t see the curve ending. We’re anticipating ecommerce challenges that are only starting to take shape. The innovations are going to continue,” Gaudreau said.
He described the maturity-curve phases:
Collect. Here brands move away from siloed teams and data gaps to centralized sources of information available across an organization. It allows the right folks to apply product information where and when it is needed.
Activate. Product information is deployed to primary sales channels, completing listings and meeting minimum requirements.
Enhance. Go beyond channels’ minimum listing requirements to deliver engaging and effective product experiences.
Expand. Grow revenue and profit on additional channels.
Optimize. Become better at adapting to market forces, advancing the brands’ performance.