A Digital Shelf Strategy: The Key to Commerce Success - Modern Distribution Management

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A Digital Shelf Strategy: The Key to Commerce Success

Randy Mercer discusses how a company's 'digital shelf' impacts customers' in-store shopping habits, and how to enhance the strategy behind it.
Deep Dive: In Pursuit of Proximity 

COVID-19 forced a pivot from brick-and-mortar to online shopping. Consumers needed to rely on digital retailers as many physical stores closed and people opted to stay indoors as much as possible to slow the spread of the virus.

In the last year, 69% of U.S. shoppers purchased items online they had previously only or almost only bought in stores. Yet while online shopping remains a robust shopping channel, in-store shopping is regaining its momentum — but with new customer expectations driven, in part, by the positive experiences delivered through eCommerce channels during the pandemic. Now, shoppers want to merge their in-store and online shopping experiences.

To level up against competitors, brands need a digital shelf strategy to help consumers easily find product pages, even if they’re just browsing and not looking for a particular brand or product. Discoverability empowers brands to meet customers at every stage of their shopping journey. If brands can draw consumers to their digital shelves — even when those consumers shop in-store — then brands can provide further engagement with rich product content that drives purchases.

Shoppers retrieve product information through the digital shelf

During the brick-and-mortar experience, customers evaluate and compare products and consult face-to-face with associates, sometimes at multiple stores. Online consumers must learn about products through a store’s digital shelf.

Because the digital shelf remains open 24/7, it has never been easier for consumers to access product data. However, a successful digital shelf strategy relies on dynamic product content. Online shoppers want to compare prices, reviews, features, specs and more. And poor quality or a lack of product content convinces up to 70% to decide not to make a purchase. At its most basic level, rich product content needs:

  • Detailed product descriptions.
  • Top-notch product imagery.
  • Product specifications and dimensions.

A brand’s product content must also engage in-store shoppers. 90% of shoppers use their smartphones while shopping in a physical retail store to compare prices, read customer reviews and review detailed product descriptions. Brands designing online content to cater purely to online shoppers lose out on an opportunity to capture and engage in-store customers, too.

How to enhance a digital shelf strategy to win the market

Brands prioritizing their digital shelves stand out among their competitors and have a better chance of persuading shoppers to make a purchase. Why? Because quality products and brand recognition can only take companies so far.

Brands need to work toward digital shelf maturity to win their market. Digital shelf maturity requires consistent evaluation and re-strategizing at pace with constant eCommerce evolution. To see digital shelf maturity, brands should follow these five steps.

  1. Optimize for scale: Brands must keep expansion in mind if their growth is a priority. True digital shelf maturity requires measurable, scalable and repeatable strategies. Scalability empowers businesses to succeed in native and foreign markets and on new platforms.
  2. Expand into new markets: The world of eCommerce has no limits. Once a brand experiences market growth, it should expand to other retailers and markets. Product information management (PIM) software helps brands distribute content to new trading partners and reach customers from anywhere. While entering new markets worldwide, brands must meet trading partners’ varying regulations and guidelines. Brands should choose PIM software that meets global standards.
  3. Strengthen product content: Brands cannot afford to neglect product content. Over 80% of online shoppers rank product content higher than brand recognition in their purchase decision-making. Augmented reality (AR) capabilities, 360-degree spin imagery and 3D-rendered product imagery elevates brands and cultivates customer loyalty. Enhanced product content helps customers envision themselves using a company’s product.
  4. Establish a central source of data: Brand success requires data accuracy and consistency. Because brands use various retailers and platforms to sell their products in an omnichannel market, a single source of truth, like a PIM system, allows companies to seamlessly edit product content across different channels, ensuring all listings remain updated and accurate.
  5. Provide real-time inventory visibility: More than 40% of brands believe enhanced stock level visibility would help them better serve customers and increase the overall customer experience. Enhanced visibility helps businesses avoid stockouts and overstocking because they know when to contact distributors to purchase more items. Brand reputation suffers if a company has to cancel a customer’s order because products have sold out.

A digital shelf strategy helps brands maintain momentum, generate customer loyalty by offering better customer experiences and retain sales growth. Once companies earn real estate on shoppers’ screens, they must work diligently to keep those shoppers engaged with content that inspires brand loyalty.

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