Winning The Digital Shelf in 2021: The Ultimate Guide

Last year saw eCommerce adoption accelerate dramatically as the Covid-19 pandemic pushed consumers around the world to buy products digitally. In the US, more than half of all internet users are now buying groceries online, while eCommerce spending in the UK increased by a massive 35%.

Post-pandemic, shoppers will be more inclined toward digital than ever before, so brands should consider winning the digital shelf to be near the top of their strategic priorities in 2021.

What is the digital shelf?

The digital shelf is how and where a brand’s products are displayed online. Consumers will use it to discover, analyze, and purchase products using digital channels.

In physical retail stores, shoppers can browse the shelves before they pick an item to purchase. But in the world of eCommerce, shoppers find products displayed on retailer websites, third-party marketplaces, mobile apps and other eCommerce channels. The digital shelf can come in many forms, such as category pages, product recommendation lists and search results.

In the past, brands have gone to great lengths to win physical retail shelf space. Back in 2014, for example, Think with Google estimated that they were spending $500 billion per year to get a better position on store shelves.

But with more and more consumers shopping online, they are now focused on increasing visibility on the digital shelf.

Why is the digital shelf important?

The digital shelf provides brands with the opportunity to showcase their products and communicate with shoppers at just the right moment in the consumer journey – that is, the moment they are researching or looking to buy a product.

Prominence in the likes of search results and product pages means more shoppers will discover your brand, while the content you provide should help drive conversions. So the digital shelf can influence both sales and brand awareness – even among customers who have never connected with your brand before.

The digital shelf can also increase sales among in-store shoppers. Research suggests that 60% of them use smartphones while browsing brick-and-mortar stores, while 69% said they would rather read a review on their smartphone than ask a sales assistant for help.

Digital shelf
Digital shelf optimization is critically important for brands in 2021.

8 tips to help you win the digital shelf in 2021

As eCommerce becomes ever more competitive, so too does space on the digital shelf. This means it’s critical for you to stay up-to-date with the best digital shelf optimization tactics. Here are the most important for you to focus on in 2021.

1. Maximize your products’ visibility

Just under half of shoppers say they don’t scroll beyond the second page of Amazon’s search results, while two-thirds of click-throughs take place on the first page.

This means that appearing towards the top of search results is incredibly important in the battle for digital shelf space.

Every platform uses a different algorithm to determine its rankings and this isn’t something brands have control over. But there are some ways to improve your chances of appearing at the top.

Carefully composing detailed product listings ensures your products appear when relevant search filters are applied. It should also increase the number of search terms your products appear for on retailer websites, third-party marketplaces, and Google. You should use keyword research tools to identify the best phrases to include.

On marketplaces like Amazon and eBay, a record of providing a great customer experience contributes to visibility too. Their algorithms assemble rankings based on pricing, shipping speeds and the availability of tracking information. They also consider past performance by assessing reviews and customer responses.

When you first launch a product listing, it’s wise to promote it with paid advertising. This boosts traffic, conversions and reviews, which will all contribute to organic visibility down the line.

Consistently maintaining inventory and avoiding stockouts will help your products’ performance on Amazon and other online marketplaces. Ensure you have a good eTail monitoring solution to help you stay on top of this.

2. Understand your online customers’ shopping habits

Offering flexibility and keeping the shopping behaviour of online consumers in mind is a big factor towards winning the digital shelf in 2021.

For example, by looking at the habits of CPG buyers you will find that in-store shoppers are more inclined to pick up smaller or single item goods. In contrast, the digital consumer is more likely to buy multi packs and bulk product variants.

Implementing a carefully considered PPA (Price Pack Architecture) is an effective way to overcome this digital shelf challenge.

Make sure you explore how BOPIS (Buy Online Pick Up In Store) and Express Shipping can benefit your brand. There is no better Call To Action than savings and convenience. Consumers are ordering online to streamline their shopping. You should be a resource for them.

3. Be smart with your online promotions

Consider how strategic deal structures suited to eCommerce help you to yield stronger results.

Try promotions such as dollar threshold deals, quantity threshold deals and first-time order deals. You can also encourage future traffic by including cash-back offers to be used at a later date, or cause-based offers which give a certain portion of profits to charity.

Target utilizes their subscription services to offer discounts to shoppers by offering a 5% discount off alongside free shipping on qualifying orders. To make the deal a total knockout, Target offers another 5% off to those with the REDcard loyalty program. This not only incentivizes consumers to make an initial purchase of CPG goods, but also to continue with a subscription over a period of time.

Target Subscription Offer
Target’s offers promotions to their online subscriptions users

By thoughtfully encouraging certain deals and promotions, as mentioned above, you give shoppers the opportunity to build a basket for better value. This also stops retailers from price matching on a single item and protects your profitability.

4. Pick the right KPIs to measure

Every successful retailer lives and breathes by their data. eCommerce is more quantifiable than selling in brick-and-mortar stores and so you should be utilizing eCommerce KPIs to guide your digital shelf optimization strategy.

Brands should start to use click-through rate and conversion rates in various performance KPI’s as part of the media spend. Doing so will facilitate learning and help you to allocate your budget more effectively.

Companies utilizing Where to Buy technology have access to a phenomenal level of detailed data. This technology enables you to pinpoint the effectiveness of your promotions, as well as gaining highly detailed basket and product level data to help you understand your customers’ digital path to purchase.

5. Provide a streamlined eCommerce customer journey

It’s critical to prioritize your digital customer journey to ensure that your brand is capturing the attention of online shoppers. Identifying logistical barriers online can help streamline the online shopping process, build bigger baskets and help you to win the digital shelf.

Adding features such as ‘Buy Now’ buttons to your brand’s content or using a shoppable video to turn viewers of your ads into customers will provide a smooth experience that will help you in the battle for the digital shelf.

6. Maximize customer reviews

Research indicates that 91% of consumers read online reviews, and most of them trust the advice as much as they would a friend’s. Consumers are also willing to spend a third more on products with excellent ratings.

Most shoppers read between one and six reviews before making a decision, so having a selection of positive ones will really boost your conversion rate. You can increase reviews with email campaigns, package inserts and Amazon’s early reviewer programme for new product launches.

On the flipside, negative reviews will hurt your brand. For this reason, monitoring review platforms, marketplaces and social media is essential. Responding quickly and openly to negative feedback will reassure potential prospects too.

Where possible, you should also take action to prevent the problem from arising again. For example, if you receive a negative review because an item didn’t arrive as expected, update your product description for accuracy.

If you sell your products across a wide range of channels, you can use tools like ChannelSight Reviews to collect and analyze feedback from across your network. This can help you to identify potential issues that could arise across your digital shelf before they become a serious problem.

7. Focus on your product descriptions

Your product descriptions should be honest, accurate and jargon-free. Provide as many details as you can so shoppers have all the information they need to make an informed decision.

Remember, they can’t touch or feel your product, so clearly state its benefits, materials, dimensions, weight, assembly instructions and any other relevant specifications. If it’s edible, provide the ingredients and nutritional information.

You should also monitor incoming queries and adjust your descriptions to address shopper FAQs. You can look at demographics and behaviour to create copy that speaks directly to your audience too.

Digital shelf optimization varies from platform to platform. Each channel has slightly different rules and requirements. But you can ensure your content is up-to-date and consistent across each one by enlisting the help of a content compliance tool.

Consistent and well-written descriptions should increase conversions and reduce returns for your brand.

8. Don’t forget your delivery options

You should never forget to consider how free-shipping thresholds may impact buyers. For example, on Amazon UK, non-Prime customers get free delivery when they spend £20.

This is something that doesn’t need to be considered by brands when their products are sold in store, but when it comes to digital shelf optimization, getting your shipping and delivery right is very important.

Final thoughts

Adjusting your digital shelf optimization strategy for each platform will take some time. As these platforms evolve and search results change, you’ll need to continuously review your listings too.

But if you start by concentrating on products with the highest margins, sales, growth rates, ratings and search volumes, you’ll quickly start to see results.

Contact ChannelSight today to discover how we can help you win the digital shelf and maximize your online sales.

winning the digital shelf in 2021