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7 Ways Brands Can Succeed On the Digital Shelf

7 January 2020

By Drew Smith

Drew is the Director of Product Strategy at Upp and focuses on how technology can help brands and retailers deliver what their customers want.

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You know that your brand needs to be online. That is where an increasing number of customers are choosing to shop — 51% of UK customers now favour online shopping rather than shopping at physical stores. 

The digital shelf is where your products sit in cyberspace — it is where shoppers can find them, view them, review them and buy them. Ultimately, if you want to succeed in ecommerce, you need to succeed on the digital shelf: they are one and the same.

With endless aisles online, the big challenge is standing out. You need product listings that will be found, drive clicks and conversions. Here, we are going to explain the steps you need to take to outshine your competition online and make succeeding on the digital shelf seem simple.


1: Make sure your products are on the digital shelf

It sounds like an obvious one, doesn't it? For your products to be visible to your customers, you need to get them onto the digital shelf in the first place. On average, suppliers online only ever have between 60-80% of their products visible when shoppers are searching for their brand. 

Ensuring that your products are out there for people to see is the bare minimum for ecommerce success. Every product does not need to form the centrepiece of an ecommerce advertising campaign to benefit from being listed online.     

As we will detail, there are a lot of tricks you can deploy to give your product listings the best possible shot at success. But, if you aren’t playing the game, you don’t have a chance at victory. 


2: Use the relevant channels available to you

Ten years ago, ecommerce was all about your own website. You need a good website and you need to list your product there. But ecommerce has changed. Shoppers now expect to be able to find your products on their favourite ecommerce marketplace. You have to be where your customers are: if they are on Facebook, you need to be on Facebook. If it’s Instagram Shopping… you know the drill.  

This doesn’t necessarily mean you need to be on every single channel available to you. It’s about selecting the right channels so you can be more reachable by your target audience. If you don't have your products on the right shelf, your customers are going to find it more difficult to find you. 

Social media is a big part of that. Particularly with Instagram Shopping rolling out in-app purchase options, social shopping is only predicted to rise in dominance. Right now, however, the elephant in the room is Amazon. Amazon will account for a fifth of UK online spending by 2024. It is convenient, simple, trusted by shoppers and allows for easy product comparisons. If your customers are there, then you need to be on Amazon.

You may need to be on Google Shopping — again, depending on where your customers are. The Shopping specific tab on Google is growing in use, and with ads that show up right on the front page of Google, along with across the Google Partner network, this could be a critical source of visibility and growth for ecommerce brands. 

The fundamental message here is diversity. Specific insights about your audience may help you direct your product listing efforts to particular channels. However, whatever channels you’re on, ensure you are spending time and effort creating quality listings that will lead to the high-quality results you want. 

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3: Optimise your product listings for each channel

The best way to create a product listing on each channel is not the same. The data you should supply, and how you need to structure campaigns and interact with the channel has to be specific to each channel. 

For example, to succeed on Google Shopping, you need to build a sophisticated bidding campaign and to choose the most relevant product categories. These bidding strategies also exist on Amazon, so you may want to utilise this too. However, it’s important to remember that optimising an Amazon listing requires adhering to their style guides. There are similar requirements to maximise the visibility of a product listing on Google Shopping.

Another thing to consider are the goals for the channel. With social media, your main goal might not be to drive sales within the channel, but grow brand awareness and develop a loyal customer base. This will change your use of that platform, but what is important is that your listings are optimised for the goal at hand, and to complement your wider ecommerce strategy.  

You also need to think about your consumers’ shopping patterns and adjust to these accordingly, however this takes time — 19% of brands spend more than 100 hours per week managing brand content. To succeed online, you need to ensure you’re not only on the right channels and optimising these, but also considering aspects such as managing keywords, adjusting copy and editing content. Tools, like ecommerce platforms, can help you with this by automating these processes and gleaning insights from data that is pooled together from across multiple channels. This will, in turn, help reduce time wasted by the marketing team, allowing them to focus on other aspects of the campaigns.


4: Account for filtered search

With the number of products listed online only growing, shoppers are turning to filtered search to find what they want. If your product listings are not made in such a way that you will show up in filtered search results, you will be invisible to many online shoppers. Shoppers using filtered search are actually the exact customers you want to get your products in front of — they know what they want.  

Each channel has different requirements for how filtered search results are determined. Filtered search on Google Shopping, for example, differs between products, and can even change on an individual user basis depending on their search history. Your ability to appear in these results depends on including those filter terms within your product data feed. Amazon operates in a very similar way.  

As we will get to, ecommerce software can help you manage and match all of these different criteria. Listing for filtered search results can also be done by hand if approached diligently — however, doing so successfully takes time. What is important is that you understand filtered search and make sure that you incorporate it into your product listing ads. If you don’t, your products will remain largely invisible.  

When it comes to your own website, you need to invest in filtered search capabilities. Customers expect to be able to search for products this way. If you don’t deliver, they are likely to just go somewhere more convenient. 


5: Use high-quality photos & video

Photos are worth a thousand words, but if you think photos have an impact, videos are even better. Consumers want to see products before they make their buying decisions, and 73% of consumers say that they need to see three or more images of any kind before they buy online. 

The big difference between buying something online and buying something in the store is your ability to touch the product. Product descriptions help bridge that gap. But the real means of communicating what a product is like to a customer is to show them a picture. Make sure to put thought into what pictures will be best. 

Different platforms have specific requirements for pictures. Amazon, for example requires that 85% of the frame is filled by the product. You need to understand these requirements. But you also need to go above and beyond, providing pictures that communicate to customers, and speaking to their interests, plans and desires. The better the photos and videos you provide with your products, the happier your consumers will be.


6: Create a trustworthy online brand

A big part of creating a brand that people want to interact with is creating one that people can trust. People are taking a risk when buying something online. Like with the importance of pictures, the more trust shoppers have in your brand, the more likely they will be to make a purchase. 

If you have a brand image that is interactive, responsive and optimised, people are going to want to get to know you a little more. Then, they will trust you enough to make a purchase. 

You can utilise all the tools that social media can give you to build that online persona and help your customers to recognise who you are. When you have a recognisable brand, you then want to work on tailoring your product descriptions to match specific customer profiles. The one thing that you'll learn very quickly is that people want to have an experience that they feel is directed at them. 

When you provide your customers with this experience, they're more inclined to engage you in conversation and interactions online, sharing your posts and working towards trusting you as a brand. 

However, to have a trusted brand, you need to go beyond an ‘image’ and deliver. Have an easy to find and easy to use return and refund policy. Provide customer reviews that are straightforward and simple to understand. Your customer experience has to be a priority alongside ensuring that you are visible on the digital shelf — their experience is going to keep your products and your brand relevant. Make it about the customer and you'll have no trouble with selling the products that you want to sell.


7: Invest in ecommerce tools & get organisational buy-in

To be able to succeed online as a brand, you need to have the whole business behind you. Having the right data requires you to have organisational buy-in from different departments in your business, as well as the outside partners. Your ecommerce teams are responsible for keeping product listings up to date and optimised, but if they don’t have access to the correct and best product data, they will never succeed. 

Investing in the right software tools will make this process of information control much simpler. At a minimum, you need to invest in a PIM (product information management) tool that can centralise all of your product information internally. However, there are a lot of interesting developments in software tools that are worth investigating. 

Automating technical aspects of creating product listing ads and collecting/analysing customer data have been the two main focus points of developers. There are now ecommerce platforms that can pull channel specific optimisation data from the source and create product listings that match style and data requirements automatically from your system. This can free up an enormous amount of time and improve results.   

Customer data is critical to remaining relevant. It can be hard to track how customers behave on third-party sites. These same ecommerce platforms that can automate listings are able to maximise the amount of data you collect, pull broader trend data from across the internet and analyse it all using AI tools to deliver easily actionable insights. A lack of business insights is a top concern for 33% of mid-sized brands and so getting these insights is invaluable. This will help ensure you are ahead of your competitors. 

These kinds of insights will allow you to optimise your product listings across all channels, and automation tools will give you the time to take action on these insights. 


Success on the digital shelf requires data and tailored optimisation  

You have two significant challenges to face: visibility and conversions. You need customers to see your products and then you need them to make a purchase. Cracking these challenges comes down to understanding your customers, your competition and the channels you are using.  

If you know what your competition is doing on the digital shelf, you can do better. If you know what your customers want, you can optimise your actions to speak directly to their interests. If you understand the channels, you can craft your listings to maximise visibility. 

Delivering on these outcomes requires the right organisational structure and investment in ecommerce software tools that can help you organise data and take action. Automation is one of the biggest things that you can have for your ecommerce business that will allow you to make more informed decisions, freeing up time by cancelling out those mundane tasks and helping your team to focus on the campaign as a whole. Coming up with an ecommerce strategy for your business should be a priority — without one, you're going to find it harder to make a success of your venture. 

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