When you played with Legos as a kid (or even as an adult — no judgment, do you), did you follow the build instructions, or would you freestyle it? Those of us who followed the instructions preferred it because every brick was strategically placed, every shape served a greater purpose, and the end result was usually pretty awesome. And if you were one of the kids who were capable of making things up on the fly, you were extremely creative and impressive. The problem is, creating something wonderfully abstract is not always the most optimal or efficient use of time.
The same applies to a brand’s digital shelf strategy. Sure, there are those who think they can manage it on the fly, and if they’re successful, it’d be very impressive. But why do that to yourself when you could easily create a strategy, optimize your efforts, and use your time more effectively? Put another way, it’s great that you can fold your leg behind your head, but, if your ear itches, just use your hand to scratch it, man.
Allow us to explain. The digital shelf is how consumers discover, learn about, choose, purchase, and engage with products online. It represents the entire online shopping experience, from before a customer is even aware of your product category to checkout and beyond. It encompasses search engines, product pages, social media, retailers, brand websites, chatbots, email, and more.
The brands customers find first have a major advantage. Their position on the digital shelf makes them appear like the most popular, highest-quality choice. It also allows them to influence the way consumers think about their product category, work toward top-of-mind awareness, and get more impressions than their competitors.
Winning the digital shelf doesn’t happen by accident. With the right strategy, up-and-coming brands can become more digitally prominent than their more established competitors. A strong brand certainly helps, but the key is to increase your brand’s presence and invest your marketing resources in the right places.
In this guide, we’ll walk you through how to create a digital shelf strategy, so you can get on top and stay there. But first, let’s establish what a digital shelf strategy actually is.
Components of a digital shelf strategy
A digital shelf strategy is a plan for improving your position on the digital shelf and providing a more holistic customer experience online. Since the digital shelf is so broad, a digital shelf strategy should incorporate your plan for several ongoing processes, including:
- Monitoring and analyzing digital shelf metrics
- Gathering insight about the customer experience
- Aligning digital touchpoints with the customer journey
- Optimizing your digital presence
Most ecommerce brands are already employing these processes on some level, but a digital shelf strategy helps you see them as part of a cohesive plan that affects your brand’s prominence and performance online.
A good digital shelf strategy should incorporate digital shelf analytics, account for how your target audience navigates the digital shelf, recognize what your company is capable of, and put it all together. It should tell you what to prioritize, what not to, and how to know if the strategy itself is working.
Digital shelf metrics, several of which will be familiar to you, are essential to a well-formed strategy. From the start, these metrics will inform your plan, and you’ll also use them to monitor your success on the digital shelf.
Identify key digital shelf metrics
First things first: if you want to create a digital shelf strategy, you need to figure out what success looks like for your brand. The metrics you use to evaluate your online presence will directly influence the initiatives and goals you develop and the tactics you employ.
While the digital shelf is vast and all-encompassing, most ecommerce brands focus on tracking, increasing, and optimizing for the following metrics.
There are plenty of theories about the threshold where your ratings instill trust in consumers and make your brand look like a solid choice. But when it comes to the digital shelf, the number of ratings you need is relative. It’s like outrunning a bear — you just need to be faster than the person next to you. Ten ratings aren’t very many, but if your competitors all have five or less, 10 is fine. (Not great, but fine.) And if your competitors have thousands of ratings, 50 won’t cut it.
Your digital shelf strategy should include a plan for how you’ll increase your ratings — both the overall number and the average rating — with the intent to surpass your competitors and stay ahead of them. This may include packaging materials that ask for reviews, an incentive structure, a customer loyalty program, excellent customer service, or a sampling program.
Traffic is a huge indicator of interest in your products and your brand. It also relates to how well your marketing efforts are driving traffic to the right places. Ecommerce brands need to assess where their traffic is coming from — search engines, social media, direct, email, etc. — and which pages it’s going to.
An effective brand website should create natural pathways from educational resources and supplemental pages to product pages, and ideally, multiple distribution options. This maximizes the utility of your traffic and ensures you’re directing it in the most valuable ways.
Your strategy should recognize the traffic sources you haven’t tapped into yet and incorporate initiatives to generate more traffic and wield it more effectively. This might include producing SEO-informed content that targets keywords relating to your product category, growing a newsletter list or loyalty program, or increasing your presence on social media.
Your conversion rate demonstrates how effectively your website, product pages, and marketing content persuades visitors to buy your products. It can also indicate how relevant your traffic is to your brand. For example, if a huge swathe of your traffic is going to a page about a topic that only loosely relates to your product, these website visitors aren’t likely to buy. And if your marketing efforts are targeting the wrong people, that’s going to tank your conversion rate.
The average ecommerce conversion rate for your niche could be anywhere from 1 percent to 4 percent. If your product page conversion rates are below average for your industry, there’s likely some tune-up that needs to take place, and you may want to investigate where your traffic is coming from and how relevant it is to your brand.
It’s also worth considering which retailers have the best conversion rates. While they’re not going to give you that data directly, PriceSpider’s Where to Buy solution has universal tracking, which allows you to see how many visitors you’re driving to each retail partner and what percentage of them actually buy your products. This lets you optimize which retailers you highlight in promotions and throughout your website.
Conversion rate optimization is a crucial maintenance process for your digital shelf strategy. If you want to outposition your competitors and increase your market share, you need to make the most efficient use of your traffic that you can. Your digital shelf strategy should both outline ways you’ll increase conversion rate and use this metric to inform other efforts.
Share of search
Imagine if your products were always buried in the back of a brick-and-mortar store, stuffed behind row after row of your competitors. Your customers wouldn’t even know your product was there unless your competitors were out of stock.
That’s what it’s like on the digital shelf when your products don’t show up in relevant searches. Most people won’t click through enough pages or activate enough filters to see your product, and the only way they’ll find you is by searching for your brand by name.
A winning digital shelf strategy will include initiatives for optimizing product page titles and descriptions based on the keywords that are most relevant to your product category, and a process for evaluating your “share of search.” Share of search is a specialized metric that gauges the percentage of search results (organic and sponsored) your brand appears in for a given term on a retailer’s site. Since each retailer has its own search engine, you need to pay attention to the share of search for each retailer and marketplace you sell through.
In the fast-paced world of ecommerce, it’s common for there to be multiple “versions” of your product pages out in the wild. Whether your updates are minor, like tweaking a line or two of copy, or major, like overhauling the images to reflect an update to the product itself, not all of these content changes make it to every seller’s product page.
You want to put your best foot forward every time potential customers encounter your brand. And you want consumers to have a consistent experience with you, wherever they find you.
Content compliance is an assessment of how well each product page matches the most current version. Part of your digital shelf strategy needs to be ensuring that sellers follow your latest brand guidelines for each product and notifying them when a page isn’t in compliance.
PriceSpider’s Brand Monitor assigns each product page a content compliance score based on how closely it matches the latest iteration. By coupling this with Where to Buy’s conversion rate information, you can show your retail partners when their competitors outperform them by doing a better job keeping pages up-to-date.
Evaluate your position on the digital shelf
Once you’ve identified the metrics that matter most to your brand, you need to evaluate how well you’re doing according to those metrics. Knowing where you are now will help you set realistic goals and develop a strategy that addresses your current strengths and weaknesses.
Maybe your product ratings are excellent except on Walmart.com where your competitors have twice as many reviews and better average ratings. You may need to specifically address ways you can drive more ratings to this specific storefront.
Perhaps you have plenty of traffic coming directly to your product pages, but your competitors are doing a better job generating organic traffic through product-adjacent keywords. Their guide on “How to Deep Clean a Washing Machine” is dominating search results and plugging their products before consumers ever have a chance to become aware of your brand or explore the options for this use case. Your strategy might involve creating content to beat your competitors’ landmark pieces, or building pages around use cases they haven’t focused on yet.
You may also find that your share of search on a retailer’s site is significantly lower than your top competitors. If that’s the case, your strategy should involve researching how these competitors have optimized their product pages for relevant searches and to emulate anything that may also work for your brand.
Take inventory of your capabilities
An overly ambitious strategy may not be very useful to your brand either. If you only have a single employee to focus on the digital shelf, your strategy shouldn’t be designed for an entire department. You need to consider what your organization is actually capable of. To create a strategy within your scope, you need to document all of the resources you have at your disposal.
Every digital touchpoint has the potential to help or hinder the customer journey and impact your performance on the digital shelf. Social media accounts, email lists, product pages, chat systems, advertising, and any other channels at your disposal will shape the nuts and bolts of your digital shelf strategy because those are the levers you can pull to act on your data and implement strategic initiatives.
Alternatively, you might identify valuable touchpoints you haven’t invested in yet such as educational content around the use cases your products are best suited for and the concepts that naturally lead to conversations about your product category. Formalizing that strategy could include a commitment to developing new channels and taking on new parts of the digital shelf.
Ideally, you want your assortment of digital touchpoints to include both inbound and outbound channels. This ensures that potential customers can easily find you, ask questions, and explore your product category, while also giving you opportunities to initiate interactions.
Most brands simply don’t have the tools to optimize the digital shelf at scale. They rely on solutions that weren’t built for ecommerce or don’t address the gaps in their data. Your strategy needs to respond to what’s happening on the digital shelf, and to do that, you need digital shelf analytics: software that’s specifically designed to collect and explore the metrics that affect your position on the digital shelf.
PriceSpider’s Brand Monitor is an advanced digital shelf analytics software that builds on more than 20 years of ecommerce data collection tools. Brand Monitor gives you dedicated dashboards for monitoring your product pages’ content compliance, share of search, price compliance, and more.
You can’t execute a strategy if you don’t have the people to do the work. Someone has to actually implement the changes, interpret and react to the data, and invest in your digital presence. Your digital shelf strategy is going to involve a lot of fine-tuning and ongoing processes.
Some of your employees may already be performing related tasks, making it easy to incorporate them into your digital shelf strategy. You may need to shuffle some people to ensure you have personnel dedicated to things like being responsive on product pages and digital channels, creating new content, and making adjustments to your ad spend.
The scope of human resources available to you — with your current team or any hiring you can afford — will directly affect how ambitious your strategy can be. It can make the difference between maintaining your position on the digital shelf and winning the digital shelf.
Learn how your customers navigate the digital shelf
Digital shelf metrics are like little glimpses into specific aspects of the customer experience. Retailers are constantly trying to optimize their websites to provide the best shopping experience, and if your competitors are providing a better experience, they’re going to earn better placement on the digital shelf. But the digital shelf — and the customer journey — goes beyond ecommerce websites, too.
Some of your customers may rely on specific social media channels or follow particular influencers to learn about your product category. They likely search for certain types of content online before heading to a retailer.
Your digital shelf strategy should incorporate an understanding of how your actual customers navigate the digital shelf. Ideally, this will involve some marketing exercises like creating customer journey maps for each product, developing buyer personas for major types of customers, surveying current customers, and collating insight from your customer service and sales teams.
Together, these explorations will give you a more complete picture of what leads your target audience to you, how you can support and guide them through the shopping experience, and where you might be losing ground on the digital shelf.
Align your touchpoints with your customer journey
Your digital shelf strategy should involve making sure that your digital touchpoints are being used effectively, based on your customer journey stages and what your customers need to progress.
For example, digital advertising shouldn’t simply be a tool to increase awareness of your brand or drive conversions. It’s also an excellent touchpoint for guiding your audience to the next stage of their journey. With targeted advertising, for example, you can display helpful resources and specialized offers based on someone’s previous experience with your brand.
If you know that most customers view your product pages on your website and then buy from a retailer, you might streamline this process by displaying multiple buying options and helping customers find the retailers they trust.
Double down on your strengths
Digital shelf analytics show you what’s working well for your brand. As you identify your strengths (and your competitors’ weaknesses), it should influence how you talk about your products and your brand.
Positive trends in your ratings and reviews reveal the value propositions, benefits, and use cases that have been most valuable to your customers. They should shape how you talk about your products. And if your competitors happen to have negative feedback about these same areas, this is a differentiating factor you may want to highlight more prominently on product pages and other content.
Or say your product is winning a larger share of search for more niche terms or alternative names for your product category. You should certainly compete for the most dominant terms, but you could also strategically work the terms you rank for into more of your marketing, increasing their usage and normalizing them with your audience. This could lead more people to search for your product category using terms that benefit your brand. It can also increase the conversion rate of people who find you from those niche terms by making it clear your product serves their purpose.
Analyze and optimize
Digital shelf analytics isn’t just something you do to prepare your digital shelf strategy. It’s a pivotal part of the strategy itself. Monitoring your digital shelf metrics will continually reveal areas you’ve overlooked, neglected, or lost ground in — product pages that never received the latest content update, terms you didn’t optimize for, retailers that don’t convert as well, opportunities to ramp up ad spend for particular keywords or turn off campaigns when you’re out-of-stock.
The ongoing work of analyzing your metrics and optimizing your touchpoints never stops. And while parts of it are reactive, your strategy should guide your reaction. For example:
- Low content compliance scores require someone to access the product information management (PIM) system or contact the seller, which may require conversion rate data from other retailers to validate the importance of the update.
- A spike in low ratings should be a signal to revisit product page content to ensure you’re setting clear expectations or investigating problems with shipping and the post-purchase experience.
- A competitor going out of stock should quickly trigger ad spend on their branded keywords or any categories they rank for.
- Your products going out of stock should shut off ad spend for their categories.
- Pricing policy violations should lead to immediate enforcement.
You can’t predict every future scenario, but your strategy should guide how your team responds to situations as they arise. The key is to break this analysis and optimization into clear strategic initiatives, such as:
- Keep every product page current
- Mine ratings and reviews for problems and opportunities
- Leverage stock alerts for advertising
- Monitor your price and enforce your policy
- Be responsive online
Set yourself up for success on the digital shelf
When it comes to creating a digital shelf strategy, the bulk of the work is exploratory. You need to find out what you can monitor, what you can do with that information, what resources you have to work with, and what matters to your customers, then devise a plan that fits it all together.
After you establish what needs to be done, your strategy becomes analyze, optimize, rinse, and repeat.
And that’s where PriceSpider’s Brand Monitor comes in. Our unparalleled digital shelf analytics solution equips you with real-time data and the ability to explore digital shelf metrics over specific date ranges. With Brand Monitor’s convenient, intuitive dashboards, you’ll have the best possible visibility into the digital shelf — so you can implement your strategy using the most useful data.
Want to see what Brand Monitor can do for your ecommerce business?