What Is the Digital Shelf?

When someone walks into a retailer like Target, Home Depot, or Best Buy, they may or may not know exactly what they’re looking for. There might be a particular product category they want to browse, or even a specific brand or product they need. They might need to ask an associate for help, or they may just head to the section they need and start comparing products on the shelf.

The digital shelf is the online equivalent of how someone shops in a brick-and-mortar store. It’s the collection of digital experiences consumers use to find, learn about, compare, and purchase products. That includes everything from search engines and product pages to your website and other online content.

The digital shelf encompasses the whole online shopping experience, from research and discovery to checkout and beyond. For ecommerce brands and retailers, monitoring, analyzing, and reacting to what’s happening on the digital shelf is crucial for success.

Let’s take a look at the digital shelf.

How consumers find your products online

When consumers want to find products online, they usually either start with Google or their preferred retailer. Depending on what they’re looking for and how specific the search was, Google will likely direct them to specific product pages or search results pages from a variety of retailers.

Either way, the first touchpoint on the typical online shopping journey is usually a search engine—because every online retailer is also a search engine. 

Whether someone wants to find a specific product or a general product category, the search bar acts as an online store associate, directing customers to the products they’re looking for. But even when consumers are looking for a specific product from a specific brand, Google and retailers will typically highlight a range of similar products that might also meet each person’s needs.

This process is all part of the digital shelf. And if you want to stand out on the digital shelf, you need to make sure your product pages are the ones customers find in search—whether they’re looking for your products in particular or not.

Every search engine is a little different, and although you can’t completely control rankings (low ratings, poor conversion rates, and other factors can all impact rankings), you do have a say in what winds up on your product pages—and that can have a big impact on how well you rank.

How people learn about your products online

In a brick-and-mortar store, people explore and compare products by reading the packaging, talking to store associates, and seeing, touching, smelling, or listening to the products themselves. Depending on the purchase, they may do the same thing at multiple stores until they find the product that meets their needs.

You can’t recreate every part of that experience digitally—smartphones can’t replicate smells yet—but you can shape the way people learn about and compare your products online. And when it comes to comparison shopping and learning about products, the digital shelf has some serious advantages over brick-and-mortar stores.

Consumers can compare ratings and reviews from hundreds or even thousands of real customers. They can quickly navigate between products and even retailers. And they can learn about your products through videos, third-party review sites, thought leaders in your niche, and other valuable content.

If you want to win the digital shelf, you need to support consumers’ digital shopping experience by providing as much relevant information as you can, and taking advantage of product page features that showcase everything your products have to offer.

You also need to think about what you display on your own website. As consumers research products in your category and narrow down their choices, they may wind up on your site to learn more about you and your products. This is the place consumers should be able to find the most information about your brand and your products, including testimonials, product configurations, convenient comparison pages, coupon pages, and purchasing options.

How customers buy your products online

How people purchase your products is part of the digital shelf, too. And while you can’t control what that looks like on a retailer’s website, you can make sure you’re providing the best possible buying experience on your own website. That’s where digital tools like where to buy solutions give you an edge.

While a lot of manufacturers are hesitant to drive potential customers to a retailer, the reality is that most people exploring your site already have a preferred retailer, and unless they already have a good relationship with your brand, they’re unlikely to buy directly from you. So if you don’t link directly to your product pages on a retailer’s site, you’re putting barriers between your customers and your products. It’s like hiding your products in the warehouse of a brick-and-mortar store. Potential customers have to work harder to get your products in their hands—and even if they want your products, they might just choose a more convenient option.

Where to Buy lets you add a button to your website that shows customers a list of retailers who carry your products, complete with pricing, stock availability, and links directly to the relevant product page on each retailer’s site. This lets your customers follow the most convenient path to purchase, so they can get your products without having to create an account and while taking advantage of retailer-specific perks.

How do you analyze the digital shelf?

Digital shelf analytics is an area serious ecommerce brands are heavily investing in. If you want to understand how your products are doing in relation to your competitors and ensure you’re doing everything you can to stay competitive, you need to measure the metrics that illuminate your digital shelf performance.

Some digital shelf metrics are fairly obvious, like product page traffic, conversion rate, and cart abandonment rate. Others can be harder to monitor and may require specialized tools, such as content compliance, stock availability, number of sellers, and share of search. Each of these metrics gives you insight into specific aspects of the digital shelf, and the more attentive you are to them, the better equipped you are to pivot and optimize your product pages.

Want to analyze these metrics? Check out PriceSpider’s Brand Monitor.

How do you “win” the digital shelf?

Winning the digital shelf is ultimately about providing a consistently better experience than your competitors. Having high-quality products and a recognizable brand certainly helps, but the brands that receive the largest share of search and stand out the most on the shelf are the ones that have optimized their product pages based on what’s most valuable and helpful to their customers. They take advantage of enhanced content, implement an intentional strategy to increase ratings and reviews, and quickly and thoroughly answer customer questions.

The brands that show up at the top of search results don’t get there by accident. And having the best product in your category is no guarantee that you’ll win the digital shelf. You need to couple excellent products with excellent digital experiences.

Win the digital shelf

The digital shelf is where all the magic happens in ecommerce. It’s where customers find, compare, and purchase the products that feel like the best fit. And up-and-coming brands can outsell established products simply by providing a better, more valuable digital shopping experience. 

Want more insights like this?

The latest resources to take back control of the shoppers’ journey, maximize sales conversion, and protect your brand