Blog Post - Dennis Peek , Jun 15 2020

Brands and retailers should work more closely to improve the digital shelf

Brands and retailers should work more closely to improve the digital shelf

Many retailers sell thousands of products from as many vendors holding multiple brands. Building up a digital shelf containing rich product content is a time consuming, expensive exercise. Many retailers organize to the point that the most essential product information has been filled, with the slow-moving data containing the base level of essential product information to describe the assortment. So how can retailers create a great digital shelf for their end consumers, full of rich media placed in context to the buying behavior of consumers?

Start with getting the basics right
What is this base that defines what products are? And how do you organize this and makes sure everyone is talking about the same products? The answer to this question may exist outside of your own organization. Look at how products are described by your peers - or how Amazon uses ASINs, Amazon’s proprietary unique identifiers for each product. Every company uses SKU numbers or EAN codes to organize the assortment in their ERP. But multiple codes may still be used to describe the same product! So, choose wisely what code is best to identify your assortment throughout the value chain, and how it makes sense to your end consumer. It is a poor product experience if every vendor, distributor, retailer or marketplace uses different unique identifiers for the same products.

Choose one single source of truth for your content and connect this to multiple systems of record - systems where other essential information of your products is used. For instance, ERP for prices, stock and resource information, product life cycle management systems for nutrients, components and quality assessments and digital asset management for media, pictures, and videos. Interface with all of them to ensure that the best and most recent version is available in one place before it is sent out to places where it is visible to your consumers.

Distinguish between two basic sorts of data:

  1. Slow but essential data that forms the digital DNA of your products, that is normally managed by IT and stored and maintained by a variety of source systems. There are many processes and governance in your company to ensure this core data is compliant to legislation, checked and correct and localizable throughout your international organization. The content of this data may not change very often, but when it does, it needs to be checked thoroughly. Imagine that a food product is published with incorrect nutrients information to meet allergy demands.
  2. Fast data. This is the data that lives on all your ecommerce sites. This is data that also needs to be checked, but moreover needs to be published ready within hours after creation! Think about feature bullets, marketing copy, videos, pictures, and product attributes. Content can be made better by using customer feedback, which may come to you any moment.

Many retailers rely on several sources besides the brand partners for their data. These sources may be used industry-wide like the GS1 data pools. GS1 uses their own internationally approved version of data exchange, that has a rich base of slow, essential data. Increasingly they are also storing and distributing fast data meant for ecommerce. Make sure to use a GS1 data pool yourself to send your product content to the GS1 network and its affiliated retail partners. PIM tools can interface with the GS1 network and some are even licensed and registered as a GS1 data pool so that you can share product content directly with GS1 subscribed partners.

  • Working with so many data channels forces you to organize data processes in your company. The following elements are needed in all change processes:
  • People need to change the way they work so that data processes can be instated to allow content to be shared with clients fast
  • ‘Processes’ means the order in which people and systems communicate
  • Tools that are used to meet the requirements of the business and can send content to data pools used in your industry
  • The capability to gather this rich, fast data
  • Onboard directly from suppliers
  • Subscribe to a data pool
  • Create it yourself by category management and marketing

A combination of people, processes and tools is most likely the situation for most distributors and retailers. Getting all the content from data pools or suppliers is a Utopia. However, you may want to use data pools to get the necessary base data and ask suppliers for enriched, below-the-fold data and additional marketing materials and digital assets. Empower your category teams by merging the data to one golden record of product content in your internal systems.

So how can you improve on the content? By placing it in the context of shopping behavior. You can do this by listening to your consumers, and by experimenting and measuring the results:

  • Use customer experience technology to measure the impact of changes made to the digital shelf (personalisation and AB testing)
  • Review and assess search behavior (owned and paid) to adjust content accordingly to buyers’ needs
  • Add attributes that allow cross-selling tables to be created so that multiple products may be bundled

Any additional data that is needed as a result can be gathered by sending out a request to suppliers. It is key to establish a relationship between category managers on the retail side and content merchandisers on the brand side.

Conclusion
Optimizing the digital shelf is the cornerstone in increasing retailers’ online sales. Growing the revenue for all your categories is not something you can do without a plan.

You need to optimize how your people can enrich all the content needed on the digital shelf. Instate scalable processes to help them do it. Tools are needed to facilitate these processes. If you have thousands of products, you need to work with your suppliers to enrich the content. In the end, manufacturers are already marketing their products, so why not benefit from these marketing materials to improve the product experience? If you have created the ability to publish great product content for all your products, you shouldn’t stop there. Analyze the shopping behavior and monitor what consumers find important. This will tell you how you can improve the digital shelf every day. And this will help you win over your competition!

Key takeaways

  • You can use data pools to acquire content for all your products
  • PXM enables you to use data without collaboration with your suppliers
  • Add, change and improve content day by day
  • Analyse customer behaviour to see how good your content is and where improvements need to be made

A winning online formula is all about data. Download our latest report 'How brands optimise the digital shelf' to find out how to PXM helps you to win online.

Download the report