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July 26, 2021

Customized Roadmaps to Meet Your Growth Goals With the Digital Shelf Maturity Curve

Written by: Brian Johnson
“We all know that on the digital shelf there is infinite competition with constantly changing requirements by your retail customers or your direct-to-consumer teams trying to deliver compelling product experiences to your end consumer.”
Joe Gaudreau, Head of Commerce Strategy at Salsify

To truly compete on the digital shelf, brands must align their goals with a modern commerce strategy that fits with an online-first mentality. 

Scattered data, seasonal product launches, and marketing plans, and siloed teams and team members equate to a sluggish commerce strategy that won’t win. 

The winners on the digital shelf today aren’t who you’d expect. It’s digital-native brands that know how to go to market quickly and attract customers through best-in-class digital strategies focused on excellent customer experiences at every stage of the customer journey. They have centralized data, know how to create immersive online experiences, and can attract customers without the benefits of an established brand name.

Joe Gaudreau, head of commerce strategy at Salsify, and Lauren Livak, director of the Digital Shelf Institute, discussed how to build a customized roadmap to better succeed on the digital shelf in a webinar, "The Digital Shelf Playbook: Create a Customized Roadmap to Meet Your Growth Goals." 

They discussed the digital shelf maturity curve, a brand new model that defines where brands reside on their digital transformation journey and offers a guided path to build up that maturity. 

However, each team is different and unique. The digital shelf maturity curve accounts for brands’ unique perspectives and needs to offer a personalized route to digital shelf excellence. Gaudreau and Livak introduce the maturity curve as well as an easy way to build upon your current successes with a prioritized focus based on your needs. 

An Introduction to the Digital Shelf Maturity Curve

To begin with a digital transformation journey, it’s important to first define where within your digital transformation journey you reside. Are you just beginning, are you doing well but could make some improvements, or are you absolutely crushing it and want to make a few extra perfections? 

The digital transformation maturity curve currently has five defined stages:

  1. Collect
  2. Activate
  3. Enhance
  4. Expand
  5. Optimize

Digital Shelf Maturity Curve Stage 1: Collect 

The first stage to any form of digital shelf maturity is collecting your data into a unified single source of truth, instead of scattered across siloed teams, spreadsheets, and tech stacks. 

“We know these challenges are complicated and the way that you get to market today with these products is by filling out hundreds of spreadsheets with hundreds of columns for each retailer so the process is extremely manual,” says Gaudreau.

Collect your digital shelf data from these scattered enterprises into a centralized source of information accessible to the right people and teams across the organization.

With this stage, your teams will be able to increase data’s effectiveness, provide technical assurance, scalability, and address any regulatory, legal, and compliance issues. Knowing the most current version of your product information will cut down on time to market and make your data useful.

Digital Shelf Maturity Curve Stage 2:

Activate

The activation stage comes next. You’ll want to deliver the foundational product content stored in your single source of truth to the proper channels. This stage involves completing your product listings and syndicating them to the priority sales channels for the full set of available SKUs.

Activation will accelerate your time to market, build a stronger relationship with your retail customers, and increase ROI on your go-to-market process.

Digital Shelf Maturity Curve Stage 3: Enhance

Next, you will want to create enhanced product experiences with interactive, rich media on your existing channels. Once brands have accomplished activating product content to key digital channels, it’s time to create the most engaging product experiences for the end customer.

With enhanced content like 360-degree product spins, comparison charts, and editorialized images, brands can increase brand loyalty and stickiness on the digital shelf, increase revenue opportunities, and realize value faster.

Digital Shelf Maturity Curve Stage 4:

Expand

The penultimate stage (so far) to the digital shelf maturity curve is expanding these product experiences across the digital shelf. There are so many touchpoints on the digital shelf and the experiences you’ve invested in creating should exist on every touchpoint. 

This doesn’t just mean expanding to additional existing channels, but also adding more channels and to new geographic markets. This process will increase your scalability to the global ecommerce market and expand revenue opportunities at every touchpoint.

Digital Shelf Maturity Curve Stage 5:

Optimize

Finally, optimizing your product detail pages (PDPs) and ecommerce strategies is currently the most mature stage of the digital shelf maturity curve. This stage involves accounting to market forces with a shared set of KPIs and a transparent, collaborative, and repeatable process. Here, you’ll move towards an organization that can proactively adapt to market changes and make ongoing and iterative improvements in your ecommerce strategy. 

However, the digital shelf maturity curve shows exponential growth beyond the optimize stage. This is because there is always room for growth when it comes to ecommerce — there’s no “perfect strategy.” Ecommerce constantly changes and there will be improvements needed even for the most mature brands. 

“We imagine adding a sixth stage and a seventh stage to this maturity curve as we evolve the process based on the market forces and the demand that the consumer ultimately put on you, the brand manufacturer.”
Joe Gaudreau, Head of Commerce Strategy at Salsify

10 Factors That Indicate Your Current Level of Maturity 

Livak explains that there are 10 foundational pillars that define digital shelf success and maturity. These 10 factors help create a personalized roadmap to maturing on the digital shelf. 

The 10 pillars of digital shelf maturity are: 

  1. People: You’ll need to define the people and teams that are in charge of your ecommerce go-to-market (GTM) strategy.
  2. Process: Have you formalized the process for creating and activating product content?
  3. Executive mentality: The entire organization, especially at the top, needs to be on the same page in terms of goals and processes.
  4. Enabling technology: The right tools are critical — are your current tools working for you?
  5. Distribution priorities: While, of course, you’ll want every SKU and every retailer experience to be as optimized as possible, you’ll need to first prioritize the highest-value SKUs and retailers as you build up your ecommerce strategy.
  6. Data and content readiness: Your data and content should be well documented as to where it lives, its readiness for the digital shelf, and if it’s current and accurate.
  7. Change management: It’s hard to change established processes. Figure out how to bring in other people and teams onto new processes.
  8. Ecommerce education and understanding: Ensure that relevant teams know the proper knowledge about the ecommerce market and trends that lead to success.
  9. Content strategy: What does best-in-class content look like and how does that continue to evolve through different levels of maturity as ecommerce changes?
  10. Value measurement (KPIs): Establish a way to measure the work you’re doing to ensure it’s impactful and repeatable.

One Size Doesn’t Fit All

Livak explains that with so many factors going into the definition of your maturity and where you reside on the maturity curve, it’s impossible to take a one-size-fits-all approach. 

For example, one webinar attendee mentioned that in her multinational brand, they can be in every stage at once — products, brands, and markets can all have differing levels of maturity and scalability. It takes a personalized approach to your own needs based on the most actionable and impactful changes towards your goals in both the short- and long-term. 

Focusing on the most important grouping within the 10 foundational pillars that subscribes to your needs will deliver a more expedited path towards digital shelf maturity. 

A Global National Beverage Company Case Study

In one real-world example, a national beverage company wanted to increase its speed to market through an expedited product content creation process. More competition was eating away at their share of search on ecommerce channels and the brand needed to combat this with more and better content

The main issues fell under the process, people, and data readiness categories. There was only one dedicated teammate to ecommerce and a few additional colleagues who spent a portion of their role working on the digital shelf. They had no refined process and teams were unsure how to get work done efficiently. And to top it all off, data lived mostly in shared drives and disjointed systems with no easy way to access needed data. 

But by focusing on the most relevant pillars to their digital shelf maturity journey, the brand was able to accomplish its goals of increasing the speed to market and increasing their digital sales.

Explore our executive explainer guide to learn more about the shift to total growth accountability and the new realities of the digital shelf.

EXPLORE EXECUTIVE EXPLAINER