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"It's not brick and mortar or ecommerce — it's brick and mortar and ecommerce."
— Lauren Livak, Director of the Digital Shelf Institute
Today, most brands’ products exist not just on the physical shelf but also the digital shelf. However, the main problem is that most companies haven’t found a way to seamlessly connect these two experiences.
Cultivating this connection requires in-store and digital teams to work more collaboratively, but this has to start with creating a shared vocabulary and a mutual understanding of how these teams collectively define success.
To help brands navigate this challenge and develop a seamless omnichannel experience, the Digital Shelf Institute (DSI) brought together three experts from leading brands, including:
Angelus, Fantazier, and McElwee collaborated with Lauren Livak, director of the DSI, to create a report entitled “Digital Decoded: How To Drive Omnichannel Growth by Understanding Each Commerce Touch Point.”
The experts also shared insights from the report on a recent webinar. Here are their key takeaways.
Livak stresses how the consumer path to purchase has changed dramatically in recent years, highlighting how the best way to understand this is using the new path to purchase created by the Google Analytics team.
“What it focuses on is that a consumer doesn't go from A to B to C. They might go from A to F, to D to E to H in terms of touch points in how they purchase,” Livak says. “They might be looking at an app. They might be in the aisle, searching Amazon. They might be scrolling at night on Instagram and see a product.”
In essence, the consumer path to purchase is no longer linear — it’s an ever-winding road — and every single touch point a customer engages with must get them closer to making a purchasing decision.
There are several touch points a brand can leverage to engage consumers, but Livak, Angelus, Fantazier, and McElwee have identified four broader categories in which the physical and digital shelf connect:
Understanding these four points of connection can help brands execute a seamless omnichannel experience.
"It's not brick and mortar or ecommerce — it's brick and mortar and ecommerce,” Livak says.
Content encompasses both product content on the product detail page (PDP) and product packaging a consumer may read in a brick-and-mortar store.
Though consumers can’t actually feel and touch a product on the digital shelf, digital gives brands the advantage of more easily highlighting certain product features that can influence a consumer’s purchase decision.
In-store, brands can leverage the real estate on their package to influence consumers, but together both content experiences can be powerful for shaping consumer perception, Livak says. However, both experiences must be fully built out, consistent, and complementary, she adds.
“If your information on your PDP is different than what they're holding in store, that can cause a little bit of confusion. If the ingredients don't match up or you don't have the right tags or information, that can also cause a lot of confusion. So it's really important to make sure you have your content that matches physically in store to all of the information you have on your product detail page,” she says.
One of the brands Livak worked with experienced this issue. Its in-store product packaging was very different from what consumers saw online. The company had switched to new packaging, but it wasn't updated on Amazon, Target, and Walmart.
“You want to make sure that you're creating a very clean and simple consumer experience. What they're seeing is what they're getting, and it's brand recognition, as well,” says Livak.
“When you think about omnichannel, you need to make sure that all of those different pieces are connected because the consumer still needs to have the same experience no matter where they are shopping for that product.” — Lauren Livak, Director of the Digital Shelf Institute
Angelus says retail media can propel online and offline sales, as well as brand recognition.
“They're really going to help our consumers discover our products at the point of sale, and give us an opportunity to see what are the performance-based analytics from these investments that we're making,” she says.
Retail media comes in several forms, including category page placements and homepage banners that brands can use to drive engagement even beyond the digital shelf.
If you’re looking for an equivalent on the physical shelf, end caps and in-store displays would probably compare. Retail media, end caps, and in-store displays allow brands to cross-sell, but in different ways.
Angelus gave the example of placing Silk plant-based beverages next to Silk plant-based yogurt in store. Alternatively, on the digital shelf brands can expand this cross-merchandising opportunity and offer customers a holistic solution.
“What's super unique here is not only do you get that same cross-category merchandising opportunity, but you can extend it beyond where you are in the store … [here’s] an example where maybe we're suggesting a smoothie bundle. So you have your plant-based milk, but then you also have your protein powder, which is typically shelved in a very different area of the store,” Angelus says.
Retail media allows consumers to engage with content within the right context. It also drives discovery and brand awareness for consumers beyond online channels.
Sixty-two percent of offline sales are now influenced by online, according to Forrester, so brands have an invaluable opportunity with retail media to accelerate the consumer path to purchase — even if they ultimately buy in-store.
Distribution is all about how, where, and on which channels you make your products available. However, with so many channels, it can be difficult for brands to ensure their distribution strategy is actually effective.
“Often, as CPG companies, we're putting out tons of products. You're putting it out into a big store or into a bigger online space where shoppers are just absolutely bombarded with lots and lots of communication,” McElwee says. “So really, what we think about with distribution is making sure you get to the right consumers in the right possible way. Making sure that you invest so that initial discovery of your product is possible is absolutely key.”
On the physical shelf, a brand will pay slotting fees to get prime shelf placement and maximize discoverability. On the physical shelf, paid search serves this purpose. However, there are key differences between the two, McElwee says.
“Slotting fees tend to be a lot longer than paid search. You tend to get a lot more time in the sun there than paid search. Paid search tends to be quite short periods, as we all know,” he says. “But one of the benefits here with paid search is that you get to do different products and you can have two or three different products, which in slotting fees is a bit harder to do.”
McElwee says paid search also offers another advantage: return-on-investment (ROI) measurement. Brands can understand precisely the yield of their efforts. He adds that brands can use paid search in several ways for activities such as new product launches and to defend their product against competitors and capture some of their competitors’ search volume for the same categories.
While paid search can be beneficial for broader targeting, in-store displays are still valuable — especially for big-ticket items consumers want to feel and touch before shelling out their hard-earned money.
However, both approaches can complement each other to support a seamless omnichannel experience, such as placing QR codes on an in-store display that drive back to a PDP on a brand’s website or a coupon for them to make an in-store purchase.
“What's so exciting about experience is this can be a real differentiator,” Fantazier says. “In a world where there's so many substitutes in all of our categories, how consumers experience, how they learn, how they make choices has just gotten so much more important.”
Technology has allowed brands to bridge the gap between the online and offline experience. During the webinar, Fantazier provided an example from the beauty industry. Traditionally, an in-store consultant would help a consumer with their makeup selection and recommend products based on their skin tone, shade, and color preferences. Today, brands are mimicking that one-to-one interaction online with artificial intelligence (AI)- enabled virtual experiences and product selector tools.
“When you bring these together, this can really act as two sides of the same coin where the right hand side [online] could help narrow down choices and really provide a shortcut to that in-store conversation,” Fantazier says. “I think that's what brands need to think about — what's the role to play for both and how can you provide that help? Especially in higher consideration, more complex, confusing categories, this can be a really powerful differentiator.”
Neutrogena, a Johnson & Johnson brand, has done this with facial recognition scanning technology that allows it to provide personalized product recommendations to customers based on information they input on Neutrogena’s website about their skin type and current skin conditions.
“We say it's a dermatologist-in-a-pocket, essentially. What this does is create that personal one-to-one experience,” Fantazier says.
Along with personalization, this approach also gives Neutrogena access to valuable third-party data it can deploy across online and offline channels to convert consumers — whether that’s offering an in-store coupon or an online deal on personally recommended products.
Livestream shopping, which is just starting to gain momentum in the U.S., provides another powerful way to connect online and offline channels, Fantazier says.
Livestream shopping is a real-time, live in-store demonstration, but instead of a handful of shoppers participating, thousands or millions of shoppers can participate in the demo and learn about a product.
“What's so exciting about that is you can get a lot of the same benefit of that demonstration — that interaction and that how-to — that can be so important to a consumer as they're on their consumer journey. But what you get within the livestream environment that’s unique is that ability to scale,” Fantazier says.
Whether it’s experience, retail media, distribution, or content, each of these commerce touchpoints give brands an invaluable opportunity to optimize every shopper’s journey.
For brands to succeed in today's competitive environment, the physical shelf and digital shelf can no longer exist in silos. These two channels must come together to accelerate the path to purchase and deliver a seamless omnichannel experience, which ultimately will drive long-term growth and profitability for brands.
To learn more about omnichannel growth strategies, listen to the on-demand webinar.