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    January 30, 2023

    Cara Wood of Salsify: What Digital Shelf Metrics Tell Us About Who Is Winning at Ecommerce Today

    Written by: Satta Sarmah Hightower
    "The digital shelf is really living — and it's evolving all the time."— Cara Wood, Brand Journalism Director, Salsify

    Achieving digital shelf excellence is a continuous process, and the journey seemingly never ends, which is why it’s often so difficult for brands to gauge where they stand.

    They may be nearly digital-shelf-ready on one sales channel but fully optimized on another. Their ecommerce teams may be masterful at harnessing digital shelf metrics to create a connected omnichannel experience while their sales and marketing teams still collate data in spreadsheets.

    The digital shelf maturity curve is a long continuum, and no one likely understands this better than Cara Wood, brand journalism director at Salsify. Wood created the “Digital Shelf Maturity Curve” assessment in 2021. This 15-question quiz allows brand leaders to determine their organization’s digital shelf maturity. Brand leaders from more than 200 companies have taken the assessment to date.

    Wood joined a recent episode of the “Unpacking the Digital Shelf” podcast, “Moving Through the Digital Shelf Maturity Curve,” to share six critical takeaways from the assessment based on all the data Salsify has collected over nearly two years.

    Assessing Digital Shelf Maturity: 6 Critical Takeaways

    1. Conquering the Digital Shelf Requires a Collaborative Effort

    An often-quoted African proverb states, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

    Nothing could be truer when it comes to the digital shelf. Digital shelf excellence requires a collaborative effort, which is probably why the assessment attracted a wide range of professionals within brand manufacturing organizations.

    Salsify found that nearly 40% of professionals who took the assessment worked in sales and marketing, 33% worked in an ecommerce role, and 10% were in IT.

    This data indicates that several teams within organizations are trying to solve this problem and are paying close attention to digital shelf metrics — or at the very least, feel responsible for their brand’s potential success on the digital shelf.  

    2. Most Companies Are at the Beginning of Their Digital Shelf Journey 

    There are five stages of digital shelf maturity:

    1. Collect: Unify siloed data.
    2. Activate: Deliver foundational product content to each channel.
    3. Enhance: Improve product experiences on established channels.
    4. Expand: Expand to new markets.
    5. Optimize: Adopt measurable, scalable, and repeatable processes to increase your brand’s competitive advantage.

    Wood says a “crawl-walk-run approach” is common within most brands. Most companies who took the assessment (48%) are at stage two (activate) and are just beginning to deploy their data to create engaging product content on their chosen channels.

    One-third of brands who took the assessment are at stage three (enhance), while fewer are at stage one (collect). Unsurprisingly, only 1% of companies are in the final stage of the highest optimized level of digital shelf maturity.

    3. The Digital Shelf Journey Isn’t Linear

    The data from the assessment also indicates the digital shelf journey for most brands isn’t linear. Their digital shelf maturity can vary from one sales channel to the next.

    For example, a brand may be running like a well-oiled machine on Amazon but has yet to figure out Walmart's retailer ad platform.

    “Sometimes, companies will either shift strategies, or they'll have new folks on board and then it takes a little while,” Wood says. “You might have a new rep on your retailer side, or your retailer might have major changes to their requirements they have, so then you may want to reset and step back. Hopefully, this helps you benchmark progress because the digital shelf is really living. It's evolving all the time.”

    4. Smaller Brands Are Further Along Than Large CPG Companies

    One interesting finding Wood discovered in the assessment data is that smaller brands often have an advantage on the digital shelf compared to larger consumer packaged goods (CPG) brands.

    “One of the outliers was the large CPG companies. We found that a significant portion of those types of companies — 40% — were actually still in collect.” — Cara Wood, Brand Journalism Director, Salsify

    Many CPGs brands haven’t evolved past the first stage of the digital shelf maturity curve because most of these companies have been around for decades or even hundreds of years in some cases. That means entrenched processes, legacy systems, and an almost incalculable amount of data these companies would have to migrate and adapt for the digital shelf.

    In comparison, smaller companies and upstart brands may have to deal with fewer legacy processes or may already have fine-tuned systems and processes for collecting, analyzing, and deploying digital shelf metrics. Ecommerce only has been around for 30 years, so it makes it much easier for companies that have come of age during this time to be nimble.

    The bottom line is that in this David versus Goliath battle, the Goliaths are at a massive disadvantage.

    5. Durable Brands Fare Much Better

    Unlike CPG brands, durable brands are further along the digital shelf maturity curve.

    Wood says the majority of these brands are in stage 2 (activate), but nearly as much (34%) are in stage three (enhance). These brands are gradually optimizing their product content experiences on established channels.

    “Folks are feeling like they're in the stage where they're just looking at having better content. So, if you're in that space it's extra motivation to enhance your product,” Wood says. “There are a lot of folks that are feeling like they've got their pages live and now the challenge is telling the best story possible and really using the space below the fold.”

    6. The Assessment Is Already Driving Transformation for Some Brands

    Wood says several brands that have taken the assessment are already using it to make changes within their organizations.

    For example, one large global CPG brand has used the assessment to share best practices and optimize digital shelf processes across its different markets. Other brands are using it to take a holistic look at their organization and gauge how different teams view their respective digital shelf maturity — and the organization’s progress as a whole.

    Wood says conversations are starting to happen where companies may look at their business by channel, retailer, or product and start to “understand who is the leader in our space and what are some of the different departments that could use the guidance from those leaders within our own company?”

    An Opportunity for Growth

    Sharing best practices is just the start of conquering the ever-evolving digital shelf. What works today may not work tomorrow — a retailer may change their requirements, a new channel may emerge that captures consumers’ attention (i.e., TikTok), or a brand may need new capabilities, skills, and resources to optimize its ecommerce experience.

    Companies will need to stay on their toes constantly, but understanding where they are today can help them get to where they need to be. The assessment is a valuable tool they can use to gauge their progress as they develop and execute their ecommerce vision.

    “To me, what's really gratifying about this is that there's some kind of benchmark,” Wood says. “I'm hoping that anyone who's listening, anyone who has taken it [the assessment], or anyone who's struggling against this can see that there is a plan. There is a crawl-walk-run opportunity for you to look at what stages to move through.”


    To hear more of Wood’s insights about how brands can advance their digital shelf maturity, listen to the full episode.