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GUEST COMMENT Ecommerce growth and the digital shelf – four best practices for a new consumer climate

The ecommerce sector has boomed amid the Covid-19 crisis. Digital is fast becoming the main growth driver of all sales, yet brands find themselves hamstrung by legacy beliefs and processes, preventing them from achieving maximum growth. 

Following conversations with ecommerce executives from global brands, it’s clear there’s a desire to  rethink the traditional approaches that have underpinned ecommerce growth for decades.

For the Digital Shelf Institute, together with Salsify, a commerce experience management platform, this was the impetus for a deeper exploration of the new realities of the digital shelf and the key strategies for online channel profitability. 

The research uncovered the existing processes and incentives that are limiting growth in the new digitally influenced omnichannel reality. And led to the development of Total Growth Accountability – a practice of measuring and making holistic decisions and investments to drive overall business growth and performance.

So, if the old rules of siloed channel-by-channel decision making no longer work, what should you be doing? Here are four principles to help you move towards total growth accountability:

Price-matching proactivity

In today’s environment, while we cannot control price, we can control other influential areas. The volatility of pricing today requires a more intentional approach to brand control. This is where price-matching proactivity comes into play, informed by three key approaches. Firstly, assume the lowest price somewhere will be the new price everywhere. Secondly, determine what constitutes ‘item exclusivity’ to avoid price matching. Finally, be deliberate on the product assortment. Here item exclusivity can protect margins and help nurture a better relationship between retailers and brands for joint business planning. 

Dynamic portfolio management

The second principle is the practice of Dynamic Portfolio Management. This is the ongoing optimisation of your portfolio across product, pack, price, and profitability to capitalise on shopper opportunity and retailer considerations. Again, this is informed by three key approaches. Brands need to capture growth share with retailer-specific exclusive products, create digital experiences for lower volume products to niche consumer groups, and detect local product preferences ensuring local retailers react accordingly. 

Nerf is a great example of managing your portfolio with retailer-specific products. It has its brands at all key retailers, offering each one a unique product sub-series for which deals, and experiences can be optimised. For instance, certain Nerf series are exclusive to Amazon or are only available in specific stores like Smyths Toys. 

Likewise, VitaCoco pursued consumer-driven, retailer-specific innovation in a way that protects price, profitability, and partnership by exclusively selling its organic Coconut Water on Amazon – giving it an item to promote and drive sales without hurting its base products. 

These are longer-term offers that could run for years, but there are also short-term moment-in-time opportunities to increase your profitability and visibility. For example, Doritos took a seasonal approach to attract a niche consumer group when it made its Call of Duty Snack Box available on Amazon UK as an exclusive for a limited time to coincide with the latest instalment of the video game. As a result, the brand and retailer benefitted in capturing impulse sales.

Marketing and sales integration

Another key to unlocking total growth accountability is for marketing and sales to become one. In the past, the separation between the two was distinct, but now integration is key. We know consumers switch channels frequently, so balancing short-term conversion goals with long-term brand building is a must. This can be done by centralising decision-making and using common KPIs across teams, measured by share of voice and sales on important channels to compare against competitors’ performance, and by prioritising a seamless brand experience across all touchpoints. 

One of our members has fully integrated its sales and marketing function. The ecommerce and marketing teams no longer sit separately from one another and instead take an omnichannel approach with aligned KPIs and tactics. As a result, it saw 75% Covid-related growth across its most important channels. 

So, how do you get this running inside an organisation?

Budget fluidity 

This brings us to our next practice, budget fluidity and the ability to move flexibly and quickly across retailers and brands. This should be based on real-time insights and results without prohibitive layers of decision-making and approvals. With a near-constant changing marketplace, this is critical for capturing first-mover advantage in the short term while driving investment efficiency and maximising ROI in the long term. 

The pandemic highlighted that retailer situations and consumer needs change continually, so budgeting practices need to move from traditional ways of planning and time horizons. If you’re looking to maximise your share voice by channel, you need to be regularly testing the threshold of investment required to drive demand around particular terms, categories, and assets. And you may need to reallocate your investment from time to time depending on related factors, such as what competing brands are doing. 

It’s no longer simply a matter of filling the top of the funnel as quickly and cheaply as possible, and then wringing it out at the bottom with shopper marketing tactics. Budget fluidity means creating longer investment horizons you won’t see a return on in six months. Supplementing this should be shorter-term investment buckets subject to frequent reallocation – across both marketing and sales tactics.

The next steps

Total Growth Accountability is more than conceptual.  While this overall shift will not happen overnight, it’s by taking this holistic approach to growth that brands can better respond, adapt, and thrive in a world where digital is king.

Many winning brands are already using one or two of these best practices, imagine the possibilities when harnessing all four.


Molly Schonthal, founder of the Digital Shelf Institute Executive Forumand vice president of community marketing at Salsify

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