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GUEST COMMENT What brands need to do to ‘win’ the digital shelf

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The rise of omnichannel retail has expanded the ways consumers and brands interact. In the UK, internet sales as a percentage of total retail sales have risen from 10% to 30% over the past 10 years alone. With this rapid rise, retailers need to ensure they’re investing in the ‘digital shelf,’ as well as their physical presence, to succeed.

The digital shelf refers to anywhere consumers can view or buy products online, ranging from search results and websites to mobile apps, social media platforms, and third-party sites. When simplified, the digital shelf can be thought of as a Google search results page. As consumers are faced with so much choice, brands need their products to rank highly to compete against the competitors that will be sitting alongside them on the shelf.

Fortunately, the ‘digital’ nature of the shelf means that retailers have a lot of control over how their products appear. With the help of high-quality product information and content, alongside other digital marketing tactics, retailers can win on the digital shelf.

Accurate product information

The first step is for brands to ensure they are providing their customers with accurate product information, which is crucial to winning their trust. If the products they purchase aren’t what they expected, maintaining a good spot on the digital shelf will be wasted with bad reviews and unsatisfied customers. According to the 2021 Widen Connectivity Report, accurate product information is valued by consumers more than any other marketing activity. When combined with visual content – such as videos or 360º spin photography – the product information consumers are offered can be the difference between them shopping with one brand over another.

Prioritising the right products

There is simply no point in retailers investing in promoting products that aren’t selling well. Conducting a deep dive into the products pulling in the greatest revenue or growing the fastest can enable brands to invest in products that are set up for success, or make changes to ensure products they want to sell better are drawing customers in. With priorities identified, retailers can invest their finite time and money into promotional activities like ad campaigns for the right products, helping them rank highly on the digital shelf and stay there. By drawing consumers in with the most successful products and providing them with a seamless shopping experience, brands will be able to build customer loyalty and encourage them to spend with them again, on related or suggested items.

Competing with price

On the digital shelf, it’s easy for consumers to compare products and prices like-for-like, which is why maintaining a competitive price is so crucial. Especially when going up against the likes of Amazon. However, low prices aren’t enough on their own, and retailers must ensure they adopt a flexible pricing strategy. Discounting products that are out of season or offering discounts around holidays such as Christmas or Black Friday is crucial to making sure their prices don’t hold retailers back.

Spending on SEO

It’s vital to remember that purely having the right search engine optimisation (SEO) elements on a product page isn’t always enough. Working with an SEO agency can help brands create a targeted strategy that incorporates keywords, content, and regular blog and social media posting. With a solid strategy in place, retailers can drive up the quality and quantity of traffic reaching their product pages, which will, in turn, help them rank highly on the digital shelf.

Generating reviews

As well as helping SEO, reviews are one of the key ways consumers make choices about the products they buy and from which brands. They want to ensure they are getting what they can see on the page and that the experience of shopping with a certain brand will meet their expectations. Therefore, retailers need to equip their product pages with a clear way for consumers to both leave and read reviews and encourage customers to write reviews after shopping with them. This can be done by sending email reminders or offering incentives to those customers that participate. In a paid capacity, influencer marketing is an increasingly popular way for products to be endorsed, especially as having an increased presence on social media can further boost a product or brand’s search ranking.

It’s clear that the key to winning on the digital shelf is by investing in the right product information and content to help consumers make easy purchase decisions when faced with endless choices. However, brands must take steps to streamline and keep track of this information, which could span thousands of different products. Tools like product information management (PIM) or digital asset management (DAM) solutions are vital for retailers to keep their digital marketing content organised, accessible, and up-to-date. With this valuable combination, retail marketers can ensure every digital touchpoint – whether it’s a product page or social media post – is created with the content needed to help it achieve that coveted space on the digital shelf.

Nate Holmes, senior product marketing manager at Widen, an Acquia company

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