What is digital shelf analytics?

With even more retailers now battling for space on the ‘digital shelf’ (i.e. the various places that we search, research, and buy products online) – being able to effectively capture the consumer’s attention is key. To increase the chances of this happening, retail brands must stay on top of multiple factors, such as ensuring product descriptions are correct, that reviews are trustworthy, and content is rich and engaging. But all of this is not an easy task, especially as retailers are not in control of their brand image on many third-party retail sites or marketplaces.

This is where digital shelf analytics (or DSA) comes in – a software solution that tracks and monitors performance data, helping retailers to keep track of competitors and optimise digital touchpoints.

Here’s more on the subject of digital shelf analytics, including:

Why digital shelf analytics is important
What to consider when choosing a vendor
What types of data a DSA provides
 Vying for the attention of digital shoppers  

We all know that consumers are increasingly buying online, but it is also important to note how they are buying online – and the impact this might have on a single ecommerce brand or store. 

Erika Goldwater, Director of Global Communications for PIM system inriver, explained to Econsultancy that – as well as having more choice than ever before – most consumer journeys now start with a product search, rather than a brand or retailer. Consequently, she says, “If consumers can’t easily find what they want, they simply move to the next site” reinforcing the fact that “retailers and brands must accurately present and optimise their products online.”

Whether or not the consumer finds the product they are looking for can also be affected by the platform carrying it. Tony Thomas, Head of Digital Shelf Optimisation at Threepipe explains, “Being out of stock might not be a big deal on retailer A, but you will get penalised by retailer B for the same things.” Similarly, Thomas says that, “before, you could get away with the same copy on all retailer sites, but we now see that retailer A prioritises SKUs with unique content, while on retailer B, it doesn’t matter.” 

Even more complex, says Thomas, is that “different factors can be important even within different categories within the same retailer.” 

Ultimately, this can make it difficult for brands to keep on top of how their products are performing on different websites or marketplaces. Attempting to monitor this manually can result in guesswork.

What to consider when choosing a DSA vendor

In order to gain control, retail brands can look to digital shelf analytics software, whereby bots or crawlers ‘scrape’ data from digital channels, before turning this data into valuable insights.

Choosing a DSA vendor might depend on multiple factors, such as the categories or SKUs a brand wants to monitor, whether the software provides alert functionality (e.g. when products go out of stock, or a competitor’s price changes), or even additional policies around accuracy or data security. 

When it comes to the latter, for example, inriver’s software uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to validate its data, alongside a manual check for any abnormalities. Elsewhere, at e.fundamentals, its “sensitive gather policy” is a big focus, which CEO John Maltman told Econsultancy is “driven by our determination to gather data in a way that has minimal impact on the retailer’s services to shoppers and suppliers.”

Another area to consider might be whether the DSA application can be integrated with an existing PIM solution. Erika Goldwater highlights how the two differ, but best work alongside one another. “Put simply,” she says, “a PIM solution is your single source of truth for product information. There, your teams collaborate to create, manage and distribute your product stories across all your touchpoints. Whereas a DSA solution isn’t about creation, its focus is on monitoring and analysing your product’s performance across those touchpoints.” 

By using the two side by side, a brand is able to better monitor and optimise product or content information on any given channel. 

A secondary consideration might be to ensure that DSA vendors have the technology in place to keep up with a fast rate of change – particularly when it comes to the ability to see the world through the shoppers’ eyes across all the devices they use. This is particularly applicable for retailers that use headless commerce because, as e.fundamental’s John Maltman explains, “the main impact is that the retailer sites are going to evolve faster as retailers strive to offer a better, more tailored and frictionless service.”

Tony Thomas of Threepipe suggests that headless ecommerce has resulted in retailers gaining access to more sophisticated ranking algorithms. As such, he says, “this increases the importance of having solid DSA so that optimisations are really targeted to the retailer in question, rather than treating all retailers as the same.”

What type of data does DSA provide?

The type of data (and insights) generated by digital shelf analytics tends to be varied, but they typically include the following:

Ratings and reviews

In a Bizrate Insights 2021 survey, 91% of respondents said they read at least one review before making a purchase decision on a product, business, or service. This is why it is vital that retail brands keep track of ratings and reviews across all online channels. DSA can do this, alerting to a lack of reviews on a particular third party retail site (such as Amazon), or any negative reviews (that need responding to).

Pricing and product data

DSA applications can also monitor and analyse product pricing across channels, helping brands to benchmark pricing against competitors, as well as react to any irregular or unusual pricing on third-party retail sites. Alongside this, the technology also ensures that products are listed with all the correct information (including descriptions, keywords, and stock status), as well as analyse the performance of any variations.

Search data

DSA can provide a comprehensive review of how products rank and appear in search results (across key terms), as well as a comparison against competitors. In turn, this can help brands to understand the impact on the consumer journey as well as product performance. 

Promotional data

Finally, DSA applications can track and monitor promotional campaign activity to gain an understanding of the impact on sales or search behaviour. Determining which products are converting the best can also help to define and better target future campaigns.

Data that empowers more than just ecommerce teams

The benefits of DSA can extend to more than just ecommerce teams. As Erika Goldwater explains, “It’s about equipping the whole organisation with data-driven intelligence to turn your sales threats into revenue.”

This intelligence can extend to sales teams, she suggests, helping them to build “deeper relations with retailers to discover what’s possible when it comes to stock levels, for example, or identify improvements.” What’s more, “it also ensures that marketing’s product stories have the right images, visual and keyword-rich content to increase your product’s searchability for each touchpoint. DSA provides valuable insights for teams across the organisation, driving collaboration and a shared understanding of your key performance indicators.”

When it comes to the skills required to implement DSA effectively, a test and learn mentality is key. John Maltman explains that “as marketplaces continue to emerge and shopper habits evolve (from curbside pick-up practices to checking online reviews in store), ecommerce teams need to be able to a) work collaboratively and b) do that in an environment where testing and implementing learnings are seen as best-practice for driving growth.

Tony Thomas of Threepipe echoes this view, particularly as retailers strive to provide the shopper with an experience online that is as close as possible to that offline. “Winning in this environment is all around speed, fixability, and analytics so that as soon as retailer releases a new feature or re-weights their ranking to change the customer experience, this is immediately acted upon,” he says. 

Enabling brands to grow market share

It’s clear that DSA enables brands to better manage and monitor customer touchpoints, but what impact might this have overall?

E.fundamental’s John Maltman suggests that ROI is the key performance measure for DSA services. Not only does this mean effectively gathering the data and turning it into valuable insights, but also “making sure these insights get to the right people to take action,” he says.

“What’s more, DSA gives brands competitive data relevant to their retail partners which are keen to grow their own market share. Brand owners can use DSA data in conversations with retailer partners to support their plans to deliver category growth and so create win-win scenarios.”

Erika Goldwater also cites market share as a primary benefit of DSA, explaining that the software can “identify your sales threats so that you can turn them into revenue.” What’s more, she suggests that the increasing growth of DSA is helping to create a new global ecommerce landscape. “After all, online means it’s up to your product information to do the talking for you. Although B2C arguably led the adoption of DSA, the lines between B2C and B2B are blurring with the shift online. Now it’s all about offering a stellar customer experience no matter which sector.”

Maltman agrees with this notion, also suggesting that the key to domination of the digital shelf is ‘category thinking’. 

“I can’t think of a category that wouldn’t benefit from moving to the right DSA,” he says. “What’s more, brands should look for a vendor that knows how to bring category thinking to life on the digital shelf. Shopper habits have evolved as have their shopping missions. It’s critical to understand how to optimise assortment, price and grow customer lifetime value.”

For more on ecommerce platforms and measurement, including PIM systems, download Econsultancy’s Ecommerce Best Practice Guide.

Read more: econsultancy.com


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