Over the last 10 years, advances in technology have led to the rise in affiliate and aggregator web sites. At the onset of the e-Commerce industry, brands were happy that retailers such as Amazon were helping drive revenue through online. But as the digital world took shape and online became an essential part of the business, brands realized those once-valuable online partners were now cannibalizing their revenue streams. Now, as brands strike a balance between online and in-store strategy, they’re experimenting with new, more powerful approaches to take back revenue from their third-party competition.
To understand this shift, it’s helpful to take a look at how the struggle between online and offline began. When the Internet first started to take shape, marketers dabbled in the online world, creating simple destinations to secure a web presence for consumers who were active on the new medium. Yet despite the allure of online, there was still hesitation when it came to using the platform for purchasing. Consumers were concerned with associated risks (buying before trying, sharing personal data, etc.) and brands weren’t ready to fully invest in building e-Commerce destinations as brick-and-mortar was still their bread and butter.
But as Internet usage skyrocketed — becoming the go-to resource for news, social, entertainment, you name it — consumers’ perceptions of online shopping slowly changed. This created a demand that brands were unprepared for; suddenly, they needed to be online to avoid being considered old and out-of-the-loop, but many didn’t have the capability to do so. Luckily, advances in technology forged the way for affiliate marketing and aggregator sites, which offered physical retailers a partner to drive online sales while relieving the demand for an owned e-Commerce site. Momentarily, everyone was happy; consumers were shopping online, affiliate and aggregator sites were making money (earning a percentage of each transaction), and retailers were selling products online.
Brands quickly realized, however, that allowing other companies to own their customer journey was resulting in a loss of sales, brand identity and valuable data — all of which put their reputations at risk. And while it’s obvious to many brands that they need to reclaim ownership of their total online experience, it’s not without its challenges. There are three obstacles for brands to consider on their quest to take back digital:
- Staying relevant with the new consumer journey: Customers are not starting the purchase path the way they used to — visiting stores or browsing e-Commerce sites — but rather, are being inspired by everything around them — pictures shared by friends in messaging apps, social posts by friends/influencers, etc. To win consumers over, brands not only need to be at the point of inspiration wherever/whenever it takes place, but they need to make sure consumers have quick, direct access to make a purchase — otherwise they risk losing the sale.
- Dealing with power shifts to content aggregators, social media and Amazon: With traditional media, brands had a voice that they could control. But the rise of social commerce and content aggregators have muddied those once-clear waters, influencing the consumer journey, behavior and ultimately purchase intentions, while commanding ad dollars. At the same time, brands face competition with retailers like Amazon that are out-muscling brands with price discovery, bulk ordering and better margins gained through more efficient delivery.
- Preparing for Millennials and Gen Z, an audience known for challenging the norm: Inspiration, discovery and purchase — this is the way Millennials and Gen Z shop. Aside from the growing demand for personalization, research shows this audience is shopping both online and offline — some preview online but prefer to make the purchase in-store, and others do the opposite. As these consumers become the mainstream buyers in five to 10 years, brands need to ensure they don’t lose sight of these preferences, but also alter their strategies as preferences continue to shift.
Today, consumers aren’t loyal to any channel, any brand or any product. They live in the moment and expect personalization at every corner — online and offline — so forget the divide! Brands that recognize this new environment are taking back digital with best-of-breed technologies, and by designing unique customer experiences with content and data that inspires and motivates consumers; leaving aggregator and affiliate sites to fend for themselves.
Oliver Tan is the CEO and Co-Founder of artificial intelligence company ViSenze. As an ardent advocate of innovation, Tan drives the vision and strategy for ViSenze. Prior to this role, he spent five years at Quann, an award-winning cybersecurity startup, where he led all aspects of its corporate, business development and group ops management across three countries. Earlier in his career, Tan held various key roles in digital media, OTT, advertising operations, venture capital and corporate development.