Twenty years ago, supply chain data was the key that connected suppliers and retailers. To sell an item in a physical store you had to meet with a buyer, get a big order and get it into a complex supply chain system so it could get shipped. The process could take months if not years.
Fast forward to today and you can upload a photo, write a description and have an item for sale online in 15 minutes or less, all from the convenience of your web browser. That means more competition than ever before. Here’s how a few of the most successful brands we work with are staying ahead:
Move At E-Commerce Speed
Given that you can start selling a new item in a matter of minutes, if you’re not getting value fast from new tools, processes and systems, something’s not right. How fast? Certainly within 60 days, ideally within 30 days or less.
This directly leads to the second key area – experimentation.
E-Commerce leaders are trading perfection for production. One large CPG we work with is among our most experimental clients. Every time we launch a new feature, share a new capability or discuss a new idea, they ask us to bring it to them first, and they often try it out the same day.
Experimentation is a major theme for leading brands. Here are a few recent efforts we’ve been involved with:
- Workflow automation. Brands are taking workflows that have historically been manual and automating them with software. As an example, suppliers are getting item setup times down from months to just a couple of days. That means they’re able to start selling products a lot sooner, which generates more revenue and potentially more reorders throughout the year.
- Rich media on Amazon and Walmart. Earlier this year, Walmart opened up rich media support on its site. Rich media includes content like marketing content, videos and 360-degree product views. Walmart has since seen a significant increase in the number of items for which brands are submitting rich media. Based on this success, we’ve seen a lot more brands creating and pushing rich media content to both Amazon and Walmart to enhance how their products look online.
- Frequent review monitoring. Product reviews have been around for a long time — our partner Bazaarvoice started back in 2005. But it’s only recently that we’ve seen really proactive monitoring of reviews across Amazon, Walmart, Target and other channels. Some companies have set up social media monitoring teams to track new reviews and take action throughout the day.
We’ve consistently heard from clients that reviews are one of the best early-warning mechanisms they have for detecting product issues. By responding quickly, brands are able to address customer concerns and preserve brand value. Some of our clients used to monitor reviews manually. But most have since put in place automated review monitoring — another form of workflow automation.
The complexity, of course, is that every retailer has slightly different requirements for setup, images, descriptions and digital delivery. We’ve seen sales teams that are supposed to be out selling spending hours each day wrestling with item setup forms and content update portals, typing search term after search term into retailer web sites in hopes of monitoring price, stock and search, all to no avail.
This kind of large-scale repetitive work simply can’t be done without software. Investor Marc Andreessen famously said that “software is eating the world,” and nowhere is that truer than in e-Commerce.
Win The Buy Box
One other area that doesn’t get enough attention when it comes to successful merchandising online is the importance of winning the Buy Box. The Buy Box is that area, typically in the upper right of a product detail page, where a shopper can add an item to the cart. On e-Commerce sites that support marketplaces, like Amazon.com and Walmart.com, multiple sellers can sell the same product. But only one seller at a time can be the Buy Box winner. That makes it extremely important to win the Buy Box.
A number of factors contribute to winning the Buy Box, including return rates and performance, but two of the most important factors are staying in stock and having the lowest price. Staying in stock is harder than it looks — items can quickly go out of stock if they get promoted on social media, for example.
Online prices, unlike in-store, change frequently, as retailers and marketplace sellers compete with each other to offer the lowest price. As a result, it’s nearly impossible to maintain the lowest price and be 100% in-stock without automated tools to help.
Your Digital Shelf Checklist
There’s a lot of exciting work going on in e-Commerce — sometimes so much that it can be overwhelming. Here’s a checklist to help you navigate:
- Implement fast ways to set up new items;
- Develop great product content, including high-resolution images and search-optimized descriptions;
- Ensure your products show up for online searches, and put in place ways to measure performance;
- Win the Buy Box on Amazon and Walmart; and
- Get alerted ASAP if you’re getting negative reviews so you can quickly take corrective action.
In e-Commerce, you simply don’t have the time to learn each retailer’s individual systems and requirements one at a time, or log on to every site to see how your products are performing for hundreds if not thousands of searches. A sophisticated partner in this endeavor will help you check every box and stay ahead of the competition.
After all, if you’re going to battle the digital machine, and do so at e-Commerce speed, you need a machine of your own.
David Feinleib is the author of Bricks to Clicks and CEO of Content Analytics, the leader in end-to-end e-Commerce analytics and content management systems for brands and retailers. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.