What Is the Digital Shelf (Analytics)? Goals, Success Factors, Solutions

What do digital shelf, digital shelf management and digital shelf analytics entail? An introduction to optimizing your e-commerce performance.

07 July, 2023 / Sebastian Klumpp
A woman is checking offers for a lawnmower robot on various shops and marketplaces on her laptop
Do you have a handle on all your digital channels? The digital shelf is composed of many touchpoints and manual monitoring is unthinkable. Boost your ecommerce performance with digital shelf management and analytics. Improve product visibility, increase conversions, and stay competitive across multiple platforms.

Which product do you automatically reach for in the supermarket? The pricey brand-name product at eye-level, or the cheaper option further down the shelves? Did you know that nothing was left to chance in store shelf design? It’s all based on over 100 years of psychological research.

But what about e-commerce? Here, too, companies need to tailor their offers and measures to customer needs – and continuously optimize them to survive. This is where the “digital shelf” comes in, but the term is still relatively new.

So what do people actually mean by digital shelf, digital shelf management or digital shelf analytics? We hope this article gives a useful introduction to the topic with some handy tips for corporate best practice.

What Is the Digital Shelf?

The digital shelf refers to any environment where customers come into contact with a manufacturer’s or retailer’s products online. In other words, all e-commerce customer touchpoints. Strictly speaking, this is the space where the company’s own products are presented and sold, like stores or marketplaces. More broadly, however, the digital shelf also includes a whole range of other touchpoints where products appear or are mentioned, for example in organic search results or posts on social media. As such, the term is pretty analogous to the bricks-and-mortar store.

The digital shelf includes a wide range of channels and locations, such as:

  • Own website or shop
  • Stores from other retailers (resellers)
  • Marketplaces: Amazon, Otto, Zalando, etc.
  • Price comparison sites: Idealo, Billiger.de, etc.
  • Search engines: Google, Bing, etc.
  • Product search engines: Google Shopping, Ladenzeile, etc.
  • Social media: Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, etc.
Product page of a womans dress on the marketplace About you
The product page is a crucial touchpoint of the digital shelf and has a great impact on the purchase. Ensure correct titles, meaningful descriptions and images, error-free attributes, and a competitive price to increase conversion rates, improve customer experience, and minimize returns and negative reviews.

Why Exactly Is Digital Shelf Management So Important in E-Commerce?

So much of how well or poorly a product sells rests on how it’s presented – this goes for bricks-and-mortar retail and e-commerce alike. But just optimizing your own online store will no longer cut it, because today’s customer comes across products over a whole range of channels. It’s up to companies to ensure their customers enjoy a high-quality shopping experience across all sales channels – that’s where digital shelf management comes in!

So why exactly is digital shelf management quite so important in e-commerce? Why do you need a structured approach – and the right tools? To find out, you’ll have to keep reading!

The Competition Is Hotting Up

More and more retailers and suppliers are entering the market, and they’re all fighting for the same customers. Plus, product ranges and prices are increasingly converging, making it more difficult than ever to stand out from the competition. Without throwing more money at the problem (advertising, sales promotions, etc.), companies are fighting a losing battle to win over customers in large marketplaces and margins are coming under pressure.

More often than not, growth is only possible by improving the conversion rate. At the same time, retailers are forced to cut costs, for example by reducing returns rates or by automating processes.

These Customers Have High Expectations

Online customers are not forgiving! After all, it’s all too easy to buy the same product from a competitor. Product presentation has to be spot on across all channels. Misspellings, poor-quality images or missing product information can ruin conversion and drive up returns rates.

Unbelievable Speed

Prices, rankings, ratings… When it comes to e-commerce, everything is fluid. It’s up to manufacturers and retailers to keep a close eye on the market, whether that’s platforms like Amazon, among the competition, on price comparison sites or in their own stores. Then quick reactions are essential to avoid falling behind.

The Number of Channels and Touchpoints Is Booming

We’ve already listed the key e-commerce channels above – and yes, there are a lot of them. But that number is only set to rise: the digital shelf is getting bigger and longer, so to speak. Only automation and optimized processes can hand control of the digital shelf back to companies.

Who is responsible for digital shelf management?

Maintaining and optimizing product content and presentation on the digital shelf usually falls to product, category, e-commerce, marketplace, channel, pricing, key account and/or marketing managers. Depending on the company’s size and structure, this can involve individuals or interdisciplinary teams – in both cases an increasingly complex task!

The Goals of Digital Shelf Management

The focus of digital shelf management shifts slightly depending on who’s doing the managing: the manufacturer or a retailer.

Retailers are first and foremost focused on monitoring and optimizing their own channels, making sure they stay ahead of the competition (other retailers, but increasingly also brands or manufacturers).

Manufacturers, for their part, are more interested in optimally placing and presenting their own product portfolio across all channels (retailers, marketplaces, etc.).

But despite these differences, companies are all chasing the same core goals with digital shelf management:

  • Increase conversion and sales, optimize margins
  • Reduce number of returns
  • Improve competitor standing (prices, rankings, innovations)
  • Grow and protect the brand image
  • Improve customer experience and satisfaction
  • Reduce labor and costs for category management

So How to Optimize the Digital Shelf?

In e-commerce, the digital shelf covers any and all aspects relating to the product range, including:

  1. Product range and availability
  2. Positioning and rankings (organic and paid)
  3. Product content
  4. Prices and sales promotions
  5. Reviews

So how can manufacturers and retailers optimize all aspects of the digital shelf? And what should they be focusing on in each case?

1. Product Range and Availability

  • Tailor the product range on offer to target group needs
  • Quickly include new products in the range on offer
  • Ensure the product range stands out from the competition
  • Have products online
  • Keep products in stock

2. Positioning and Rankings (Organic and Paid)

  • Retain high positioning in search results and across retailer/marketplace product listings (top 10/page 1)
  • Win the Amazon Buy Box (and comparable positionings on other marketplaces)
  • Book paid ads (retail media, sponsored listings, banners, etc.): use budgets efficiently, high conversion rate

3. Product Content

  • Ensure content and grammar/spelling is correct; ensure product texts are up to date and complete (title, description, technical information, etc.)
  • Include appealing, up-to-date images and videos that match the brand – of the product, of individual details and features, of the products in use, etc.
  • Optimize all content for high conversion and positioning (SEO) and for lowest possible return rate
  • Make sure current sales promotions are visible
Search results page from Amazon with a list of Bluetooth speakers
Search results pages are another important touchpoint on the digital shelf. Make sure your products are online and available, invest in good placements through retail media, and ensure high rankings in organic search results for high visibility and conversion rates.

4. Prices and Sales Promotions

  • Leverage dynamic pricing for competitive prices at all times
  • Secure a top spot on price comparison portals
  • Make sure selling prices reflect the brand image (manufacturers need to prevent their products from being sold too cheaply)
  • Increase sales with impactful sales promotions

5. Reviews

  • Ensure positive overall product ratings with at least 4 stars (or comparable) across all channels
  • Identify starting points for improvements (by analyzing reviews): in content, products and services

OK, we appreciate that’s a lot of factors! But if you want to make decisions quickly and with confidence, you need vast amounts of up-to-date data – and at high frequency. And if one thing is clear, it’s that you just can’t pull this off manually.

Central System for Product Information

When it comes to digital shelf management, what technical solutions do you actually need? Essentially, just two. The first is a central system to manage all the relevant information relating to your product range. This could be a PIM, ERP or content syndication system which contains technical data, metadata, media, marketing content, prices and so on. Ideally, you should also be able to store user-generated content there too, like customer reviews and questions.

All channels are then supplied with data from the system. When it comes to the company’s own channels and external marketplaces with interfaces, the data is usually exported automatically, while retailers who don’t have a connection receive manual exports or read-only access to the system.

The central product information system ensures that all channels are always provided with correct and up-to-date information, reducing the manual labor involved in data maintenance and exchange.

Correct and up-to-date data play an important role in product presentation. But while at first glance the central content supply seems to largely solve the problem, in reality things aren’t quite so simple. First, automatic data exports rarely work with zero errors. You can’t assume that connected channels will always display the product range fully and correctly. Second, retailers can easily make mistakes when transferring data manually.

Third, to optimize the digital shelf, companies also need additional information (feedback) from the channels. This is where another solution is needed: digital shelf analytics (DSA). DSA allows you to collect this external market data and prep it for in-depth analyses.

Digital Shelf Analytics (DSA)

Digital shelf analytics involves monitoring your digital shelf with the aim of gaining insights into its performance and deriving action points for optimization.

But how does this software solution work in real-world terms? Crawlers regularly trawl online stores, marketplaces, comparison and competitor sites to collect any relevant product data – from price to availability and delivery data, from product attributes to texts and images, rankings for relevant keywords, product reviews and more. This data is then stored centrally and prepared for evaluation.

Dashboards then give category or e-commerce managers an overview of KPIs, the product’s positioning among the competition as well as aspects that could impact the brand image. This makes it so much easier for them to analyze information from the individual channels in depth and compare how they’re doing against the competition.

Screenshot of the MYSTERY SHOPPER dashboard
With our MYSTERY SHOPPER, you automatically monitor and analyze the digital shelf and generate valuable insights for optimizing your product data and increasing your e-commerce performance.

You can set out parameters and arrange to receive automatic notifications in specific cases – say, for example, a product goes offline or out of stock on a channel, the price drops below a certain level or a product gets a series of negative reviews.

Managers can then plan and implement action points to correct errors and systematically optimize product presentation and positioning. You can even arrange for specific actions to trigger automatically should an event occur, like price adjustments.

A DSA solution makes it possible to monitor ranges totaling millions of products across multiple channels. Spare your e-commerce managers hours of time-consuming manual spot checks. Instead, they can focus on their main job: bringing ever-better products to the digital shelf in a way that speaks to their customer base.

Learn more about our MYSTERY SHOPPER digital shelf analytics tool.

Sebastian Klumpp
CEO

I support you in making confident e-commerce decisions through digital shelf analytics.

A woman holds a tablet with a dashboard of XPLN's MYSTERY SHOPPER software solution
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