Commentary

Changing The Channel: How To Navigate E-Commerce Marketing Choices

Recently, a CPG client of ours was lamenting how much more challenging her job has become, due to the sudden emergence of so many new e-commerce vendors, consultants, technologies, etc. She said that she used to think it was tough enough to navigate the digital media landscape, but that e-commerce has made her day-to-day infinitely more difficult because there are just so many channels and platforms to consider. In which space should she make her brand a priority? And how?

I basically agreed with her. The growth opportunity that e-commerce presents brands in almost every category is staggering. Total e-commerce sales in the first quarter of 2018 alone were over $120 billion.

While the addition of options like “Click & Collect,” Amazon Pantry and InstaCart, do not fundamentally change marketers’ goals, the fragmentation of how shoppers research and purchase has required marketers to gain experience with the various forms of e-commerce ASAP.

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Regardless of the platform, regardless of the category and whether your product would ever be bought online (I’m thinking “fresh,” perimeter products here), brands need to be prioritized online by discoverability. Further, they must show up in direct conversion probability, which means that a product has the ability to be sold, in order to compete.

E-commerce has opened up a vast new landscape, which can be overwhelming for marketers determining what aspect to focus on. But the ground beneath that landscape remains the same. So, while yes, a lot has changed, many of traditional shopper marketing principles still apply.

Brands will miss out on consumer research, review comparison, list-making and event planning if they don’t focus on being easily and strategically discoverable with channels like Amazon, Walmart, Kroger and beyond. As a marketer, you would never lack a smart brand strategy for Google-paid SEM efforts. The same needs to be applied to shopping platforms.

Additionally, with all the noise around e-commerce, we cannot forget how important a strategic in-store presence still remains. According to Nielsen, by 2025, e-commerce will comprise 20% of all grocery sales — the largest largest channel for grocery sales, with 50% of the growth in the category overall.

However, it is the other 50% that leads me to temper both client and industry voices that may be beating the drum of an e-commerce revolution.

The balance of growth — the other half — will still be driven by in-store sales. Companies like Walmart can attest to the fact that even in 2018 it’s having the strongest sales in years, largely driven by in-store growth, as reported in their Q2 earnings report.  

With that in mind, when CPG clients express their frustration regarding where and how to focus, I explain that it’s not an either/or choice. Rather, it’s about striking a harmony among multiple channels, without forsaking one for the newest shiny object. The brands that are consistent in their presence, both in-store and online; who are speaking to shoppers in the same way using imagery online that cues in-store; and are realizing that each and every moment of exposure builds on the last—these are the brands that will win.

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