What is digital shelf analytics? Maximize eCommerce sales growth with retail insights

Read our summary of what digital shelf analytics is and why they're an indispensable tool for brand owners looking to grow their category share online.

Presented by: 
Josi Mathar2022

This post has been updated and was originally published September 17, 2020.

What is digital shelf analytics?

Digital shelf analytics (DSA) is a software solution alternative to the manual compilation of retail performance data for brands, manufacturers and consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies.

This software scours the web to pull performance metrics from a range of digital retailer platforms and marketplaces such as Amazon and digital commerce sites such as Tesco, Walmart or Carrefour.

The result? Individuals across teams can see a near real-time stream of information about their online product and category performance with one single tool. Based on this overview, actionable insights can be derived easily and effectively which help teams boost their eCommerce category performance.

Viewing data in this way is a natural progression for many brands that now sell products across a variety of online retailers and channels. As brands increase their online presence and react to the changing consumer purchase patterns many are starting to realize that manually collating data to analyze, monitor and optimize performance on the digital shelf is no longer viable.

The digital shelf is much vaster in scale. Online retailers have a bigger product catalog, potentially more competitors to monitor and a faster-moving landscape as a result of the current boom in eCommerce adoption.

However, the important factors that enabled brands to win in the physical stores absolutely exist in the online landscape. But, just like the physical retail environment has its set of best practices so does the digital shelf. Ultimately, understanding the digital shelf will determine a brand’s future success in the omnichannel.

So how can brands achieve this? To win now and in future, brands need to close the eCommerce skills and knowledge gaps for all managers, not just eCommerce. It’s critical that all teams develop eCommerce capabilities and efficient workflows quickly. Rather than working with select retailers, many successful brands now distribute products to a wide variety of digital commerce spaces including third-party marketplaces. This more complex digital shelf requires automation, giving insight into search rankings, pricing comparisons, product availability, promotions and rating and review information instantly.

Digital shelf analytics helps multiple people across an organization — including brand managers, category managers, account managers and shopper marketing managers — to make actionable decisions. The benefit of having a centralized digital shelf service means all key stakeholders in the business can get access to one source of information, avoiding and reducing data handling errors and delays due to slow manual processes. 

A digital shelf software solution for today’s market is seen as critical for brands to deepen the ties between departments that now need to work together to unlock growth online quickly and at scale.

the-digital-shelf-cast-podcast-efundamentals

Internally gathering data manually is a thing of the past. For many brands who have the ambition to grow category performance in e-commerce digital shelf analytics has become a key tool.

Why is digital shelf analytics so important?

There are three main reasons why digital shelf analytics are so important; we’ll go into each in more detail:

  1. Saves time over manually compiling data
  2. Improves analytical accuracy 
  3. Helps drive higher conversion 

Unsurprisingly, DSA’s biggest benefit is the time saved manually compiling data. Where it was once commonplace to gather data and compile it in a spreadsheet, many brands now see this as inefficient — preferring to spend this time on other, more important activities like taking action based on informative data.

As the compilation of manual data becomes too time-consuming, resource-heavy and slow, top-tier brands with an expanding digital shelf may find it impossible to work without a digital shelf analytics provider.

For these brands, DSA is a scalable option that supports fast growth and expansion. However, there is more than one benefit of partnering with or switching to a digital shelf analytics provider.

The second benefit of DSA is the ability to improve analytical accuracy and, ultimately, your understanding of your online performance across the digital shelf.

Automated data is void of human error, and it is constantly updating, providing you with a real-time snapshot of where your products sit in comparison to competitors’. The fluidity of this data makes it easier to spot trends, survey price changes and make data-driven decisions. Rather than focusing on a static document, DSA presents an ever-changing flow of accurate information that better suits the fast-paced nature of digital commerce.

This improvement in analytical accuracy also serves to increase the accuracy of product content. DSA acts as a highly effective mechanism to audit and measure products ensuring your product range is uniform across all digital channels and meets set standards.

Getting your digital shelf product content correct drives higher conversion rates and gives you better product discoverability, such as ensuring your product shows up in search results. This hints at the third benefit of DSA: being able to better serve your digital customers.

Unlike customers in physical retail stores, digital shoppers are accustomed to being able to access lots of information throughout their buyer journey. They may consider several things when weighing up the prospect of one product against another — including rating scores, review content, product imagery, product descriptions, promotions and pricing. In the digital space, customers don’t have to trawl from store to store to collect this information, they can view it with a click. For this reason, they’re quick to get frustrated with missing data or inconsistent messaging across different channels.

Accurate product content is the key to building digital shopper trust, and it is often the thing that moves the needle, giving you a sale, as opposed to your competitors.

Digital shoppers expect predictability when it comes to your product. They’re looking for things like identical specifications across different sites and a consensus when it comes to shopper feedback. Any inconsistency can cause shoppers to question the information they’ve previously read about your brand, effectively taking their buyer’s journey back to square one.

Digital shelf analytics helps you to track these inconsistencies, flagging them at the earliest opportunity. This can help your brand to remain compliant, and — in a wider sense — it improves your digital image, acting as a great way to optimize your digital shelf.

Digital shelf analytics also has a cross-functional role to play in serving your physical customers. When it comes to new product launches digital channels can be more effective in providing early indicators on product success or market fit. Customer ratings and reviews help your brand, sales and commercial teams act fast and make adjustments to deliver better product offerings and purchase experiences.

Lastly, DSA empowers you to track digital performance with fully visualized category data insights. Information that would once have been missed (or only available through purchase) in the manual process is now accessible at all times. These intricate insights work to give you a better picture of your entire digital shelf and how it’s performing. The right digital shelf provider will give you a full category view, ensuring you see not just your products but all that reside in your category across each retailer. Seeing the complete category story enables teams with far more effective decision making through a more informed data set.

What data does digital shelf analytics provide?

DSA applications are critical to online success-focused brands because of the variety and depth of category data they can monitor. Data falls under six broad categories:

Search  Understand how your products rank by keywords and across your retailers measuring and optimizing your share of search
Product content Ensure content compliance and measure accuracy across your product detail pages
Pricing & promotions Ensure competitive pricing and strategic promotions, also be adjust pricing strategies based on historical data
Retail media   Tracking banner ads and promotions ensures you’re getting what you’ve paid for in your joint business plans
Ratings & reviews Let’s you analyze shopper sentiment for new products, optimize ratings to influence ranking and purchase behavior
Availability Daily visualized stock availability reporting allows for better eCommerce supply chain and stock management
Assortment Let’s you recognize opportunities to drive value with the right mix of product, pack, price, and promotion 

With all this, digital shelf analytics platforms show category-specific insights that are otherwise impossible to manually retrieve and regularly update. What’s more, you’ll gain intelligence not only for your own SKUs but also for your direct category competitors. Each type of data provides actionable insights for brands to use to their advantage.

Search 

Search data –– sometimes known as product visibility or search performance –– ensures that your optimized product is shown. You’ll see information about ranking both in terms of sponsored product positions and organic product positions, allowing you to make an informed decision about which retailer promotions are necessary. Ranking can help to contextualize other data, such as your sales figures, explaining why you might have seen a dip in revenue if your position for a given search term is falling. 

“One of the data points we often share with CPG clients is that 35% of products added to basket come through search. What’s more, position on page is everything. A huge 60% of all adds-to-basket from search are from the first four positions, and 70% of all products added to basket from search come from the first page of results.” Stephanie Rubin, VP General Manager North America

Understanding how each of your retailers rank products is key to unlocking visibility to your customer, ensure taxonomy listings are accurate and you appear in named search terms your shoppers use. 

Ratings & Reviews

Ratings & reviews help new product ideation, and they allow you to improve upon existing products. You can analyze brand feedback to improve a shopper’s perception of your brand, and you can also review a competitor’s shopper feedback to spot opportunities where you can fulfill a demand that isn’t already being met. Aggregation of feedback data helps spot potential commercial issues in your product ranges. Lastly, shoppers pay attention to volume and recency of reviews.  According to PowerReviews latest insights " 86% of shoppers feel that review recency is more important when considering a product or brand they haven’t purchased before and nearly half (44%) of consumers want to be able to find reviews written within the past month."

Product content 

Product data refines shopper perception, ensuring that a buyer is satisfied with the information that they find during the research stage. Product data spans from basic things, such as having uniform product titles, to advanced rich media, like 360 videos. For more advanced platforms, product data will also show product availability so you can expertly manage supply.

Pricing & promotions

Promotion is linked closely to price, but DSA allows you to monitor this separately. Keeping up to date with percentage discounts helps you to stay competitive even across multiple platforms and geographies. Promotional data might be monitored more closely during a seasonal period or holiday to ensure you can match your closest competitors when it comes to lucrative events such as Black Friday or Back to School. Understanding promotional activity in your category also helps identify availability challenges for you or your competitor. Did they run a promotion that found them out of stock? Did that competitor promotion ultimately benefit your sales (or vice versa)?

Assortment

Insights on assortment put you in a real advantage against competitors - it’s one of your key levers to align (and influence) retailer strategies. Seeing the number of SKUs being listed across retailers helps you analyze your share of SKUs in the category and benchmark versus fair share. This data can then support new product listings and assortment recommendations to in turn influence your share of both the digital and physical shelf.

Availability

Supply chain issues further increased the need for CPGs to monitor product availability on the digital shelf.  Automated, daily insights help you mitigate the risk of out of stock and delisting, and disappointing your shoppers. You’ll get notified in time about lock stock levels so you can focus on fine tuning strategy and take action based on insights. Being out of stock has several knock-on effects that are different from the brick and mortar environment: 39% of U.S. consumers switched brands when their searched-for online product was out of stock.

Retailers trying to prevent shoppers from leaving their site or apps are quick to supplement your product with ‘the next best thing’ which, most likely, will be your competitor’s brand. Delisting have a ripple effect on your search rankings also which in turn affect your entire share of search in your category. Having detailed stock availability monitoring as part of your digital shelf analytics software is a must.

Digital shelf analytics platforms should be built to help you make sense of the data easily so you can act fast, keep track of performance and stay ahead of competitors.

So what makes for a good digital shelf analytics platform? Intuitive dashboards, tailored to the needs of individuals with a focus on driving your growth at speed and scale.

How to use digital shelf analytics

Some digital shelf analytics software systems can overwhelm those used to manually compiling and analyzing sets of data, but with e.fundamentals, you get intuitive data visualized around your role and you’ll get the unrivaled expert support of our customer success team.

We’ll help you to get the clear actions needed to make the best decisions to meet your commercial goals. With e.fundamentals, data is configured around your needs. We take the complex data sets and data gathering away from you (or, if preferred, you can connect the data to your data lakes to perform advanced analytics) so there are no barriers to focusing on performance.

The first step is to compile data for all channels, making sure every retailer you work with is captured. This tailors the data you receive to your commercial needs and removes any “blind spots”. Most DSA systems support all major online retailers and marketplaces, meaning you’ll finally be able to view all of your online activity in one dashboard. However, not every digital shelf analytics vendor will give you a full category view. You need this to make strategic, cost-effective decisions and to influence retailer strategies.

Once you’re successfully automating data, you’ll need to decide which metrics are most important in helping you to achieve your commercial goals. Different teams may be in charge of different data sets — such as a shopper review sub-team or an innovation team — or you may have a specific metric to focus on for the quarter. Either way, setting specific goals allows you to zoom in on what’s important and use the incoming information to your advantage. This is the process of selecting certain insights to watch so that your analysis can be streamlined and made more effective. e.fundamentals customer success team will ensure key team members see the data and insights that are relevant to them.

When moving across to a digital analytics system, the sheer amount of data available can be overwhelming. Not simplifying your approach –– or not having an approach when it comes to analysis –– is where most people fail. Our customer success team will discuss with the relevant team how they’ll use these newfound insights, and avoid people feel bombarded by them. Technology and large sets of data won’t deliver effective results, having the correct digital shelf strategy and ways of working will ensure effective execution that caters for performance growth.

No matter which metrics you choose to measure, you’ll need to keep a close eye on competitive data. Filtering data and producing automated reports within DSA software helps with this process. A provider that can help you ingest data so that it caters to your internal teams’ needs is critical, something e.fundamentals has experience in doing for its global clients.

Lastly, you’ll need to do some groundwork to make sure digital shelf analytics is an effective tool. Investing in DSA software doesn’t guarantee digital shelf success –– although it makes it easier. Instead, you’ll need to learn how to make use of the platform just as you would with manually compiled data sets. This means putting together effective ways of working so you and your team can respond to insights. The e.fundamentals approach is to engage the wider business and deliver the training and frameworks needed to support your eCommerce strategy inside and outside of the tool.

What happens when your competitor’s promotional data is stronger than your own? How do you tackle discrepancies in product content? What do you do about slipping ratings and reviews?

If you learn how to integrate digital shelf analytics into your existing workflow, you’ll quickly start seeing progress. The time spent gathering data can be better spent responding to it, taking a profit-focused action and learning more from your customers.

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