Article

Andrew Watts
Andrew Watts 30 October 2017

Understanding how to make products stand out in the cluttered e-commerce arena

Major e-commerce platforms, from Tesco.com to Amazon, don’t make things easy for brands. Restrictions are rife on how they can be displayed. Essentially, the same tough rules that apply in-store are also in place online, with the retailer limiting media opportunities and real estate - and most definitely holding the balance of power.

E-commerce: a huge opportunity, but so often a disappointment.

Brand marketers charged with securing ever-higher revenues through online sales platforms are wrestling with profound problems.

Firstly, e-commerce marketing and sales techniques are in their infancy. Think back to how much trial and error the Mad Men of advertising or the founding fathers of direct marketing went through before honing their disciplines. While CMOs get to grips with the plethora of approaches that digital brings, Consumers often default to the current brand of choice and sales opportunities leak away.

Major e-commerce platforms, from Tesco.com to Amazon, don’t make things easy for brands. Restrictions are rife on how they can be displayed. Essentially, the same tough rules that apply in-store are also in place online, with the retailer limiting media opportunities and real estate - and most definitely holding the balance of power.

Secondly, brands remain unsure how to optimise their own direct-to-consumer operations. It’s a similar tale of a nascent industry experimenting with the tactics and technology which will shift stock in the most convenient way for the consumer, and prove the most profitable method for the brand.

Standing out online is the e-commerce equivalent of climbing Mount Everest. Differentiation is difficult; some brands run as many banner ads as possible, others blast out email offers to drive traffic, still more sponsor small corners of the grocery platforms. The fact remains, once the shopper arrives, they will still be faced with rows and rows of largely indistinct products.

What, then, is the answer to this conundrum? How can brands make the most of the undoubtedly vast e-commerce opportunities available to them?

We believe the starting point is understanding what drives people’s behaviour along the digital purchase journey.

While price and need will always be significant in consumers’ purchasing decisions, they’re not the only factors that influence sales. We are all hardwired to go through a series of mental shortcuts that help us justify a purchase decision, whatever the category.

To comprehend consumer behaviour, brands and retailers could benefit from investing in understanding the science of heuristics. There are 128 heuristics and, working with Durham University Business School, we have identified the nine most relevant to purchase decisions. We call these Sales Triggers. They provide a framework which makes behavioural science usable, shaping messaging and marketing calls to action, helping brands and retailers sell.

There are three main digital environments that a brand can use to drive traffic to e-commerce sales: their website, digital media and social channels. By mapping your brand’s key values and benefits to consumer purchase behaviour, each of these digital environments can leverage different Sales Triggers, for example:

  • Brand Budgeting: This Sales Trigger could be used to frame price in a way that justifies purchase. For example, “For only 25p one small pot of yoghurt brand X contains a third of your child’s daily calcium needs.”
  • Social Proof: The way product reviews are presented on social media channels can also be very effective in driving traffic. Nielsen research identified that 92% of consumers believe recommendations from friends and peers over all forms of advertising.
  • One Key Thing: Reinforces a prominent feature, as people overestimate information that easily comes to mind, influenced by recent events. The “shot on iPhone 6” ad campaign extolling the device’s excellent camera is a great example.

Our creative messaging research with Durham University - resulting in a report that will examine triggers for hypothetical cheese, chocolate and tea brands, which can be applied across multiple categories - will go a long way to proving that each channel should be treated separately. The old model of relying on one umbrella idea to sit across all media environments is no longer relevant.  

We have demonstrated this through our work on a digital ‘shop-in-shop’ for Samsung. It was developed exclusively to feature in more than 50 electrical retailers’ e-commerce platforms. We designed and built immersive content to clearly demonstrate the key features of the Samsung TV/AV range, simplifying consumer choice and guiding them through a considered purchase. The results have been impressive, driving significant online sales. Interestingly, Waitrose and Morrisons are now in the vanguard of retailers testing out shop in shops online.

We’ll unveil our research, exploring the triggers and their benefits for FMCG brands, in an event this autumn. For brands, our creative testing research will help prove that other factors besides price can drive e-commerce sales.

For retailers, this approach will open new ways to market listed brands, notably in the crowded impulse category. And for the all-important customer, choice reduction will be real, and online grocery shopping an infinitely easier and more enjoyable experience.

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