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Digital shelf strategy: 10 best practices

Brands have historically invested enormous resources to gain prime positioning on  retail outlets’ physical shelving, but today, those resources and effort are focusing on optimising their digital shelf management of the ‘virtual’ shelf which encompasses every element of how and where products are displayed online.

Digital shelf strategy differs from basic eCommerce. Think of eCommerce as a racing car – the basic model is OK, but if you turbo-charge it, optimise engine performance, and keep it in tip-top condition, its chances of winning races increase, as does its allure to potential buyers.

Many companies are trundling along in their rusty old basic models and falling behind market leaders. They possess large quantities of product-related data and may even have reporting technology. However, these technologies are in siloed databases, unharnessed, overlooked and underused. Poor digital shelf management means they are not unified to offer the context required to compete on a level playing field. The digital shelf strategist should be equipped to develop long-term plans needed to compare, validate, and connect the inputs from your business intelligence, and transform those inputs into a coherent and deliverable set of KPI-focused measures.

Below are ten key factors for a successful digital shelf strategy, to leverage the technology available, hone competitiveness and boost revenues.

1. Understand your target market

Customer behaviour is evolving rapidly, so having a fix on what’s happening to shopping habits in your market is essential.

As the digital ecosystem becomes more sophisticated, customers are becoming more demanding, and their purchasing processes are no longer linear and predictable. You need to know how to cater, market to, and sell to not only your online audience, but offline too – instore browsing, consulting sales staff, click and collect are still very much alive and kicking, and click-and-mortar requires total conistency of product data, be it required by the customer online or by the instore salesperson.

In broad terms, customers expect:

  • To find and research your products quickly and easily
  • A smooth, seamless shopping experience
  • High-quality and relevant information about the products
  • Convenience – any hassle and they will click onto the next alternative in an instant


Brands offering seamless customer experiences alongside attractive and high-quality product experiences will be the winners on the digital shelf. As omnichannel becomes predominant in B2C, D2C and B2B, so does the imperative to offer top-notch omnichannel product content. 

Your digital shelf strategy needs to reflect evolving habits, so streamlining your offer across all your sales channels makes gaining market share much more feasible.

Download our guide for How to win on the Digital Shelf

2. Use high-quality product data

Product data quality is foundational for a robust digital shelf strategy. The  bar is set high for acceptable quality thresholds, so you must meet or exceed perceived standards in the following dimensions of product data:

  •                 Timeliness
  •                 Relevance
  •                 Consistency
  •                 Accuracy
  •                 Completeness
  •                 Uniqueness – your ‘single version of the truth’  


If your data is substandard, customers will notice very quickly – you lose the sale and you miss out on a potentially loyal repeat customer. Returning to our motor racing analogy, transforming your product data into high-quality, enriched, and consistent product information across all channels puts you at or near the front of the starting grid.

3. Optimise product information

The attractiveness and usefulness of your product content is a significant driver for a successful digital shelf strategy.When customers make purchase decisions, digital shelf optimisation uses your digital assets to craft content to showcase your offering and engage customers. That means enhanced images, videos, instruction and product fact sheets sheets (PDF), and other emerging content options such as augmented reality or 360° product views.

4. Audit product content continuously

The digital shelf strategist should nurture a ‘living’ entity – publishing content is not the final step. 

When you target your market, they interact with your brand and products at various times and places. This should guide your digital shelf strategy concerning how often you update product content. Whether it’s localised consumer habits or responding to competitors’ pricing, ongoing digital shelf optimisation of content ensures it is accurate, and up to date, to take advantage of sales opportunities at any instant. Technology is a great enabler here, as AI-powered alerts and automatic updating makes it unnecessary to manually alter data and input changes, saving time, money, and effort.

Download our guide for How to win on the Digital Shelf

5. Optimise product visibility

Memorable, high-converting digital experiences are pointless if SEO is poor. You want more traffic on each of your channels to take full advantage of your digital shelf strategy.

Digital consumers are impatient when searching for a product online. We do not waste our time scrolling through multiple pages of search engine results, so optimising your ranking is critical.

6. Monitor reviews and ratings

If you want to know what your customers feel and think about your brand and products, ongoing monitoring gives you insight into consumer opinion from the horse’s mouth – reviews and ratings influence an increasing amount of decision-making near to purchase. 

Implement robust review management protocols to react promptly to any warning signs (or unforeseen successes!). Attending to review and ratings trends on your digital shelf must be part of your digital shelf strategy, as it unlocks potential revenue opportunities and nips emerging issues in the bud.

7. Ensure omnichannel consistency

Regarding omnichannel, you outperform conventional business models by using multiple approaches. The key to success is consistency. Be it via mobile (a growing mode of access), laptop, iPad, app, website or 3rd-party marketplace, omnichannel consistency in quality and experience will greatly influence how positively (or not) your brand is perceived across your product pages and throughout your sales channels.

8. Live the customer experience

Product information, content, is foundational for quality customer experience on the digital shelf. If I search for and find you, but then find out that my needs aren’t met, I’ll move onto another seller immediately. My time is valuable, I’m impatient, and let’s face it, there’s no lack of competition. Again, technology can bolster digital shelf strategy. By using a suitably configured Product Information Management solution (a PIM), you can create seamless and responsive product and customer experiences. because your product data is of impeccable quality, as well as being reliable and consistent. Such solutions future-proof strategic goals by using their capabilities to create an infinitely scalable digital shelf.

9. The shelf is digital, but physical shelves haven’t disappeared

Merchants interact with customers via website, video, marketplaces, smart speakers, social media, live shopping, and other channels. Digital shelf optimisation also means managing their entire digital estate as a way to drive improved digital shelf performance.

Many companies still separate on- and offline, and while the primary focus is on increasing online conversions, there has to be linkage with physical stores (and vice versa). Manufacturers, retailers, and distributors must approach this issue holistically, as that’s the only sure way to leverage every single data point to improve sales across every channel.

10. Measuring longer-term success: your KPIs

Finally, know what KPIs you want to monitor frequently to gain the most useful insight into your digital shelf optimisation. Some critical KPIs?

Returns rate – A lot of businesses overlook this costly impediment to success because they fail to connect this rate to the poor quality of their content

Content health – Down to the level of title length, description length, number of bullets for features, and the overall quality of your digital assets (images,  all play critical roles in how your products are discovered, researched, and purchased. Benchmark current performance against that of your competitors.

Volume of traffic – A good indicator of how many visitors interact with your channels and products. Your digital shelf strategist should be looking to discover sources of traffic yet to be exploited, as well as promoting initiatives to gain traffic which converts.

Conversion rate – Just how effectively does your marketing and product content/information compel visitors to actually buy something? Can you optimise cross- and up-sell opportunities? Conversion rate correlates with digital shelf strategy

Search and findability – Deep dive into relevant search terms for your products. Identifying search terms should be a regular and comprehensive process — carried out product by product. Knowing your share-of-search lets you see where you rank on the digital shelf. To boost ranking visibility, use more quantitative and qualitative content which can generate more reviews, and increase click-through rate (CTR).

At Start with Data, we know exactly what makes a great digital shelf because we are in the business of enabling retailers, manufacturers, and distributors to get their product data and processes into tip-top shape and keep them there – that way, they can compete and thrive in today’s competitive digital economy. Devising a winning strategy, selecting or implementing the right platforms managing your product information and systems on an ongoing basis, we’re there to guide and support you. Speak to us to have a more in-depth conversation about your needs.

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