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Total Commerce: How Consumer Product Companies Stay Relevant

It’s time to transform to experience brands in today’s era of physical & digital convergence.

Scott Clarke
Scott Clarke

COVID-19 has changed how consumers shop with greater emphasis on digital channels and new drivers of value. With consumer-decision journeys encompassing more touchpoints and increasing in complexity, shoppers will expect consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies to have a consistent presence online and offline. CPGs must deliver meaningful value to consumers to stay relevant, establish a distinct identity, and maintain market positioning. Doing so requires a holistic, full-funnel approach to commerce, including the right balance of distribution channels and tightly integrated routes to markets.

Too often, different channels are siloed across various parts of the business, serving multiple disciplines and constrained by historical organizational fit rather than following today’s omni-channel consumer. These are no longer standalone activities engaging different consumers, so companies need to shift their thinking and design strategies that focus on the consumer across the entire funnel and drive connections at all points along the journey, whether online or offline.

Marketplaces like Amazon and Alibaba are influencing the change, and they are also seizing the opportunity. With more than three in five (63%) of product searches happening on Amazon, these tech giants have contributed to a completely redefined end-to-end shopper journey. As the go-to starting touchpoint within the value chain, these companies are owning brand visibility and delivering the last mile with private labels across an array of categories.

Having a great product and solid retail partnerships is no longer enough to build and maintain strong consumer relationships given the abundance of brand choice that consumers have today. It is time for CPG companies to regain control of the end-to-end consumer journey and deliver seamless experiences that create superior value for consumers regardless of channel. So, in the wake of this new identity crisis, every CPG company must ask: How do we move from product manufacturers to one-face-to-the-consumer experience brands?

Reimagining the end-to-end consumer experience

person looking at floating images

The global pandemic reinforced the need for CPG brands to seek purpose and differentiation through personalized, relevant consumer experiences. As the CPG landscape becomes increasingly competitive and routes to market proliferate, CPG companies will transition from a product focus to a consumer focus and the battlefield will shift from the point-of-sale to the point-of-experience. CPG brands will need to think beyond the product and look to drive consumer loyalty and advocacy by providing highly relevant, context-specific experiences at key moments that matter across the consumer journey.

In reimagining the end-to-end consumer experience, CPG brands must identify opportunities to make a difference in the lives of the people they serve through the products they provide and the content and/or services delivered. They must reflect and realign on their overarching purpose –why do we exist, why do consumers buy from us, what difference do we make, what is our secret sauce? And they must look to leverage data to translate this purpose across the end-to-end value chain, leveraging a deep understanding of the context and circumstances surrounding consumer motivations–including the frustrations, desires, problems and preferences that led the consumer to engage in the first place.

To discover their true identities, CPG brands need to ask these vital questions:
To discover their true identities, CPG brands need to ask these vital questions:
What role should each of my routes to market play and what should my investment be?

How do I win on the virtual shelf?

What role should my brand.com play?

How do I connect offline with online?

How do I create a unified brand presence across channels while leveraging each channel individually?

Total Commerce approach

As shopping is redefined and retailers are increasingly becoming competitors, CPG companies need a holistic approach to address today’s realities and prepare for a rapidly evolving future. A Total Commerce approach integrates and aligns brand.com, partner e-commerce and physical retail to create a holistic and differentiated customer experience.

Brand.com: Play a key role in an integrated shopping experience 

If most consumers are going to Amazon to search for products, does a brand website really matter? The answer is a resounding yes—and perhaps now more than ever. As brands seek to regain control over the shopping journey and establish a stronger relationship with consumers through first-party data, their brand websites are becoming a critical and highly strategic touchpoint.

In a world where consumers discover and experience products most often through intermediaries, it is essential to establish a direct platform to educate, engage and build trust and relevance with existing and potential customers.

But the actual direct-to-consumer model adopted by CPG companies will depend on various factors. First is a deep understanding of the possible motivations for consumers wanting to engage the brand directly (e.g., product discovery, full product information, customization, engaging content, loyalty schemes etc.). Also, companies must consider whether to provide direct-to-consumer e-commerce (D2C), and if so, what D2C e-commerce model to adopt (e.g., digital store, subscription-based, curated marketplace etc.). This will help to determine the future value exchange between brand and consumer.

Hershey’s successfully created a direct-to-consumer platform. The company’s D2C store spans all of its brands, with a focus on gifting, bundles and seasonal exclusives that distinguish the store from other routes to market. The site also connects to individual brand sites for effective cross-sell.

Partner e-commerce: Make your brand stand out on the virtual shelf

E-retailers account for significant revenue as they increasingly become a key driver of product awareness and consideration. But how can you get the most from these partnerships?

The key to driving offline and online sales is to optimize your presence across e-commerce sites and own the brand experience, even though sales are happening on third-party platforms. Know who you are selling through and what you want to sell through this partner. Packaging and merchandising strategy may differ depending on the partner. How should content be tweaked to show up better in search? Should products be grouped versus sold individually? These decisions will vary depending on whether you are selling to a once-a-week shopper on Tesco versus a bulk item shopper on Amazon. 

Creating and optimizing content can increase visibility during common product searches and generate new sales conversions. Understanding how a consumer shops for a particular kind of product will be critical to create the right product description and appear on top of search results, while attractive brand imagery will play a key role in driving up conversion.

"Make your brand stand out on the virtual shelf"

Unilever is producing enhanced brand content for a range of e-commerce retailers to improve its Amazon ranking by investing in their higher-priced product range, such as Love Beauty and Planet. From July 2018 to January 2019, the top-selling Love Beauty and Planet product increased its rank in Amazon’s top 100 best-selling body cleansers, moving from 97 to 57.

Retail: Maximize traditional offline sales

Despite growth in online sales, traditional retail channels will drive a large share of sales for many years to come. Even so, Forrester reports that 53 percent of offline purchases are directly influenced by digital—a figure that will grow to 58 percent by 2023.

These statistics underscore why brick-and-mortar sales are critical, but also the importance of leveraging digital tactics to drive offline sales. CPG companies need to use digital to connect the path to purchase, integrate online and offline experiences, guide consumers through the purchase funnel and turn shoppers into brand advocates. Use digital channels to drive mental availability and encourage impulse purchases. Integrate on-and offline experiences without friction, augment the physical experience with digital tools and incentivize offline consumers to extend relationships with the brand after purchasing.

Consider all the consumer touchpoints—digital and not. Capture data about the consumer: what do they buy, when and on what channel? Create an experience map to determine how the brand can recognize a consumer when they move from channel to channel and determine how to deliver greater value at every touchpoint.

"CPG companies need to use digital to connect the path to purchase, integrate the online and offline experience and turn shoppers into brand advocates.

Pampers is maximizing omnichannel sales through its loyalty program that rewards customers wherever they buy (online and offline, direct or through partners). Through the Pampers Rewards app, customers scan codes found in product packaging to get rewarded with discounts and access to exclusive products from a range of partners.

The path forward

In the future, there will be no such thing as e-commerce or retail commerce–it will all just be “Commerce.” Online will drive offline, offline will drive online, and consumers will be active in multiple channels–often in the context of a single shopping journey. CPG companies will begin to embrace consumer-first, Total Commerce strategies, where consumers can–at a minimum –engage the brand universally and continuously. This will require rethinking the alignment and integration of channels to regain control of the shopping journey, create a differentiated brand identity and establish a stronger relationship with consumers.

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Scott Clarke
Scott Clarke
Vice President, Retail and Consumer Products, EMEA & APAC