As the world continues to endure an elongated pandemic and the lingering uncertainty of what’s ahead, we can be certain about one thing: Commerce marketing (aka shopper, omnicommerce or omnichannel marketing, depending on your organization’s nomenclature) has permanently changed.

No question the rapid growth of grocery e-commerce is driving these changes and, while home delivery still comes at a premium and will somewhat normalize, shoppers will continue to embrace other options, such as click-and-collect, and adopt lasting hybrid online/in-store shopping behaviors. Nearly two-thirds of shoppers will continue to use curbside pickup and 37% will continue to use delivery services post-COVID, according to Kantar.

Retailers and brands that don’t deliver fluid experiences that allow shoppers to buy when it’s most convenient will not be able to own these hybrid behaviors or purchases — shoppers buying from multiple channels within a retailer’s ecosystem spend up to 20% more compared to in-store-only shoppers, according to Symphony Retail AI.

Understanding the following imperatives will help brands partner with retailers to amplify a brand’s equity and retailers’ category sales to drive conversion and, ultimately, create lasting and personalized connections with shoppers:

Work “data back” to understand the shopper. The term “shopper back” (or “shelf back”) has been a common planning approach within commerce marketing. It’s based on the idea that to effectively drive purchase conversion you must understand how a shopper perceives your product at the point of purchase. This concept is still very important, especially as consumers are faced with even more channels to shop, but the key to understanding any shopper barriers to purchasing a product starts with using data to effectively target engagements that help shoppers overcome these barriers.

The rapid growth of retail media networks has presented manufacturers with first-party point-of-sale data that is closer to shoppers than ever before. New and upcoming offerings from retail media networks, like Walmart’s partnership with The Trade Desk, will offer new attribution methods to understand shopping behavior outside of a retailer’s ecosystem. Brands should consider these data sets as the starting point for understanding how a shopper behaves in a category, then work outward by overlaying second- and third-party data farther away from the point of purchase.

Recognize creativity and technology are inseparable. Creativity and technology have converged as sales conversions are taking place across multiple locations in the physical and digital arenas. Shoppers expect experiences that are easy, quick and shaped by their contextual use. At the same time, effective creative engagements increasingly also act as sales channels.

Social commerce and livestreaming are great examples of new ways to engage shoppers while replicating the “browsing” experience in physical stores. While many of these events take place on platforms like Instagram and Facebook, retailers are quickly adopting livestreaming and hosting these buying events on their websites, creating interesting partnership opportunities with manufacturers. Livestream shopping events are expected to nearly double this year to $11 billion in 2021, according to Coresight Research.

Other tactics such as conversational media units that use artificial intelligence to direct shoppers to the product and retailer that best meet their needs or shoppable recipe content are examples of ways to create seamless engagement. These new applications benefit both retailers and shoppers, allowing shoppers to experience products on their own terms while simultaneously gaining context-rich data that can be mined for future insights.

Understand shoppers’ evolved perceptions of value. Seventy-five percent of U.S. consumers tried a new buying behavior in 2020 in response to economic pressures, store closings and changing priorities. During the same period, 36% of U.S. consumers tried a new brand, with 73% of those who switched intending to incorporate the new brands into their routine, according to McKinsey. Convenience, value and availability were the reasons most cited for switching brands, but unpacking these reasons shows “value” does not mean just price or discounts.

Search trends have shown terms like “top” and “best” rising, while other terms, like “price,” “discount” and “promotions,” are declining or remaining constant. Searches based on culture, diversity and sustainability have also risen, a trend supported by a May 2021 Stifel and Morning Consult survey showing 71% of U.S. adults ages 18 to 55 care more about product sustainability versus a year ago. Highlighting other aspects of a brand’s value proposition is nearly as important as price, and commerce marketers should adjust communication accordingly to help shoppers choose products based on factors most relevant to them.

Unify always-on, promotional and trade marketing activity. As e-commerce buying behavior has accelerated, marketers are embracing a full-funnel approach that recognizes brand building and performance marketing activity must be planned and executed together. We can apply a microcosm of this to commerce marketing by balancing always-on marketing activity (digital shelf content, search campaigns and product listings optimized for a retailer’s ecosystem), promotional activity within a specific period and, with retailer media networks now commanding a large share of marketing budgets and retailer focus, trade activity.

Marketing and sales teams need to understand when shoppers are migrating between retailers and manage logistics to ensure product availability, especially as supply chains continue to be challenged and retailer search algorithms penalize a product’s ranking in a shopper’s search results if the item is consistently out of stock. Organization structures are also evolving, as always-on activities like content and digital shelf management move from being owned by siloed e-commerce Center of Excellence teams to core sales and marketing teams. By taking a more unified approach to all commerce activity, more effective trade-offs can be made while ensuring execution agility.

Leverage audience targeting to connect experiences across retailers. Effective commerce marketing programs spanning multiple retailers often start with a core engagement idea tied to a brand or seasonal initiative. The core idea is then customized for specific retailers based on the dynamics of a retailer’s category and shoppers. This construct still applies, but data and targeting now take an outsized role in shaping how a brand’s commerce campaign is connected across retailers and how shoppers are engaged. The proliferation of retailer media networks’ first-party data allows brands to be more surgical about how, where and when a message is delivered to target shoppers, along with more precise purchase attribution. Developing this targeting framework becomes nearly as important as the marketing message itself.

Today, a shopper may search for a specific item or category online or be exposed to an ad, then be directed to that item’s product detail page rather than visiting a store where she might be intercepted on the way to the shelf. Without effectively understanding how a target shopper navigates a retailer’s ecosystem (and how those behaviors also align with a brand’s targets), plus the context in which a target is receiving messages, a brand will miss out on these purchase opportunities.

Strategically use fulfillment to drive trial and loyalty. If a product promises ease and convenience but it’s challenging to find and buy it, is the brand delivering on its promise? Understanding what criteria and occasions shoppers are prioritizing when they are searching for your product and category is the starting point to strategically use fulfillment options as marketing levers.

For some routine products and categories, offers encouraging subscription-based shopping behavior might be more relevant versus categories where shoppers regularly switch between products and categories. For these categories, even executing simple tactics like associating faster delivery options with more premium items and slower options with commoditized categories could reinforce a product’s premium positioning and drive trial or trade-up.

Commerce marketers who effectively blend these six new imperatives to design new and meaningful experiences — experiences that have been lost as some shoppers go in-store less frequently — will spark a personalized and emotional connection with the shopper.

Advantage Solutions

Bryant Ross
Senior Vice President, Commerce Strategy + Acceleration
Advantage Solutions

Bryant Ross is a part of Advantage's Strategy + Integrations executive team, working across Advantage’s commerce and performance marketing agencies to curate custom client solutions blending data, performance media, creative and business transformation solutions.