To build your digital shelf strategy, start by building a team

ML will empower your eCommerce team and plans.


Bobby Figueroa,CEO –

As more and more commerce migrates to digital channels, retailers need to adapt their strategy for selling online. Building a successful presence on the digital shelf – where 100 million U.S. shoppers can instantly access an enormous array of products – requires a whole new approach.

When you ask merchants if they have an eCommerce strategy, too many will say, "Well, I sell on Amazon." Respectfully, that's not a complete strategy.It’s one component of a successful plan for selling things online, on the digital shelf.

Crafting a digital shelf strategy requires the formation of a new kind of team, built to drive new kinds of outcomes. We are no longer trying to drive traffic to a store or even to our company webpages and product pages.

In online advertising, a lone digital marketer might own ad creation and placement through search and social campaigns. But the digital shelf strategy is much broader and more precise. We need to surface products across the entire digital shelf and move more quickly to conversion.

That job that requires the collective knowledge of multiple individuals. It requires advanced computer power and expertise to analyze the near infinite number of ways in which products might be presented. Every time someone shops online, they see a different digital shelf.

So, who do we need on our team? We start with some familiar faces, and then we recruit some new ones:

  • Salesperson. This person traditionally drove product presence in physical spaces, and knows that presence is the leading indicator of the sales in any channel.
  • Brand owner, or brand manager. No one understands the brand and its packaging better. This person will have ideas on how to bring the product and it’s value proposition into the digital channel in the most effective way.

Those are the traditional participants on our team, but they need additional help. Given its complexity, and the fact that the eCommerce channel is managed by algorithms and black boxes, the digital shelf, requires the addition of new players.

  • Negotiator. This contributor allows you to manage the discussions and negotiations around presence on the digital shelf. Today, that requires him or her to be the resident expert on technology – building robotic intelligence, that will help talk to the channel, deploying algorithms and machine learning. In fact, this may not even be a person – it might actually be a piece of technology.

In the physical retail world, product presence discussions happen maybe once a month, once a quarter, or even once a year. But at the digital shelf, hundreds of decisions are negotiated every second. The negotiator is a person – or entity – that understands your brands, goals, and specific needs, and will negotiate on a millisecond by millisecond basis.

  • Content expert. In the physical world, this person designs your packaging and brings it to life in conjunction with the brand. But in digital world, a customer often doesn't see your product until it's delivered to its destination. We need digital packaging.That includes your product page, photos of your product, and vivid descriptions. That's how the brand will communicate back to shoppers.

And unlike physical retail, the digital shelf gives you the ability to update all of that content based upon how your product is changing, what you learn new about shoppers. Things that might take months in the physical world can happen instantly in the digital world.

  • eCommerce manager. This is a relatively new role, with expertise that's still being created. This person understands basic channel management, sometimes even without prior experience managing presence in physical stores. It’s also the person who owns the e-commerce strategy, which must be explicitly articulated to activate the digital shelf.

This is a separate role from the manager of the physical channel, though the two might collaborate. The eCommerce manager also requires help from teammate(s) that understand the importance of technology and how to deploy it.

  • Advertising expert. Success at the digital shelf requires expertise in digital marketing as well. This might include knowledge of paid merchandising as we know it in the world of physical retail, which translates into advertising at the digital shelf. Paid listings and organic listings have become our digital merchandising levers, though they are handled and managed very differently online.

This team member often collaborates with the content expert, who helps understand and drive our online presence. But it's the advertising expert that enhances that presence through paid listings of the digital merchandising alternatives.

In fact, successful advertising at the digital shelf may require the cooperation of each team member, because it requires product presence. Other digital advertising elements can point to your own website, or your own product page.But presence at the digital shelf, with dynamic updates across the entire spectrum of channels, is far more complicated.

Fortunately, advancements in technology today enable us to aggregate all of this expertise into comprehensive platforms that can think and react on the fly. We can train those platforms on our brands, and rely on them to make decisions for the ongoing management of every single shelf position presence out there.

If all of this sounds complicated, well, it usually is. Effective marketing at the digital shelf requires a lot of data, computational power, and input from the team we’re assembling, who will need to educate this technology so it knows what we're looking for.

The good news is, it will be worth it.The competitive edge for companies that get the digital shelf right can’t be overstated.The road ahead might seem challenging, but it leads to a more successful and prosperous future. Gradient’s Digital Shelf Solution is the AI that can power your brand’s success.