More than 200 ecommerce industry leaders with gather in Chicago on November 3 for the Online and Digital Grocery Summit. Hosted by My Digital Shelf, the summit brings together retailers and consumer packaged goods brands to discuss topics such as omnichannel selling, digital advertising, brand strategies, Amazon, global selling, and more.
Sarah Kingham, director of My Digital Shelf, took some time to talk with me about the upcoming event.
What prompted you to start My Digital Shelf?
Sarah: A couple of years ago I was watching the news about the big four retailers in the UK – Tesco, ASDA, Morrisons, and Sainsbury’s – losing out to Aldi and Lidl, which are the discount retailers from Germany. Even though the big four started to lose some of their share in the market, their online sales were still on the rise.
I thought it was really interesting to see that shift to the online store. This prompted me to have a closer look at the online channel and I came to believe that digital is really the way forward now. Everyone’s using their phones, ordering stuff online.
What I noticed is that the grocery industry was not as far ahead as maybe fashion and electronics. There was no forum that brought together retailers and brands to discuss collaborative methods to optimizing the online channel.
Have any key themes or trends emerged as you put together the program for this year’s summit?
Sarah: Definitely. One major theme is how ecommerce fits into the overall omnichannel strategy or growth strategy. How significant is the online channel for a brand moving forward in the digital era? How does ecommerce fit into omnichannel, and how can all of the channels become more integrated?
Another key theme has been the relationship between the retailer and the supplier. How can brands improve their relationship with the retailer? How can they ensure that shoppers are able to see their products, and that they’re making the most out of the supermarket websites?
We’ll also hear a lot of case studies from CPG brands. Apart from what they can do with their retailers, brands are equally as interested in learning what their competitors are doing. For example, they want to understand how other brands are launching new products in the online channel, how they’re driving their existing product range in the online channel, and any tips that they can learn from them.
We have quite a few more brands at the event this year than we did last year. We have AB InBev, Colgate Palmolive, Nestle Waters, Kellogg’s, WellPet, and Ferrara Candy Company, so we’ve got quite a few CPG brands that are presenting this year. Last year, I think they felt it was just too soon for them to be sharing any insight, so it’s great to have a lot of CPG brands perspectives this year.
You had mentioned that grocery brands tends to be behind other industries like fashion or electronics when it comes to selling online. What do you mean by that?
Sarah: As their products are selling, the brands are chasing after and doing what they can do to improve their listings.
That’s a very different approach than saying, “We are going to now prioritize the online channel and see what happens, and then our sales are going to go up.” The sales are on the rise and now they’re catching up.
I definitely see CPG companies paying more attention to ecommerce. Last year, different companies sent one or two people. This year it’s maybe three or four individuals coming from each company, with slightly different job roles. There’s quite a variety of job roles now, as compared to last year – ecommerce, marketing, category management, shopper insights, and consumer insights. Internally, the brands are understanding the importance of working more as a team.
What attention do you see brands giving content?
Sarah: I think retailer websites are still quite restrictive with what brands can do. It’s not as advanced as fashion where you can have catwalks or mini videos. I feel with the grocery sector, both in the UK and in the US, content is still quite basic. This has partly to do with the fact that people really know what they want. If I just want some Colgate toothpaste, I’m going to go and purchase that regardless of what the description says.
But it’s also partly because there hasn’t been enough experimentation with different ideas, like having embedded videos and those kinds of things. I definitely think that there’s a lot more that can be done in that sector.
You’ve spoken in the past about the importance of finding collaborative methods to succeed online. Do you see most of the push for collaboration coming from brands, or from retailers?
Sarah: I think there’s more of a push from retailers to collaborate financially, and then there’s more of a push for experimentation from brands.
There are going to be several retailers speaking at this year’s event. Is there any specific retailer that have been of special interest to attendees?
Sarah: Yeah, definitely some of the newer online wholesale retailers, like Jet.com and Boxed Wholesale. It will be interesting to learn more about this wholesale model and how it compares to retailers like FreshDirect (which has more of a subscription model) and Sam’s Club (that has more of a warehouse model). It will be great to compare the different ways in which retailers work. It’s going to be really interesting.
Walgreens is also an interesting retailer for this year, because it’s more on the health and beauty but also has grocery items.
Amazon has been promoting its Amazon Prime Now service, which is heavily mobile focused. Have you seen US grocery brands embracing mobile?
Sarah: Facebook has announced advertising specifically for their mobile app, which seems to have been really well received. There are definitely a lot of platforms now that are having advertising and merchandising opportunities for brands that are focused on mobile.
Overall, the amount that brands are spending on mobile has significantly increased, because they know that a lot of people now are shopping on their mobile. Even if they’re not using phones to shop, then they’re searching on their mobile, so everything needs to be optimized for the mobile site.
For the grocery sector, there’s not as much as a shift for mobile that there has been, maybe, in other sectors like I mentioned, fashion and electronics, that are more established.
Those were all the questions I had. Thank you so much. We are looking forward to the conference.
Sarah: Yes. I’m also so happy to share that the event itself has doubled in size, which is really great news. We will see you in Chicago.
Click here to find out more about the Online & Digital Grocery Summit in Chicago.