Mondelez, Diageo and AB InBev are rethinking the role of commerce in their strategies to exploit how online impacts offline sales as they look to navigate a customer journey that is more complex than ever before.
While shoppers are unlikely to buy individual chocolate bars online, they do expect to have the same personalised experiences as they would in-store. Just 16 per cent of companies currently use digital technologies to maintain the in-store and online relationship with the consumer to drive repeat purchases in the store, according to Forrester.
Bridging this disconnect is a massive undertaking, affecting not just marketing but all parts of the business including logistics and sales. It is why both Mondelez and Diageo made senior e-commerce hires in recent months yet declined to comment due to the fledgling status of their plans.
Why e-commerce only tells part of the cross-channel story
Mondelez’s vice president of global media and consumer engagement Bonin Bough has been tasked with overseeing its digital shopper plans, a clear indication it is just as keen to make its products stand out on the sites of key retailers as they do in their stores. An online ad might direct consumers to a branded site now though in the future they could be pushing them to a retailer’s site.
Bough’s expanded remit is indicative of marketers assuming control of e-commerce from the chief information officer. Previously, it would have been steered by the technologists whereas now companies are realising that online sales could be driven by less direct, brand-building methods. From search to social media, beacons to in-store displays, the breadth of channels is letting brands create more emotional-driven shopping product experiences.
The shift is acknowledged by AB InBev’s pilot beer deliver app, turning what was once a product into a service. Drinkers craving a Bud Light can have between one and 100 cases delivered to their doors within an hour of pressing a button. The brewer is looking at how it incorporates e-commerce into every single digital touch point, always giving shoppers the options to purchase something there and then.
Stephen Clements, executive creative director of AKQA, which developed the app for AB InBev, said: "AB InBev is committed to offering its consumers the right experience based off their behavioural and consumption habits – and launching an e-commerce platform like The Bud Light Button is no different. Based off our recent success, we expect to continue to redefine the category with products and experiences that integrate seamlessly with their lives.
"It’s no secret that people are increasingly looking for ways to streamline the ordering, payment, and delivery experience across a variety of categories. This shift is going to happen regardless - we want to be there to drive it forward, working with retailers to make it as seamless as possible."
Evolving the FMCG / retailer dynamic
FMCG companies have waded warily into the e-commerce pool where online retailers dominate the customer relationship. But the dynamic between the two is becoming more cordial with both realising they need to combine their attempts to overcome the executional challenges of online selling.
The tighter union between FMCG companies and retailers is founded on easing tensions around data. Asda’s plan to compete with traditional publishers with the launch of its own private ad exchange is testament to this, promising advertisers a more direct outlet to reach shoppers with targeted content..
Three quarters of FMCG companies expect improved collaboration with retailers through digital transformation to drive the availability of their products, make the best use of shelf space and trade promotion funds, according to a Forrester study of 75 account directors.
Bernie Segal, managing director for Accenture Interactive UK, said: "If you think about it both reatilers and consumer goods companies are targeting consumers and they’re using that either with coupons or market development funds. To get to the next level we think the two need to share data. We’re moving from a trade marketing world to a consumer marketing one where FMCG companies and retailers work closer together to target content.
"We’re seeing a tipping point where companies are coming to us and saying e-commerce is not an experiment anymore. It’s a full-blown transformation of our business that we need new skills to execute. It shows a willingness to explore new business models. Companies are prepared to transform from product business models into service ones."
It is transformation sparked by companies’ ongoing attempts to connect the cross-channel dots for the promise of improved sales and optimised budgets. Pressure is mounting on marketers to sweat their budgets harder in times of tougher cost controls, forging sustainable cost reductions instead of one-time slash-and-burn exercises.
The winding road to conversion
Jim Herbert, managing partner at DigitasLBi Commerce, which launched earlier this month to help marketers extract retail revenue from their brand experiences, said: "The FMCG sector has realised that the biggest shop front needs to be the web. A lot of retailers and FMCG brands that didn’t rush headlong into e-commerce initially were waiting for the customer spending habits to catch up. Brands don’t just want an e-commerce site now they want to have a joined-up commerce proposition, covering everything from global online storefronts to social commerce as well as in-store."
It is not just FMCG companies looking to harness e-commerce. DigitasLBi Commerce is working with brands including Moneysupermarket.com, Gucci, Barbour and Superdrug, while Accenture Interactive said of the 1,600 hires it will make this year, 450 will go into e-commerce and digital to satiate wider demand.
Ultimately success for FMCG brands won’t be selling one or two products through social media buy buttons, it will be selling millions of products to millions of consumers. Whether that’s through larger bundles, subscription options or just ways to add items into standard weekly online shopping basket, brands are taking a more experience driven approach to e-commerce.