Zimmerman: The Digital Shelf

By Suzanne Zimmerman, an esteemed E-Commerce Strategic Leader at SGK, dedicated to seamlessly connecting the physical and digital retail spheres. With a focus on optimizing speed-to-market, Suzanne streamlines content creation and packaging workflows, empowering clients to enhance their market presence. For more information, visit https://sgkinc.com/en/



In 2023, global online spending surpassed 20% of all retail transactions, with the fast-moving consumer goods (FMGC) category experiencing an increase of more than 10%. Consumers’ continued gravitation towards online shopping – a trend accelerated by the global pandemic – makes a tailored ecommerce approach essential for brands seeking omni-channel success.

Central to this is the digital shelf, a battleground for visibility and consumer engagement. Unlike traditional shelves in physical stores, the digital shelf encompasses every point online where your products can be found, compared, and purchased.


Understanding The Digital Shelf

A digital shelf is far more dynamic than its physical counterpart. It’s not just about position but also about how your product is presented in various forms – images, descriptions, videos, reviews, and more. Each of these elements plays a crucial role in capturing the attention of online shoppers, who can easily switch from one product to another. On the digital shelf, your product isn’t just competing for space; it’s competing for seconds of attention.


Implementing An Effective Digital Shelf Strategy

At SGK, we have identified five best practices for amplifying an effective digital shelf strategy, the first of which is availability. Online retail algorithms favor products that maintain consistent availability, thereby enhancing their shelf rank and visibility. Poor availability, meanwhile, can cause significant losses. According to a study from Profitero, having high OOS can lead to a 42% decline in brand sales.

Once products are listed, the challenge is to make them discoverable which leads to the second best-practice: findability. A product’s digital shelf copy should be keyword rich with search terms that shoppers would use to find it, including descriptors like flavors or benefits. This applies not only to the title, but also to the feature bullets, product descriptions, and metadata, all of which are key elements of site search optimization, allowing the product to be found more easily due to higher indexing on retailer search rankings.

Images and rich media comprise the third best-practice. Retail partners will expect a minimum standard of images for a product to enable a listing online, but to stand out in a crowded market brands need to focus on optimizing images for mobile (GS1 has developed  guidance for optimizing the presentation of product imagery on small screens) and providing 4-5 supporting images, which can comprise lifestyle shots, product usage, instructions for use and serving suggestions. Adding rich media (videos) and enhanced below the fold content (i.e. A+ or Premium A+) to your product page can help drive conversion.

With 93% of shoppers saying that reviews influence their purchasing decisions, it’s no surprise that our fourth best-practice covers advocacy. According to Mintel, the minimum standard for reviews to garner shopper engagement is 15 positive reviews with an average star rating of 4 stars, although a report from Power Reviews says brands can improve their conversion rate by 65% by adding one review alone.

The final best practice revolves around supporting products with digital and retail media. There are a plethora of options available across the funnel to help accelerate brands’ momentum. It is recommended that brands spend a proportion of their marketing investment as related to their percentage of sales online.


Innovating For The Digital Shelf

To stand out on the digital shelf, brands are also leveraging technology and creativity. Augmented reality, for example, allows consumers to see how the product will look in their space or how it might work, offering a level of interaction that’s impossible with traditional packaging. Digital storytelling is another successful technique, allowing brands to engage consumers with videos, behind-the-scenes tours, or the brand’s history, enriching the online shopping experience.


Maintaining Brand Voice and Consumer Connection

While innovating on the digital shelf, it’s vital that brands maintain their voice and connect with their core consumer base. This means that digital packaging innovations should not only capture attention but also resonate with the brand’s values and messaging. Customization, personalization, and storytelling can all help deepen the consumer’s connection to the brand, ensuring that innovations on the digital shelf align with overall brand strategy.



Ultimately, an effective digital shelf plan is a constant battle that continues to evolve. Consistent monitoring of retail and online performance is integral to staying ahead of the competition and achieving success in a crowded omni-channel marketplace.