Working Lunch Report: is content key to effective commerce?

The Ecommerce Club’s July 16th Working Lunch London, hosted by Demandware, took at look at the role of content in effective ecommerce. Content can play a vital role in providing a unified customer experience, leveraging customers as a single set, no matter where or how they interact with the brand.

In 2014 Demandware worked closely with L2 to develop its report Content and Commerce 2014. The key finding of the research was that the tipping point of digital influence has been reached: in 2012 14 per cent of decisions were influenced by digital but by 2014 that figure reached had 50 per cent. That makes online a key battleground for retailers everywhere.

Battleground may seem like a strong word, but average order values are down following the recession – in the US, UK, Germany and France average order values are down 13 per cent. In a world where $1 of every $2 spent online in the US is spent on Amazon (a company which operates with a margin of only 4 per cent) how are today’s smaller brands supposed to compete?

Where brands have an opportunity to differentiate is on customer experience. History has shown that there are always some consumers prepared to pay more for a better experience, but that means brands must focus on what that better experience might mean.

Jamie Merrick, Head of Industry Insight, Demandware, believes that one of the central lessons that should be learned is the need to remove the divide between content and commerce, and ensure that the brand provides its customers with an integrated experience.

Content should always be doing one of two key things: driving conversions or building brand equity at scale. Content can not only encourage consumers to buy at different points throughout the customer journey, but if the customer is not yet ready to buy, it can help build confidence and brand loyalty, particularly in a multi-device and multi-channel world.

In order to achieve this content must be managed appropriately, ensuring that great content is visible to users. No consumer should be asked to choose between shopping or consuming content. The right content in the right place can help overcome hurdles in the buying process.

Site content can be broken down into a number of different areas, and the value of each will need to be addressed and analysed in different ways for different brands. Analysis shows that successful brands use content in four ways, and each of these can be improved by integrating the commerce and content experience:

  • Blogs and microsites: make them shoppable, integrating buy buttons
  • Video and tutorials: connect these to sales, integrating content throughout the shopper journey, and integrating the experience on and offline. Lush does this well with Rituals, a video gift card
  • User generated content: UGC can create uplift in purchases (in apparel consumers who see UGC around apparel are 6.4 times more likely to purchase). The central question here is whether the UGC should be direct or created
  • Guided selling: this can enable the customer to find the right product in a simple and engaging way

Of course generating content provides a number of challenges to any brand. The first challenge lies in understanding what content is available, experiential or practical – are we talking catalogue details, product reviews, competitions, guidance or even entertainment? There are resource constraints (both time and money), as well as the need to ensure the quality of the content. Then of course there is the organisational challenge. Strong differences remain within most organisations about responsibility for brand marketing, for sales and finding a way to create a holistic approach can be difficult.

The value of different types of content may differ for different brands. Some content can be measured quantitatively through page views or time on site, and qualitatively through increasing engagement and involvement with the brand. Every brand may need to set its own KPI’s for content, matching with the requirements of that particular brand.

KPI’s for content may well need to be different, or at least more flexible, than direct conversion numbers. Even the term conversion can mean different things: increase in customers, level of orders or even number of orders. What matters is how each brand chooses to evaluate the impact of its content.

There is little question however that integration between content and commerce is growing. Demandware’s work with Pinterest on its buy buttons indicates the trend in the market towards integration. As this trend accelerates, content will need to be extended across channels and be personalised, as it does drive more conversions.

In the end, a brand has got to get its content right and fully integrated into its commerce. In order to do that it’s important to develop a content strategy and to get that right, Merrick says, it’s necessary to remember to think about the customer; the need to collaborate and co-locate; the need to contextualise (to ensure relevance) and the need to correlate. Get the 4 C’s right and you’re well on your way to optimising your commerce.