E-commerce 2022: Back to basics – by VMLY&R Commerce’s Hemal Soni and Cristina Mas

VMLY&R Commerce’s Hemal Soni and Cristina Mas go back to basics with a look at the essentials of e-commerce

By Hemal Soni, group account director, and Cristina Mas, senior planner, VMLY&R Commerce

With the boom of e-commerce, it is almost every marketer’s priority to have a strong digital presence. However, digital marketing, whilst a standard ingredient of most marketing campaigns, is not the same as it once was. There is no doubt all brands should be present in the digital space, either to facilitate conversion, strengthen your relationship with your audience or simply build brand awareness. There are infinite scenarios in which being online can help your business grow, but whatever you choose to do should be worked through intentionally. 

Adopting and implementing the right digital strategy is a task. There are several brands that already ‘do digital’ well and are highly referenced as best-in-class (Careem, Cafu, Washman, InstaShop, etc.). Yet, when we come across something that looks simple and seamless it is hardly ever a result of a quick and dirty execution. Good e-commerce should always feel seamless and smooth; however, this doesn’t necessarily mirror the journey to get there. 

As commerce partners, we often receive briefs on ‘optimising digital presence’, and one of the relatively efficient ways of closing the loop is optimising presence and performance on social. Social platforms present a great landscape to reach new audiences, innovate or refresh your identity and convert audiences within the same platform. Particularly on social, it is important to map out the role of the brand for the channel, and not simply be present for the sake of being present. 

Always starting with the objective is key and understanding the value your brand is meant to provide for your audience. A good commerce and social strategy are anchored in the type of content that the audience is seeking vs the message we are trying to push as marketers. 

Secondly, although social is a very attractive platform, the impact of your audience searching for your brand and seeing you have less than 100 followers might be worse than not having an account at all. The same way people don’t enter an empty restaurant, people might feel hesitant to try or trust a brand with less than a few thousand followers. People attract people, so ensure that you have credible presence and engagement. One can even argue that very few consumers will be purchasing low involvement categories on social platforms, such as car engine oil, sugar or kitchen foil. This doesn’t mean these categories shouldn’t exist on these platforms, but they require as much thinking and work as any other piece of communication (perhaps more). 

Here are a few more considerations to keep in mind when developing an e-commerce strategy:

1. Is your brand a good fit for the chosen platform?

There are plenty of options brands can explore when implementing their e-commerce rollout. However, different platforms serve different purposes in the consumer journeys. For example, don’t just be present on social media because ‘it’s hot’. Is social media a preferred platform your audience uses to navigate or interact with your category? If not, does it make sense to change this behaviour? Will this address any current issues or bring value to your relationship with your audience? Same goes with Amazon brand stores. Will a brand store on Amazon benefit your shopper’s experience when purchasing your brand, and is this addressing a current purchasing barrier, or should you dedicate your time and money somewhere else? You might find you can get a better ROI optimising your customer service. So, always consider the audience, their presence and their buying behaviours before aligning your e-commerce platforms.

2. Action plan

You know what you want to do and where you want to do it. Now, you need to do it. If you are planning on hiring an agency partner to do it all, you need to be clear on what you want and make strategic decisions that will make your money sweat more. It is important to map out the most valuable tasks versus trying to do it all. However, if you are planning on doing the job in-house, or even just part of it, you’ll soon come to realise you need people who are familiar with the field and, depending on the size of your portfolio, a fully dedicated team. You’ll need to learn the rules of the game, and each platform has its own. Retail specialists and data scientists are your best allies. 

3. Do it right 

The way people understand and absorb content is remarkably influenced by the format and context through which it is conveyed. Do not copy-paste your work. What you display on a billboard should not be the same you use for your product detail page (PDP) A+ content, regardless of how good it looks. 

4. Stay agile

The digital space is highly demanding to maintain rewarding results. External factors such as seasonal events or competitors’ activity have a quick and direct impact on your brand’s visibility and performance. On an optimistic note, you have the tools to amend and react quickly to changing scenarios. However, you also need to be prepared to continuously monitor and optimise your performance. Commerce is not a one-off task. Brands should have calendar activations planned, ideally a year ahead, with effective growth-hacking strategies that will resonate with their audience. 

Particularly in the Middle East, it is extremely important to adopt and execute relevant digital communications. It is a market where convenience and services have been increasingly embedded in the culture for the last decade. There are multiple platforms that bring comfort to people’s lives through e-commerce every day. Almost anything one might need can be delivered to your doorstep within minutes. This brings an audience accustomed to the channel and who completely embraces this practice.