According to Edge Retail Insight, e-commerce grew 37% worldwide in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. With COVID-19 hitting in waves and social restrictions ebbing and flowing, online shopping performed strongly in 2021. Today, more than two years after the pandemic emerged, consumers browse, are entertained, and shop using apps, social media, and online retail platforms and have become accustomed to the online environment. Any retailer or brand's future growth strategy will depend heavily on the digital shelf, as it is the primary interface through which shoppers discover, select, purchase and interact with products online. This allows them to outmaneuver their competitors and drive sales online while also becoming more seamlessly integrated into the in-store purchase path.

As a result of the growth of e-commerce, the increase in adoption of mobiles and tablets, as well as the development of technologies such as machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI), the grocery stores of this e-commerce giant offer the best example of how these technologies can be leveraged in the high street.

In the past two years, physical retail has suffered widely, and so have the companies providing retail store layout designs to these brands; but omnichannel shopping has made a remarkable comeback.

It offers marketers new insight and data into the shopper's path to buying in a physical store that they've never seen before through its dynamic 'clicks-to-bricks' format. As a result, its first-party data relationships with customers will be deepened and brands selling on it will have a greater chance of achieving "personalization at scale".

It's not only about how online shopping impacts the role of the store when it comes to the omnichannel customer experience. E-commerce has evolved from being a one-channel business since 2020 with online platforms becoming increasingly sophisticated. With the disaggregation of e-commerce, an increasing number of channels are becoming more prevalent as individual touchpoints for customers.

Disaggregation of e-commerce

Significant platforms of pureplay and omnichannel retailers are aggregating and drawing shoppers, increasingly.

Within their ecosystem, they are aggressively focusing on developing media and advertising capability – as an alternative revenue stream. But they are also offering significant opportunities to the brands – sales conversion support across O2O spaces.

Following the pandemic, brands are increasingly using the channel to connect with their customers and deliver more relevant innovation across the business using the insights collected through the channel.

In food delivery, a wave of start-ups specializing in ultra-rapid service delivery - usually via apps - has raised expectations of the last mile for consumers. Brands now have a better chance of reaching consumers on platforms owned by larger, more established delivery intermediaries.

With this trend, shopper engagement and customer experience are further influenced by mobile apps of key on-demand players. The trend adds another twist to the path to purchase, adding more complexity, but also an opportunity for brands who understand how they can leverage the apps of key on-demand players to influence customer engagement.

Social commerce and shoppable media

In addition to immersive online environments and gaming, social media platforms are becoming subchannels of e-commerce.

As China's social media platforms become more integrated, Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, YouTube, and Pinterest are developing commerce capabilities that allow users to buy products without leaving the app.

Consumer experience standards across all categories are being re-set by new offerings that facilitate convenience, engagement, and deepen loyalty. The modern consumer wants what he or she wants when he or she wants it (and wants to be inspired to want it, too!).

To make the right business decisions today, brands need to understand how and where the digital shelf is changing and advancing and where it will go next.

To outmaneuver the competition and drive traffic, sales, and share online, brands should make use of this framework

1. Experiential

Every brand is running to create a more engaging and differentiated shopper experience than its counterpart. Result of it, there’s an increased investment in virtual services. With channel distinctions blurring, retailers will create online experiences similar to those in-store. By using virtual assistants and in-store live streams, shoppers will be educated and supported. Providing shoppers with the opportunity to experiment with products will be another.

2. Social

Historically, e-commerce was primarily utilitarian, despite its convenience. The popularity of live streaming grew in the West last year as shopper missions, browsing, entertainment, and socializing online increased.

3. Frictionless

Digital shelf experiences have become the cornerstone of the success of today's most successful online retailers. The notion of convenience on the web is evolving in a way that has never been seen before, as spending shifts online and consumer expectations rise. Shoppers' journey from discovery (favorites lists; meal planning) to fulfillment will be impacted by frictionless initiatives.

Through the use of curating products according to the interests of specific audiences on the digital shelf, such as new parents, university students, and teachers, retail store interior designers, or based on the needs of individuals on specific shopping missions, retailers will continue to elevate their approach to product discovery on the digital shelf.