For online retailers, 2020 was truly a banner year: Per eMarketer, the e-commerce market grew explosively, to the tune of 32.4 percent year-over-year. But let’s not take a victory lap just yet. We know the circumstances of 2020 accelerated consumers’ acclimation to online habits, including shopping — and that these are once-in-a-lifetime circumstances. In 2021, e-commerce isn’t expected to remotely replicate 2020’s expansion. eMarketer projects only 6.1 percent growth this year.
This isn't the time for retailers to take an “If you build it, they will come” approach. This field has to be built on data, not dreams. For retailers that succeed, the rewards are great. However, the competition is fierce. Business growth will need to come from understanding the right data insights — no matter which team within the business oversees that data. Cross-team collaboration is key, and it starts by looking closely at the roles of the marketing and e-commerce teams. But with many retail businesses, these teams operate in silos, owning their own data and tasks.
E-commerce knows the inclusion of additional product information — e.g., ratings and reviews, sustainability, or flexible payment options like Afterpay or Klarna — helps drive real conversions. Marketing has an obligation to create a seamless shopping experience, from ads to website or app. So if information, which is used on the site, can help drive key performance indicators like new customers, larger purchases and fewer returns, why isn’t marketing using the same elements that e-commerce does?
That’s not a rhetorical question. First, e-commerce and marketing often report to different internal stakeholders with sometimes competing objectives. There may not be a clear line of communication, they may not appreciate encroachment on their core tasks, and they often focus on different KPIs. Second, e-commerce and marketing often don’t have an easy technical solution to share data, like common product feeds and catalogs. Third, the business could simply be suffering from stasis, and is averse to putting in the work to bridge the technical and cultural gaps. Each of these factors complicates the others.
How Can They Align?
It’s time to look at where marketing and e-commerce can align and innovate to drive growth. Start by identifying the KPIs of each team with skin in the game, and consider those KPIs in terms of the greater good of the business. For example, e-commerce might think in terms of product sales, and marketing about return on ad spend. But in reality, they share a goal: increasing the company's overall revenue. The differences lie in how each department develops strategies to optimize those KPIs — i.e., e-commerce and marketing take different paths toward the same goal, and it’s in the business’s best interest to shine a light on those paths.
Consumers are persuaded to make purchases online through a combination of factors, such as advertising as well as user-generated content like reviews, ratings and social posts. There's a challenge in bringing those insights into one place; they exist across different platforms. However, there's great value in collecting those insights to understand the roles these elements play in bringing the consumer to a purchase, and delivering a seamless buying experience. Traditionally it has been marketing’s job to bring consumers to the site, where e-commerce’s job is to convert them. If you, as an online retailer, know that the same consumer has come to your site three times, it may be important for them to also see positive and reliable reviews offsite, until they finally make a purchase. At the same time, after the same consumer has visited the site repeatedly, it may be important to show them an offer on the site that does not get in the way of their browsing experience.
Retailers also need to look closely at their specific points of purchase, and how consumers get there. We know that brick-and-mortar stores are of diminishing importance to the modern retailer. Today, even the retailer’s website is of shrinking importance. With the rise of social shopping, the stand-alone site isn’t even necessary. Retailers and brands can advertise on social platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat, and consumers can purchase through those platforms. Over time — and in the very near future — social shopping will necessitate closer collaboration between marketing and e-commerce. And by virtue of the fact that marketing and purchasing will happen on the same platform, it will facilitate collaboration.
So, What’s Next?
Marketing and e-commerce need to work together to provide a seamless experience not only for the consumer, but also for the retailer’s business. It’s imperative for retailers to monitor digital trends, especially in social, and understand where cross-team collaboration can deliver the most value out of platforms’ services and tools. As retailers modernize and adapt to consumer trends, they’ll see certain marketing and e-commerce roles converging. This will be necessary to stay competitive and grow revenue over time. What’s more, when retailers get their cross-team data aligned in one place, they’ll see how natural that convergence is.
Boaz Cohen is senior vice president, business development at StitcherAds, a company that helps retailers build smarter Facebook and Instagram ads that delight shoppers and drive all-channel results.