As digital life accelerates, with entire industries learning to adapt to our new virtual world – and screens become a fundamental access point worldwide – development of how we experience brands and businesses through e-commerce has become essential.

The real opportunity lies in brands not just starting their digital journey, with a digital-first mindset, but truly focusing on understanding their consumers’ lifestyles. With Millennials now making 54% of their purchases online (Source: UPS), the influence of digitally native Millennials and Gen Zers are continuing to increase. 

With 11,250 US stores going dark in 2019 and last year being dubbed as a retail apocalypse in both the USA and UK, the start of 2020 had a lot to prove. The systemic effect of the global pandemic will be felt by brands and businesses for years to come with more previous buoyant sectors being affected and well-known names being forced to close their doors on a temporary or permanent basis. Ad spends alone are now reported to have hit their lowest since the 2009 crash (Source: The Drum).

Brands will inevitably have to work even harder to keep pace with change and ensure their relevance within this rapidly evolving commerce landscape. However, continued developments in VR, AR and AI – and especially the dissemination of 5G – are supercharging the digital space. We are no longer limited to our laptops but are thinking about the role of mobiles and smart assistants as fundamental aspects of how brands behave on the digital shelf. The impact and uptake will be dependent on an optimised user experience precipitated through intuitive, streamlined systems and differentiating design languages.

Owning the digital shelf
What this means for brands

The following five key areas integrate and influence digital culture, maximising brand presence on the digital shelf:

Adapted packaging 

How is digital culture affecting the pack?

Packaging in e-commerce must keep evolving to meet new purposes and formats. There is now greater expectation being placed on brands to innovate and open up new levels of interaction, personalisation and streamlining of the digital experience within our digital and physical worlds and touchpoints.

Good Pair Days is a personalised monthly wine club. With a deliberately pared back website that does the heavy lifting of communication and tone of voice, the brand seamlessly offers a more tailored experience by introducing customers to the perfect wines for their palates. Demystifying the complex world of wine, it provides a very intuitive and encompassing way to match its brand ethos of opening up the world of wine discovery to everyone.

Flexible identities 

How can digital design challenge static identities?

Brands now need to consider digital presence as one of their most valuable and dynamic assets. It is critical that brands look for ways to free their previous static and singular identities – through new and unique expressions, creating more adaptable brand equities to develop flexible and animated systems.  

Genesis, in Beijing, is a space dedicated to exploring different states of mind. It comes to life as an inspiring museum, work-hub and fitness destination, aiming to enrich day-to-day life conveyed through an innovative and immersive digital expression which explores each state and associated feeling through rich and reactive patterns.

Playful navigation 

How can we find new forms of digital storytelling?

The digital shopping experience enables a higher level of functionality and simplification. However, it also now needs to be regarded as a place to celebrate experimentation, revelation and imagination with brands embracing sensorial elements, sound technologies, high definition screens and, ultimately, the limitless freedom of the digital world.

One of Burger King’s most audacious, but also most successful, campaigns was its 2019 Whopper Detour promotion. Using geofencing technology, the promotion unlocked to offer discounted Whoppers when users came within 600 feet of a McDonald’s restaurant.

4 Predictive purchases 

What is the opportunity for seamless shopping?

Algorithms have given brands the ability to create targeted and customised wish-lists, available with increasing levels of ease and convenience that make constant suggestions. Ultimately enabling us to instantly acquire products as we scroll and connect in real-time.

Building on the success of Amazon Go, Amazon has introduced it’s ‘Just Walk Out’ system, keeping track of purchases in a virtual cart with credit cards charged on leaving, increasing the scope of Amazon’s reach and meeting the increasing need for convenience in a time-pressured world.

Digital possessions

How can brands expand their products virtually?

A new generation of products and experiences are beginning to accommodate and adorn our digital life. Today, brands have the opportunity to reimagine their role in the virtual marketplace as our work, lifestyles, and entertainment all increasingly shift online, and we begin to invest more of our time in virtual experiences.

Puma’s latest video campaign is promoting sustainability in the fashion industry through the use of digital design. Having collaborated with The Fabricant – a Dutch fashion house specialising in digital-only fashion that can be used and traded in virtual realities – Puma showcases its status as a progressive and sustainable brand of the future with a vision to significantly reduce manufacturing and travel costs.

The opportunity

The digital shelf is an increasingly fast-moving and essential platform for brands. It challenges them to expand their horizons, maximise their offering and find innovative ways to reach potential consumers. Digital experiences also open up an exciting world to new collaborations and partnerships, allowing brands to tap into broader, more holistic lifestyle aspirations with an opportunity to resonate across a variety of different brand touchpoints.

Above all, digital presence is changing the fundamental notion of a brand’s route to its consumer and needs to unlock potential, effectiveness and the freedom of exploration and imagination. The successful brands of the future need to fully realise the evolving potential of their digital presence, ensuring their digital engagement seamlessly integrates their brand world into their consumers’ lives.