In Search of the Endless Aisle
If you’re reading this case study, statistics say you have a smartphone. In fact, 72 percent of adults in the United States own one, reported the Pew Research Center in February 2016. That’s a mind-blowing rate of adoption. In less than 10 years in the market, almost three-quarters of the United States adult population have a computer in their pocket.
This transformation — access to information whenever and wherever we happen to be — has disrupted the way many markets have operated — commerce being one of the most impacted.
In fact, 82 percent of us that own a smartphone use it while we’re in-store to help us make a purchase decision, according to Consumers in the Micro-Moment report from Google/Ipsos in March 2015. This has real revenue implications. Forrester Research expects 42 percent of U.S. in-store sales to be influenced by the Internet by 2020.
Retail giant Walmart (www.walmart.com) and packaged goods leader Dr Pepper Snapple Group (www.drpeppersnapplegroup.com) confronted the reality of this new age of shopping with a hard look at their strategies. Both saw that serving a changing consumer would not only require new people, processes and technologies, but also a new level of partnership and coordination between retailers and brands. At the center of these strategies, they had to optimize the management and syndication of product content from brand to retailer to the consumer in the most efficient, consistent and meaningful way possible.
“We’ve seen a wave of technology starting to influence buyers in new ways. We set out to tackle that,” says Jordan Ste. Marie, senior manager of Ecommerce Marketing at Dr Pepper Snapple Group. “Grocery is about to change as we know it, and it’s going to become this omnichannel experience where your brands can’t afford not to participate.”
“The retail industry as a whole is trending towards a new customer expectation — the seamlessness of shopping, whether you are in-store or offline or online,” adds Ram Rampalli, global head of Content Acquisition at Walmart. “In this new world, consumers expect to be able to search and choose whatever thing they’d like from an endless aisle.”
Walmart’s Product Content Mission
With consumers in charge, Walmart needed a way to bring?more convenience to its shopping experience to stay in front of?the competition. Armed with mobile phones, shoppers have competitive offers and alternative retail experiences at their fingertips anytime, anywhere.
Rampalli joined @WalmartLabs, the technology arm that supports e-commerce growth and innovation for Walmart, in 2011 to help address this problem. He took a hard look at its web presence and saw the opportunity to grow product assortment online to serve customers. Getting product content online for every product, no matter where the point of sale, became a companywide initiative.
“Our goal is to build a good digital product catalog — so customers can discover the real range of products we sell,” says Rampalli.
Getting product information for millions of SKUs and hosting it on Walmart.com is an enormous undertaking. For Rampalli and team, there were two initial challenges to solve. First, source quality product content for so many products across thousands of suppliers. Second, organize, standardize and optimize all that data to go live rapidly on the site.
Initially, Walmart had been sourcing product data from wherever it could — brands themselves, third-party catalog vendors, content pools and content service providers. It was a costly and time-consuming process that lacked the ability to scale.
“To be honest with you, product content is in its infancy. There are clearly some leaders…and there are clearly some laggards. Most of them are in the belly,” says Rampalli.
To change that, Walmart partnered with Salsify (www.salsify.com) to develop the systems it needed. “We developed a seamless API [application program interface] that connects us to the supplier. Then Salsify gets all the content, standardizes it, normalizes, it and then pushes it to us,” says Rampalli.
Together, Salsify’s product content management platform and Walmart’s API allows brands to get their product content live on Walmart.com in seconds instead of months. With the process and technical capabilities in place, Walmart rolled out a program for all of its product suppliers, asking for a specific set of digital product content for all store assortment only (SAO) inventory.
“The best source of that content is the brands we work with — they know the products better than anyone else,” says Steve Breen, chief merchandising officer for Walmart.com. “With this initiative, we’re not only meeting the demands of today’s shopper; we’re empowering our suppliers to have a more direct role in merchandising their products to the end consumer. And the results we’ve seen to date are exactly what we had hoped.”
Dr Pepper Snapple Joins the Quest
Around the same time, Dr Pepper Snapple Group was also looking to capitalize on the growth opportunities this new shopping environment presented for its brands. As a top consumer packaged goods company, its company websites are used for brand messaging and awareness, and are not set up to be shopper environments. The products looked exactly as they would want them to. But on its partner retailer sites, the e-commerce team identified some inaccuracies and gaps with how its portfolio of brands was showing up. Retailers had been funneling data from multiple sources, third-party groups and legacy sales systems. The result was the wrong brand experience — and often the wrong information — for the consumer.
“The more we dug into the online retailer landscape, it was clear bad data was a problem across every retailer — not just one,” says Ste. Marie.
Dr Pepper Snapple Group has a large portfolio of flavored brands, each with long product lists that needed digital content for retail partners. Many products needed that content to be created from scratch; they were sold in store, but the digital shelf was neglected. In those cases, Ste. Marie and his team also had to rally the key players across brand, legal and regulatory as well as agency partners. Each had a stake in the way product information should appear online. With no capacity to scale such a massive undertaking, the Dr Pepper team focused on priority brands that would drive the most revenue for its business, including Walmart.
In 2013, the Dr Pepper team recognized that the current manual process was not going to scale. But, building a new digital product content solution in-house would take years. Following Walmart’s lead, Dr Pepper Snapple Group implemented the Salsify Product Content Management platform in June 2015.
“We can share the data with all of our retail partners and anybody else that is displaying our product content online, and we know and trust that it is brand-approved, legal-approved and has all of our most up to date packaging,” says Ste. Marie.
Using Salsify, Dr Pepper Snapple Group was one of the first brands to leverage the Walmart.com API. The company is now delivering product content for more than 900 SKUs to the retailer. Dr Pepper Snapple Group is now in control of the brand experience — no matter where or how the consumer is shopping.
“Our data is published directly from Salsify to Walmart. We don’t have to send it off to a black box for someone else that doesn’t own our brands to change and translate our data to something that we didn’t approve, and then try to follow up and understand when it was going to show up on Walmart’s pages,” says Ste. Marie. “Our products are discoverable, our brand looks the way we want, and my team can spend their time on things outside of spreadsheets.” ?
Elevating the Conversation
The opportunity of the digital channel is just beginning for Dr Pepper Snapple Group. Ste. Marie explains that while e-commerce is still a small piece of Dr Pepper’s business today, it holds some?of the highest growth potential.
“On one retailer alone, we’ve seen triple-digit growth over the last two years in part due to the significant effort we’ve made to optimize our digital shelf,” he says. ?
Walmart is working toward helping its other suppliers use its API and other technology platforms to deliver all of the product content it needs.?With the right product content in place, Walmart can apply data science technology and optimize sales. Rampalli says the brand uses data to target specific buyer types with custom product selections. Walmart also can send back information to its brand partners for what is working or not working within their product catalog. ?
“We have the opportunity to elevate the conversation we have with brands from beyond, ‘What does your product do?’ With all the data already in place, we can have a more intelligent conversation. We can share data on the searches for brand products from our shoppers. We can suggest exactly which products we should carry.” says Rampalli.
That level of partnership and coordination only became possible once Walmart and Dr Pepper Snapple Group tackled the practical aspects of managing digital content. Both companies will continue to see the benefits of coordinating their efforts and investing in product content and responding to the demands of today’s consumer — the new point of sale for every retailer and brand manufacturer.