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Unlocking E-commerce Success: A Chat with Alexandra Beck from Pernod Ricard

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10/12/2023 Navigating the Digital Shelf: Strategies, Data, and Content in the Spirits Industry

In the ever-evolving world of e-commerce, where online visibility and captivating content can make or break a sale, Alexandra Beck, Senior Manager of E-commerce and Digital Shelf Lead at Pernod Ricard USA, stands at the forefront of digital transformation. As she drives e-commerce sales growth within the B2B2C vertical, Alexandra has shaped Pernod Ricard's digital presence, ensuring their brands shine across digital channels. We spoke to Alexandra about Pernod Ricard's product information strategy, the tools that fuel their digital sales efforts, and innovative approaches to engage consumers online.

What key components make up Pernod Ricard USA's product information strategy, and how do you ensure accuracy and consistency across digital channels?

At PR USA, our goal is to utilize our PIM as a source of truth for Digital Shelf content for both internal and external audiences, including sales and marketing teams, wholesalers, and retailers. As a company that does a significant portion of its business through retail, it’s incredibly important for us to ensure that our brands are being represented accurately across online touchpoints. With over 30 brands and hundreds of SKUs, PR USA relies on the Digital Shelf team to source, manage, and syndicate accurate, up-to-date, and engaging content to wholesalers and retailers to ensure online discovery, research, and conversion. 

A massive role within the Digital Shelf team lies with PIM management. In order to ensure both data accuracy and data integrity, we work closely with our internal data teams and have implemented automation within our systems to sync product details and changes from our master data warehouse. We also utilize automation and pre-defined workflows within the PIM system to classify products, flag items for further enrichment, and ensure proper tagging and syndication.

What software or platforms does Pernod Ricard USA utilize for its e-commerce operations, and how do these tools support your digital sales efforts?

There are a lot of inputs for Digital Shelf, so building automation and ensuring our data is integrated well has been a huge part of our work. Data may originate in our global digital asset manager, our US digital asset manager, or even our data warehouse, and all gets passed along to our main PIM, which holds relevant product specs, copy, and imagery for Digital Shelf use.

This PIM also functions as our main syndication tool, so that we can push out Digital Shelf content to our sales teams, wholesalers, and retailers for them to utilize on .coms or other touchpoints, including social media.

To ensure that we are maximizing our presence on retailer websites, we also utilize a Digital Shelf measurement software tool. Being able to consistently monitor how our products are showing up on the Digital Shelf and track our progress over time helps us to optimize our activities, investments, and growth opportunities. Utilizing this software, we are able to track things like content accuracy, ratings and reviews status, and share of search.

How does Pernod Ricard USA Digital Shelf focus on driving digital sales for its brands? Are there any unique approaches you employ?

We are happy to work with several partners to meet our customers where they are, online or offline. Our digital shelf strategy is to focus on the highest-impact activities for each of these particular customers. We typically work to understand what the specific requirements are for each platform and collaborate with their digital shelf teams to learn how we can maximize our presence to drive sales, and then work internally to ensure we are executing accordingly. For many of our customers, we know that improved content, ratings, and reviews can drive both sales, so we are highly focused on optimizing both of those areas.

Where we are legally able to, we also utilize sponsored search strategies to drive consumer discovery and choice.

How does Pernod Ricard USA leverage data to make informed decisions and optimize its online sales strategies?

We’ve utilized a variety of data from various sources to build our content strategy, optimize our online presence, and inform our investments. While full data visibility is often a challenge when a consumer is purchasing on a non-owned channel, we can identify trends over time and make informed assumptions based on data. In particular, our Digital Shelf measurement software helps us to build insights and validate assumptions by providing large sets of data on various aspects of our performance on the Digital Shelf, including search rankings, inventory, and content.

By coupling data with some of our sales and share data, we are able to run tests, build insights, and make decisions on how to optimize.

Many if not most consumers research products online before buying them online or in-store. What strategies does Pernod Ricard USA employ to capitalize on consumers researching products online and converting them into sales?

At Pernod-Ricard USA, we are hyper-focused on the ROBO trend (research online, buy offline) and take this consumer behavior into account as we develop our omnichannel strategies. Like any successful omnichannel brand, we want to ensure that our products are visible and available across all relevant consumer touchpoints, and we are focused on meeting consumers when, where, and how they prefer to shop.

Since we know a lot of research takes place online, we aim to ensure findability via digital shelf placement and promote conversion by building trust via engaging content and consistent brand messaging across channels. In order to do this, we work alongside our sales teams to understand physical on-shelf dates and inventory levels and ensure that items are digitally available, with accurate product details, on that retailer’s website accordingly.

We also view the digital shelf as a unique opportunity to provide those conducting research, or in-store shoppers, with additional context beyond the physical shelf; where the back of a bottle, shelf talker, or in-store display may be limited in terms of space, the digital shelf allows us to provide a copious amount of information and more engaging content, like videos, recipes, and consumer reviews. For this reason, we believe that if we are able to win on the digital shelf, we will ultimately be able to gain sales and share both online and offline.

Could you share insights into your digital content strategy? How do you create engaging content that resonates with online consumers?

As we developed our content strategy, we wanted to consider both the content that our retailers request as well as the content that we believe will engage our consumers and drive discovery, research, and conversion.

Our goal has been to build a library of content within our PIM so that we have a variety of content on hand and are agile enough to adapt to changing retailer capabilities and requirements. For example, if a retailer reconfigures their PDP to support a video, we should already have those on hand and can easily begin to syndicate, rather than beginning the process of sourcing the content from brand teams.

We’ve divided content into two buckets; core content and enriched content.

Core content is required by most retailers and we believe these assets are foundational for Digital Shelf for any product within our portfolio. This content is critical for discovery as well as repeat purchase; if a bottle image online looks different than in-store, or than what a consumer has seen in the past, online, it will likely create confusion and fail to convert.

With enriched content, we are providing more, engaging content with the goal of ushering consumers through consideration and conversion. These imagery assets provide more context about the features and benefits of each product and oftentimes attempt to answer potential consumer questions at the point of purchase, for example, “What is it?”, “What does it taste like?”, or “How should I enjoy it?”.

Could you elaborate on Pernod Ricard USA's content and syndication strategy, particularly in the context of indirect syndication through wholesalers?

We utilize direct syndication to retail or marketplaces through our PIM when capabilities allow. However, we also have the benefit of leveraging the capabilities of our wholesale partners, who can provide streamlined manual or automated updates to retailers from a variety of suppliers. This is helpful in providing us with more retailer coverage in an efficient manner.

We are also supported by our sales teams; wholesale and internally, who can help scale digital shelf efforts across additional retailers that may not accept content via direct feed. Our sales team, wholesale teams, and retailers are all able to access our product catalog so that they have access to our most up-to-date content, and we typically send out additional communications pointing to these assets during key program periods and when major product updates occur.

How do you ensure that crucial product information reaches retailers promptly, and what technologies or processes facilitate this communication?

We have found that pushing content directly from our PIM seems to be the most efficient method for syndicating content. Utilizing this method, we can share product content changes or new items with retailers in 24-48 hours, with very little manual work required. If we run into complications during this process, many retailers have a ticketing system for errors, and our sales teams have been helpful in facilitating troubleshooting.

While we are able to push many product updates through quickly, syndication is still a highly manual process for us in many instances. This has evolved in the last few years as e-commerce has become more prevalent in our industry, and we expect to continue to see the process become faster and more effective over time as the technology becomes more prevalent, which will allow for more agility in content changes and broader reach.

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Content publishing can be resource-intensive. How does a Product Information Management (PIM) system drive revenue for Pernod Ricard USA's e-commerce efforts?

Yes, content publishing is highly resource-intensive! Maintaining optimized shelves at online points of purchase amidst evolving requirements and product changes requires constant oversight and agility. Not only is our data set constantly changing, with new products and updated brand standards, but our online partners are also rolling out enhancements and adjustments on the regular. Our PIM helps to ensure data integrity and provides a significant amount of automation, which allows us to provide up-to-date content to our marketplace and retail partners in a streamlined and efficient manner. Without the use of a PIM and the efficiencies that it provides, we would not have an effective Digital Shelf capability. By leveraging our PIM, we can successfully scale digital shelf efforts as we want to build consumer trust and drive conversion with engaging, consistent, and accurate content across online touchpoints.

With numerous competitors in the e-commerce space, how does Pernod Ricard USA differentiate its products and ensure they stand out on e-commerce websites?

I attribute much of this to the great work of our brand teams, creative leads, and global brand companies. Each of our brands has its own unique identity and voice, whether that’s based on heritage or brand personality. As a Digital Shelf team, our job is to bring these brand stories to life on the page in order to promote sales. While retailers vary in what types of content they accept on PDPs, we try to provide as much relevant content as possible, taking into account consumer shopping behavior and anticipating questions that may arise during the shopping journey. Where we have the opportunity to build enhanced content below the fold, we like to take advantage and provide additional context on the brand, more recipes, and any other content that doesn’t fit in the image carousel above the fold.

We are fortunate to have an in-house content agency, which does an amazing job creating custom, mobile-friendly collections that “pop” on the digital shelf.

In your role, what metrics or key performance indicators (KPIs) do you prioritize to measure the success of your e-commerce initiatives, and how do you work to improve them continuously?

We have outlined several key performance metrics from which we measure progress. Since we know that placement on the Digital Shelf is hugely important to discovery, we look at the share of search. This tells us how we are performing against key search terms, and also helps us to identify any brand health issues, such as gaps in inventory or missing content, resulting in lower-than-expected search rankings. Next, we measure content performance, which includes how we perform against retailer standards, and how compliant our actual on-site content is with expected content (there should not be missing images, outdated copy, etc.). Additionally, we pay attention to ratings and reviews, which data suggests is hugely important to consumers who are conducting research online. 

What are some of the latest trends or innovations in the e-commerce landscape, and how has Pernod Ricard USA adapted to stay ahead of the curve?

As I hit on before, ROBO is a major trend that we are paying attention to and has evolved our strategy and prioritization. Consumers are no longer just shopping online, like during COVID, but are now omnichannel shoppers, which means a consumer may be researching products prior to going to the store or even consulting their phone while they walk down the aisle of a store.

Another major trend we have built strategy around is the added importance of user-generated content. Not only do consumers want to see curated brand content, but they also want to learn about other consumer’s experiences with the product, and this is becoming just as important to consumers as personal 

Third, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention AI. We are still determining how AI will fit into our digital shelf strategy, but several of our technology partners are already implementing AI to augment digital shelf workflows. We know that AI is also top of mind for our retailer partners, with the potential to automate and streamline processes; we are taking the time to learn how it will benefit our consumers and how we may need to adapt our own strategy based on the introduction of new technologies and implications on the consumer shopping journey.  

As the e-commerce landscape continues to evolve, Alexandra Beck and Pernod Ricard exemplify the art of staying ahead of the curve. From prioritizing data-driven decision-making to capitalizing on user-generated content and exploring the potential of AI, they are setting a benchmark in the spirits industry. With a relentless focus on content, syndication, and digital shelf optimization, Pernod Ricard is not just adapting to change; they're shaping the future of online sales for spirits, ensuring their brands continue to stand out in a crowded digital marketplace.

In conversation with Malvika Patel, Editor and VP, Beverage Trade Network

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