What is the digital shelf? (And data is needed to understand it)

May 4, 2022

The digital shelf is the term used to describe all of the touch-points consumers experience during their online shopping journeys.

Similar to a physical shelf in brick and mortar stores, the digital shelf is where consumers go to research and review, discover and select the products they want to buy.

Although not always linear, this journey typically has three key stages: discovering a brand or product, considering which products best answer their need, and deciding on the option they will purchase. This forms import.io’s Digital Shelf model.

The Digital Shelf spans how products are displayed, including the quality of the online content, product details, pricing and promotional information, as well as product availability i.e. if an item is in stock plus a retailer or brand’s shipping options and returns policies. All of these attributes can influence a consumer’s purchase decision and propensity to buy a product or brand.

However, there are other features of the digital shelf that can guide online selections and choice, which are less obvious in off-line settings.

These include customers’ online ratings and product reviews and the visibility and ranking of a brand or its products through search.

In an increasingly online world, retailers and brands need to collect insights from the digital shelf in order to grow their ecommerce businesses and gain a competitive edge.

Our new report pinpoints the digital shelf insights which brands are demanding to grow their online sales and the overlooked data required to build them.

In this post we will highlight some of the key insights that need to be understood, and data collected to build them, at each stage of the digital shelf.


The first stage of a customer’s shopping experience is to discover products online. This usually happens by searching key product or brand terms, or by browsing a retailer’s product category listing.

Search / category ranking

Digital shelf insights can help brands improve their share of search or discoverability in a retailer’s category listings. They enable brands to understand where they rank in a particular product category across key search terms and to benchmark their performance against their competitors. Equipped with those insights, brands can fine-tune their search optimization strategies across retailers and marketplaces to win more visibility for their products, drive traffic and increase sales. Data and insights here can also help brands identify products that may be undiscoverable online, as well as understand the impact of paid search on discoverability.


When shoppers search for products, they will usually create a short list of products to consider and compare which best meet their needs.

Content accuracy

Content accuracy and compliance is essential, if brands are to optimize their online operations.

Brands need to ensure their content is accurate across all retailers. To monitor this, brands need insights built from data extracted from product pages. This can help to identify any non-compliant product details or images and pinpoint any SKUs that require attention. This is key, since product pages are ranked as one of the most important influencers in purchase decision and customer conversion rates.

Product descriptions and titles should also be tracked to ensure they are optimized for keywords. This can help to boost a brand’s SEO.

Two often over-looked areas of insight on product pages include ‘Vendor’s Choice’ badges and Shipping and Delivery/Returns Information. These should be monitored since they can have both a positive or negative impact on sales.

Ratings and reviews

Online ratings and reviews provide a rich source of digital shelf insights. With research showing 93% of consumers read online reviews before making a purchase, insights from these pages are key.

Review volume is a critical metric. According to data, just one review can increase purchases by 10% and there is a positive correlation between review volume and order numbers, even at very high volume levels.

Analytics providers can also help brands identify underperforming products – items which have been poorly reviewed – to assist with range planning. Similarly, they can identify those products which have achieved an increase in their star rating. This is important since research shows that even a small increase can deliver significant growth in many categories.

Ratings and review analysis also enables brands to benchmark their product performance against their key competitors.


Shoppers will need to decide which product to finally buy. To do this, they will often look at which product delivers the value they need at the best price – but they will also take into consideration availability and delivery information.  

Price and promotions

Brands require price and promotional insights from the digital shelf in order to inform their own pricing strategies, drive profitable growth and maintain a competitive edge. To build these insights, you need to monitor category pricing and ensure promotions are compliant across all retailers and marketplaces. Armed with this insight, brands can be alerted to any MAP (Minimum Advertised Price) violations; as well as collect competitive intelligence and insights. Given the importance of price in driving consumers’ purchase decisions and frequency of price changes across retailers, brands should be capturing price and promotional data on a routine basis.

Availability and assortment

Brands need insights into their product availability across retailers and marketplaces to avoid lost sales opportunities through out-of-stocks. As well as losing brand sales, and potentially to a competitor, stock-outs disappoint customers and reduce shopper loyalty.

Availability data can help to pinpoint any products which are continually out-of-stock or any retailers with persistent availability issues. Data on assortment can also help to identify any up-and-coming opportunities or product trends. These can help brands plug any gaps in their inventory to grow sales.

Location-based availability and inventory data should not be overlooked either. Insight into a specific geolocation can affect areas like in store availability or pick up, as well as highlight demand and supply trends within specific geographies.

The over-looked digital shelf data and insights

Despite the importance of understanding the digital shelf, we have seen three main areas where data to build digital shelf insights is being underutilized.

Find out more about the over-looked digital shelf data and insights in our report on 2022’s Digital Shelf Insights.

As the experts, we have plenty more knowledge to share

The Digital Shelf Guide: web data you need for ecommerce insights
2022 Digital Shelf Trends: The Overlooked insights – Webinar Recording
Report: The insights to own a brand’s presence online