What is discovery commerce and what does it mean for your online ecommerce store?

Expedited by strict lockdown measures in place to slow the spread of COVID-19, the mass exodus from the high street continues at startling pace. While famous retailers such as Topshop and Cath Kidston have gone to the wall in recent months – and others such as Debenhams are destined to exist in mere brand name alone – conversely, companies who have embraced online retail are seeing a groundswell of new business. After all, it’s not that customers have suddenly disappeared, it’s just that their buying habits have changed.

Lockdown aside, for the most part the boom in ecommerce is due to advances in technology which has made shopping easier, quicker and more accessible. Why would you take the time and expense to trek into town to purchase some new jeans, when you could far easily buy a pair from the comfort of your couch via the touch of a button on a mobile-friendly website or app? Indeed, why go to the product at all when the product can come to you?

And it’s not just clothing that is seeing stay-at-home shoppers part with their hard earned cash. As The New Consumer points out in their Consumer Trends 2021 report, 52% of millennials and 44% of Gen Z consumers now prefer to do their grocery shopping online.

While worldwide online revenue is expected to grow to $6.54 trillion by 2022 with global ecommerce sales poised to reach record numbers, there is no doubt that competition for a piece of that pie will be fierce.

Experts predict that the ecommerce retailers most likely to succeed will be those who integrate ‘discovery commerce’ technology into their platforms. Utilising rich data, machine learning, tailored advertising and artificial intelligence to present customers with a curated, personalised array of product recommendations, the idea behind this emerging form of digital marketing is to essentially stay one step ahead of the consumer’s own thought process to drive quicker sales.

If that all sounds a bit robot state, perhaps it’s unsurprising to learn that Facebook is the key player behind this new technology. With their Facebook Discovery Commerce (FDC) platform, the company aims to revolutionise the way we find and purchase products online.

The theory behind FDC is to deliver a truly autonomous shopping experience based on an individual customer’s psychographic profile of past clicks and online habits, and one in which traditional search is deemed largely irrelevant.

“Traditional ecommerce focused on retail websites and physical shops will still play crucial roles,” Stefano Pardi, Facebook’s head of industry for retail and ecommerce, recently told Retail Week, but “discovery commerce is taking it to the next level.”

“It is a massive change,” Pardi continued. “leveraging everything we know about our customers and letting the machine identify audiences we might not be targeting.”

With so many consumers now conditioned to frictionless online shopping, the seemingly proactive approach of discovery commerce could, theoretically, make the purchasing journey even quicker. As consumer behaviour continues to evolve and technology gets faster, brands who optimise their ecommerce websites for product discoverability will undoubtedly be at an advantage over their competitors.

So, how should you optimise your online store to make sure you’re ready to take full advantage of this new form of digital marketing?

Well, the most important thing is to get to know your customers. To deliver a truly personalised shopping experience, you need to draw on more than simply what that customer might have purchased from you previously. You need to find out about their interests and likes, their shopping habits (do they tend to purchase products at a certain time in the month, how much do they spend on average, what time of day do they prefer to shop etc.) and, most importantly, when they are likely to make their next purchase.

There are many tools available, but Google Analytics is a great free resource for discovering information about your visitors and their browsing habits, and should form a key part of any digital marketing strategy.

While the concept of product search isn’t something that’s going to disappear overnight, discovery commerce is undoubtedly something every digital marketer and ecommerce developer should keep a firm eye on. Ultimately, it will be the consumer who decides whether they’ll plump for the choice afforded by traditional search, or the convenience of discovery commerce and the notion of essentially being told by a computer ‘this is what you want – now buy me!’.

Andrew Fenwick

Andrew is the creative director and founder of CIVIK. A former journalist and editor with extensive copywriting experience, Andrew now leads all web design and digital marketing projects at CIVIK.