Interact thanks Kevin Weiss of Amplio Digital for guest writing this informative post.
He can be reached at  

Optimizing for the Virtual Shelf is easy.

Food and beverage brands need to make a simple and easy change in their strategy to keep up with competition in today’s Omnichannel market. Simply put, brands should ensure that any/all investment into packaging and image photography for the physical shelf will produce an equally strong consumer experience on the virtual shelf.

This change will typically result in a small (5-10%) increase in marketing expenses for this work, and the concepts are not complicated even for the neophyte digital marketer. Let’s start with a quick overview of the market, and then cover the two simple changes you can make to get asymmetric reward for your investments in the virtual shelf.

Disclaimer: Don’t Neglect Brick & Mortar This article is not a permission slip for founders and marketers to neglect investment in brick & mortar retail. According to a recent study by Clickz , most consumers typically buy food and beverage products in the physical store (HPC refers to Health & Personal Care):

Because of inherent challenges with the “Last Mile,” grocery is one of the last major retail categories to shift from bricks & mortar to digital. Of the nearly one trillion dollars U.S consumers purchased on grocery products in 2016, less than 5% occurred online. Food and beverage brands will do well to play the game by the rules that exist today and lean into wholesale and distribution to drive sales through physical grocery, natural and specialty storefronts.

But those same surveys that show the importance of brick & mortar also show a shift in consumer behavior towards a mixture of both physical store and online store. This trend places pressure on brands to deliver a consistent and optimized consumer shopping experience. And  therein lies the recommended shift in strategy for food and beverage brands. Ensure your virtual shelf is optimized as much as your physical shelf.

Simple Change #1: Optimize Your Main Image for the Virtual Shelf

The first change is to ensure your main product image activates your customer’s taste buds. The way to do that is to showcase the food and/or ingredients alongside your packaging. Not all products are conducive to see-through packaging, and fortunately they don’t have to be. You can simply Photoshop fresh and delicious-looking food items next to your product packaging to ensure consumers see the food and flavor while considering your product. Bobo’s Oat Bars and Brami Beans are two companies that the Boulder-based food and beverage packaging studio Interact has worked with that represent this strategy well:

Simple Change #2: Use Lifestyle and Food Images in Online Sales Channels

Because consumers can’t touch, feel or smell your products, they must take a leap of faith when purchasing products online. And while you may not be able to lower all barriers to entry for trial (e.g., price, sample sizes, etc), you can lower the barrier to entry by giving consumers an interactive preview through image and video assets. Alpine Start instant coffee and B’More drinkable yogurt are great examples of products that depict the value proposition for the consumer after they purchase through the images:

In both instances, consumers can “see the product in action” and “who the typical customer is.” Far too often food and beverage brands reserve their lifestyle and food images for Instagram and Pinterest. These images should be shot specifically for your online sales channels. For Amazon these images should be used as images to compliment the main image, and to fill A+ Content and Storefront pages. Furthermore, high-resolution images should be readily available to Amazon agencies as well as resellers through a trade portal, public access on your website and/or shared image folders. Brands who make images accessible to all will create a better virtual shelf experience whether it’s the reseller or the brand that wins the Buy Box.

The Not-always-obvious Takeaways…

If you are an experienced marketer, you’ll observe that solid, creative fundamentals and adept use of Photoshop is an absolute must to achieving your desired outcome. But, I’d argue that even a basic understanding of Photoshop can yield better image assets than the current standard for the virtual shelf. The results will pay dividends. Simple changes to images can increase key performance indicators for online sales including Click-thru-rate (CTR) by as much as 100%, conversion rate by as much as 50% and unit sales by as much as 25%. Talk with your team and partners today to find out how you can optimize for the virtual shelf too – you’ll be surprised what you may be missing, and how simple and easy it can be.

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