Shoppers’ expectations of product transparency and their new search behaviors are requiring retailers and brands to adjust sales and marketing strategies.
Serving shoppers in the future means appealing to microscopic need states and providing precise search results made possible by highly granular product attribute information.
That’s the view of Todd Morris, the new CEO of Label Insight and former global president of Catalina. Morris, who joined Chicago-based Label Insight on Jan. 6, spoke with Progressive Grocer about the growth of ecommerce and helping shoppers find exactly what they want on the data-driven path to purchase.
Progressive Grocer: Congratulations on your new role. How do you explain to people what Label Insight does?
Todd Morris: I start by asking if they’ve ever tried to find a product that is either peanut-free, gluten-free or low in fat. Most people acknowledge that they have some type of requirement in the diet or product choices they make. Then I explain that Label Insight is the world’s most comprehensive and trusted source for product attributes. We know 24,000 attributes for 83% of all products sold. People don’t realize there’s that much complexity to every single product, but consumer searches are really complicated, and today people are searching more for attributes than brand names. We’re the people who know the details of products and help shoppers find them.
PG: It’s stunning that there are 24,000 attributes. That’s extremely granular.
TM: It’s unbelievably granular, but people are searching for things like cauliflower-crust pizza. There are these microscopic need states people have, but there has been a tendency to think generically about attributes, because there were limitations on claims that could be made. In an ecommerce world, people search for very specific things, so you have to have a database that’s as specific as the consumers’ needs and their search terms. Label Insight bridges the big divide between very specific needs and a product’s hyper-specific attributes.
PG: How do you source the data?
TM: We were the pioneer in the SmartLabel initiative several years ago, and that has now grown into a database that tracks 170,000 nutrients, almost 400,000 ingredients and 5 million claims, so it’s an incredible source of truth for finding products. We live in a world where consumers absolutely are aware that what is in products affects their health. Almost 50% of shoppers today adhere to a specific diet or health regimen.
PG: How is that affecting search behaviors?
TM: More than 80% of searches in Amazon grocery are not for brands, they are for specific product attributes. Consumers know that what they eat affects how they feel and how they live, and it extends to beauty products, too, so people are searching for things like paraben-free makeup. The world is moving towards consumers who have very well-articulated needs and [are] trying to find the channels where they can buy the products that meet those needs.
PG: That’s a challenge because what can seem to a shopper like a specific search can yield hundreds, if not thousands, of results.
TM: It changes the game for retailers and for manufacturers. It’s why we’ve got to zero in on consumer attributes that they care about, so if they go to an ecommerce site and type in “peanut-free,” the first search item returned isn’t peanut butter. It is important for retailers to understand there is a new digital shelf, and most of the time it’s out of stock or under-stocked if the attribute data that people are searching for isn’t present.
PG: How is this new attribute-driven search behavior affecting overall categories?
TM: In the past, you had the snack aisle, but now consumers don’t go to the snack aisle, they're searching for gluten-free, low-sodium snacks, and that’s the shelf they’re in front of in an ecommerce world. If the shelf doesn’t have products that are high-quality that meet that need, they’re not going to buy anything. If there are five options, they’re going to buy a little. If there are 100, they’re going to buy a lot more. We want to make sure that every shelf is full of products that deliver exactly what the shopper wants. It’s a pretty simple premise. And let’s face it:
PG: So how does it work? How does a brand or a retailer get involved with Label Insight? Is it driven more by the retailer saying, “Work with these guys, use their platform, populate their system with your attributes, so that we can drive sales digitally,” or is it more of the brand getting involved? What’s the process?
TM: There are lots of ways, but it started with the SmartLabel initiative. As an industry, the goal was to provide a standard experience on a SmartLabel so that consumers could see a more standardized product label. That’s where we got our start. Brands use Label Insight to publish out their ingredients, and retailers use it to assess across all different brands they sell what qualifies for certifications or not.
PG: For example?
TM: Our technology is looking at things like scientists would. We take all the ingredients and deconstruct them into the little building blocks to make it all searchable. So a brand like a Burt’s Bees has one product that may use an artificial dye, but another uses a named dye, because if it uses an artificial dye, or an unnamed fragrance or dye, it cannot qualify for an “all-natural” label. So these are the types of ways that retailers are now saying, “I don't want to tell my consumers this is all-natural, if I don’t know one of the ingredients.”
PG: That makes sense. How else can retailerS capitalize on shoppers’ new attribute-driven search behaviors?
TM: The big thing now is taking those attributes and allowing them to be search terms that retailers can monetize back to advertisers in ecommerce. It’s a brand-new capability for Label Insight. The big problem retailers have is they want to monetize keywords, but they don’t have the data to sell keywords. If we can fill that void, it is big business for retailers and helps consumers buy more, that helps manufacturers advertise more and sell more, and then the consumer is happy. So it’s a win up and down the ecosystem.
PG: So you’re giving retailers Amazon-like capabilities to target shoppers in a way that they hadn’t previously.
TM: Exactly. It’s very difficult for a retailer to manage this kind of sophistication for so many products, because new diet trends emerge every day. This whole idea of micro need states has become very prevalent, and it’s constantly changing.
PG: Shoppers want to know what’s in products, but increasingly, they want to know where things were sourced and how they were manufactured. There’s a whole other set of attributes that has really nothing to do with whether something’s gluten-free or not. People want to know if it was sustainably harvested, is Fair Trade, sustainably grown, cruelty-free tested. Are you capturing those types of attributes?
TM: All of those social issues and health issues are all in this database. Those social need states are just as important as the food need states.
PG: Some people like to know every conceivable thing there is to know about products.
TM: It’s the way the world is today, and retailers are the new search engines. Shoppers look for exactly what they want and information on how it meets their needs. What some of the more traditional retailers have to think through is how to satisfy this new consumer expectation of being able to find precisely what they want.