What Is The Difference Between E-commerce and Discovery Commerce?  - Retail Council of Canada

What Is The Difference Between E-commerce and Discovery Commerce? 

September 15, 2022

Window shopping has made its way to digital as many consumers are changing the way they engage and purchase from online retailers. Rather than visiting a retail website with the clear intention of buying a specific item, many are pursuing the product pages until an item they discover grabs their attention.  

This discovery aspect of online shopping is something that many retailers can better prepare for to meet the growing needs of their customers. With global e-commerce sales expected to reach approximately USD $7.4 trillion by 2025, up from around USD $4.9 trillion in 2021, online shopping isn’t expected to slow down anytime soon. Growing alongside this expanding market is key, and one way to do so is to form strategies that can put your retail business ahead of the curve. Understanding that consumers have varied motivations behind their engagement with your retail website can help prepare your business to cover all angles.  

Discovery Commerce and Discovery Shopping 

Discovery commerce plays on the idea of discovery shopping, which is where a consumer visits a website without a clear motivation to purchase something; they do not have something specific in mind as they explore a retailer’s website, but are open to seeing what is available.  

Based on this idea, discovery commerce is the method of guiding the consumer to a product. This can be accomplished using a variety of techniques to get products in their view and create an opportunity for them to purchase something that they didn’t initially set out to buy.  

It draws on the idea of window shopping or browsing a store, as the consumer is not looking for something in particular, but sees something that captures their attention and makes the purchase. For online retailers, it is about finding a way to seamlessly merge that shopping behaviour to a digital environment, and implementing a strategy that will allow their products to be easily discoverable when the consumer is scrolling through their website.  

E-commerce vs. Discovery Commerce 

Intention is one of the key differences between the two. E-commerce (aka electronic commerce) is the buying and selling of goods and services in an online digital environment. From a B2C (business to consumer) retail perspective, e-commerce allows consumers to conveniently find and purchase products online and carry out a transaction from their devices, making shopping accessible no matter where they are.  

When a consumer goes online, they may have a clear idea of what they are looking for. For instance, with the intention of purchasing an item, they may visit an online retailer, find the product, and carry out the purchase. One of the benefits of e-commerce is how quick this process can be, and with convenience and efficiency often hand-in-hand, many retailers are always trying to find ways to make each step as efficient as possible to meet their customers’ specific needs, especially since a hiccup in any stage of the buyer’s journey may lead to an abandoned cart and a loss of sale. 

With discovery commerce, a consumer does not have a particular need in mind, meaning their intention of visiting a retailer’s website is different than someone who knows what they want to buy. So, how does a retailer try and meet a need that doesn’t exist? Or better yet, how can a retailer meet a need that the consumer doesn’t know they have yet? One way to do so is to position and structure your website that allows consumers to discover your products in a way that feels natural or as if they are walking around a physical store. This is where product filters, category pages, and product recommendations can come into play. 

Social Media Advertising and Discovery Commerce 

Social platforms play a significant role in discovery commerce as retailers can display their products to consumers across multiple platforms. From going shopping to always shopping, consumers are exposed to numerous brands as they engage on social media. And as long as they remain engaged, there are opportunities for retailers to put products in front of them, even though they weren’t looking for them at the time. 

The key aspect here is that retailers need to anticipate their customers’ needs – give them what they want before they know they want it. This can lead to impulse buying, which is what discovery commerce is largely supported by – consumers being exposed to products that they end up purchasing, rather than them seeking out a specific product. It’s about putting the right product in front of the consumer, and many social platforms can assist with this via product recommendations. Mainly, this will take form through ads, such as Facebook/Instagram (Dynamic Ads) and Pinterest Ads, and can allow retailers to display their products based on various data that social platforms collect. This personalization aspect creates a great chance for the consumer to engage and purchase the item advertised to them, even though they didn’t intend to purchase it.  

Implementing Discovery Commerce Strategies on Your E-commerce Website 

Many consumers are faced with an overload of choices when they visit a retail e-commerce website. Especially for the consumer who is just browsing, product page after product page can be overwhelming, and one of the downfalls of retailers offering too many choices is the higher bounce rates that can occur.  

A way to combat this is by creating filters to allow consumers to navigate through products much more efficiently. However, we’re not just talking about a couple of filters, such as price and colour – consumers want to be able to find or discover products that align with their needs. In other words, filters need to be detailed, but not in a way that can feel even more overwhelming. Consumers want to feel like they can have a better hold over all of the products available on a retail e-commerce website; feeling lost in the filters alone can cause even more headaches.  

For a clothing retailer, filters could include sleeve-length, jeans style, material, coat length, sweaters with and without hoods, and so on. Most importantly, these filters should be buildable, meaning consumers not only can filter by their clothing size, for example, but also for products under a certain dollar amount. This can help narrow down the search even more, which allows consumers the chance to purchase something that piques their interest and/or aligns with their needs. However, benchmark data from filter usability testing found that 32% of websites do not allow consumers the option to combine multiple filters. This makes navigating through products more time-consuming, which can lead to less sales. 

A category page is another type of filtering system where retailers can group (or categorize) products under a certain theme such as “go-to summer looks” or “new releases.” This can allow customers to browse through curated pages until they find something that catches their eye, thus (ideally) leading to a purchase. This is also a chance for retailers to highlight products that may otherwise go unnoticed or help spotlight various brands.  

For a consumer not looking for something in particular or searching for a specific brand, this can help them try new products and shop with new brands they are not familiar with. The overarching idea here is to guide the consumer to the product rather than have the consumer take the reins and search for the product (which is common with typical e-commerce shopping).  

To optimize filters and category pages, so that they are as accurate as possible, retailers may want to use a product information management (PIM) system. This allows the option to enrich each product with accurate descriptions that will allow it to appear when a consumer searches for something particular or when they use a series of filters. Since it is a management system, it acts as a hub for the retailer to better manage their product information, as they can update any specifications, collect and unify product information, improve consumer search results, etc.  

Implementing product recommendations on your e-commerce website is another great way to address the consumers who are not looking for anything in particular, and it can be used in conjunction with product filters and category pages. For example, when a consumer clicks on a product that interests them, the bottom of the page can list similar items that others also bought. This could look like “products you might like” or “people who bought this item also purchased”.  

Product recommendations can help boost sales and allow retailers to introduce other products to a consumer. In fact, 54% of retailers say product recommendations are a key driver of their average order value (AOV), while research shows consumers are 4.5x more likely to add products to their cart that were recommended to them. This cross-selling approach can be great for both discovery commerce and e-commerce strategies, as it helps the consumer uncover more products from a retailer, without having to navigate themselves, making for a much more convenient experience. 

Remaining Ahead of the E-commerce Curve 

With e-commerce sales booming and younger generations moving toward online shopping than physical stores, finding ways to essentially mimic an in-store, personalized experience within a digital environment can be a great way to reach consumers wherever they are on their buying journey. Finding ways to both guide your consumers to find a product, while also having a strategy in place that allows them to find and purchase a product with ease is a great way to prepare your e-commerce website for consumers with various shopping motivations. 

About Reshift Media 

Reshift Media is a long-time partner of the Retail Council of Canada. The company is a Toronto-based digital marketing and development organization that provides leading- edge social media, search and website/mobile development services to retailers around the world. Please visit www.reshiftmedia.com to learn more.