Moving from eCommerce to Digital Commerce
What do you think eCommerce looks like in 2025? A major shift is under way.
I’d like to hear your thoughts…and luckily, we’ve got one of the smartest people around to help us think about “Moving from eCommerce to Digital Commerce”, Leslie Danford, Director of eCommerce for Beam Suntory. Leslie, thank you so much for joining us!
Thanks for having me!
Leslie, we’re lucky enough to have had you share your insights at our eBev events, so many of us have a pretty good idea of the incredible things you’re working on in your role leading eCommerce for Beam Suntory…but for everyone else, maybe you could tell us a little about how you view your role at Beam Suntory, and what it entails? I’m sure you need to stay on your toes in such a dynamic space!
My role has actually evolved quite a bit over the last six months! While we were first focused on building channel fundamentals like digital product information and ratings & reviews, we’ve now taken a more holistic approach to the channel, thinking about how we can engage in the broader omnichannel path to purchase through digital interactions with consumers.
I’m sure that keeps you busy! Alright, let’s start by jumping into the fun stuff, the technology. In eCommerce, you have the chance to map the connections and find or build pathways that will grow our brands and improve consumers lives (or at least reduce friction in how they acquire your products). What new technologies that you’ve seen (I know you were just at CES) or worked with do you believe have the greatest potential to help drive these efforts (and why)?
Consumers are looking for convenience and personalized solutions and are quickly losing patience with much of the inefficiency that comes with mass media and traditional retail. As a result, I’m keeping an eye on trends like shoppable content and instant delivery, which allow consumers to move quickly from inspiration or impulse to fulfillment in a matter of hours or even minutes.
I’m also inspired by smart kitchens and voice activation. You can imagine a world where your refrigerator communicates with your fitness tracker and then suggests an evening cocktail or snack based on what you have on-hand and how many calories you have left for the day. If that’s not convenient and personal, I don’t know what is!
That’s a lot to consider. And with so many incredible capabilities ahead, what are some of the pillars of your overall goal, and how do you prioritize which to pursue?
This is a great question, as it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the options or sidetracked by every shiny object that comes along. We rigorously prioritize around commercial potential, scalability / reach and ability to provide insightful or useful data or information. Combining these lenses with an overall focus on the consumer helps ensure that we are focused on the investments that will set us up for future, long-term success.
With an interest in moving at the speed of consumer preferences…are regulatory concerns routinely a consideration in how you evaluate new platforms/technologies/strategies?
Of course regulatory concerns are always top of mind in our industry. We have found that consumers’ digital engagement and demand for convenience are coming through in many different regulatory environments. For example, where spirits delivery is not allowed, we see the rise of the click-and-collect model. We look to the consumer when planning our strategies and are absolutely committed to doing business the right way.
We’ve had connected consumers for some time now, but now connected homes have rapidly come online as well, and I was just interviewing Markus Wulff a few weeks ago about connecting our products…So I’d say the stage is set for alcohol/CPG brands in eCommerce. Paint us a picture of buying Jim Beam or Maker’s Mark in 2025. It’s Saturday afternoon…I’m sitting at home on my couch, I’ve got friends coming over that evening, and we’re big fans of the Manhattan. We’re going to want both of those brands, and I should have A LOT of ways to make that happen (I probably shouldn’t have to do much for the vermouth or cherries we need either). What are my options?
Fun question to think about. Given advances in artificial intelligence and real-time data, it’s not hard to imagine a scenario where you could have a back and forth conversation with your smart speaker, deciding if you want to go out or stay in and getting suggestions for what to do.
In one scenario, you could learn about a country concert Jim Beam is sponsoring at one of your favorite local venues and decide to go out. Your driverless car arrives outside your door within minutes, complete with a mini-fridge stocked with your favorite snacks and cocktail fixings (you would pay for what you use, like in a hotel minibar).
In another scenario, you decide to stay in to watch the game. A drone arrives outside your door with all of the ingredients and instructions for a chocolate (bitters) Maker’s Mark Manhattan after you tell your smart speaker to “surprise you” with a sweet and trendy spin on an old classic.
Pretty crazy scenarios, but not impossible by any means!
WOW! …My friends and I thank you preemptively for all of your hard work in bringing these things to life 🙂
Markus Wulff, Digital Innovation and IoT at The Absolut Company:
Interesting discussion Seth Hillstrom and Leslie Danford. I believe ‘The shift’ will go from offering alcohol products to consumer experiences, in many cases the consumers actually need more than a bottle of spirits; ingredients, tools and ice. When I was at The Absolut Company, we piloted Cocktails on Demand in New York together with Minibar Delivery (Lara Crystal) where the consumer ordered Cosmopolitan kits including everything to create a perfect cocktail at home. We got interesting insights that differed from the regular on demand customer. More about the pilot https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/cocktails-on-demand-service-launched-new-york/
At the moment I am in a teamdeveloping a block chain loyalty program for the beverage business which is not tied to a specific brand, it’s created with theend consumer in mind where No and Low alcohol together with traditional brands work together to create better mixology experiences at home.
Scott Mcleod, Founder of ARIIS:
Hi everyone, I thought I would chip-in – a likely scenario could be – You sit down and pour yourself a wee dram then instruct the launch of your Mixed Reality Dome, the dome talks to the dram bottle and loads up a choice of VR experiences, you chose “Speyside Chillout” you are then tranported to the Highlands of Scotland on the banks of the river Spey where you can watch the fishermen fish the river and the Eagle swoop down to catch their pray, choose to accept other people to join you who are also enjoying this experince. Dont worry about re-ordering as this will be done for you when the bottle is empty if you choose this option. Nice…
Can you walk me through the physical Mixed Reality Dome experience? Does this involve a headset? To me, the headset is a major barrier to adoption for any VR/AR technology…look how few consumers would even wear the glasses for 3D TV. A cooler experience (ie VR and AR vs. 3D tv) may help build interest, but to go beyond novelty to lifestyle we have to find a smoother way to integrate these technologies into our lives.
I am visualising a VR dome, perhaps a physical dome to begin but then a virtual dome that would cloak around you. At the moment we are creating the 1.0 version of this experience using handheld devices my vision is that we will eventually have Mixed Reality rooms in our home. I believe that brands will embrace AR and VR experience to assist with brand relationship building and we are pioneering this concept. I’m happy to discuss further and give you a demo.
Sounds really interesting. I want the demo for sure! And if it’s ready, you’ll have to show it off at eBev this fall in Las Vegas. One can imagine a pretty amazing home shopping experience in a mixed reality environment.
SO. What does all of this mean when it comes to the relationship between brands and consumers? As our path-to-purchase evolves, what does that mean for how we think about reaching consumers with our stories/content. And do we tell the same stories? Or do things like impulse in a digital/home environment dictate that we need to evolve our brands’ messages along the way as well?
At a high level, consumer demand will drive brand success in a more digital world, just as it does today. Brands still have many of the same jobs to do, from storytelling to community building to ensuring memorable consumer experiences; however, the way they go about these activities is changing. For example, in a traditional world, mass media builds brand awareness while distribution ensures that a product is in front of a consumer when it’s time to make a purchase decision. Online, consumers search for brands by name, and search results on retailer sites are ordered based on sales velocity. As a result, good performance is a virtuous cycle, and consumer demand is linked more directly to brand performance. The bar for brands to create and communicate real value to consumers – and do so in a consistent way across an increasingly fragmented landscape – will be higher than ever.
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