A brand’s e-commerce strategy should start with taxonomy

October 29, 2020By Behind the Shelf Blog

By Julie Bonnell, vice president operations

In the world of e-commerce and product attributes, proper classification is paramount. Taxonomy is truly unique in that it’s not only about the products themselves, but about the vision a brand manufacturer has for its business and how that shapes the relationship with customers. For me, this quickly brings an expression to my mind:

“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet”
William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

In this case, perhaps “a product by any other classification would smell as sweet” is more appropriate. But while the product may be “sweet” no matter how it is classified, it may not be found by the consumer without proper placement within a logical taxonomy.

Is children’s ibuprofen a pain reliever or a children’s medicine? Is an activity tracker a sporting good, a piece of exercise equipment, a watch, or a personal electronic? And what about a package of tortillas — is it a bakery, bread, or considered a specialty food item?

The answers can depend on the departments at a particular retailer’s brick and mortar stores or on their website. How you, the manufacturer, classifies your product(s) sets the stage for how the retailer and the consumer will engage.

“Peeling the onion”                      

The metaphor “peeling the onion” means what is at the surface of something can be peeled back to reveal things not immediately seen, and to reserve judgment until going deeper.Onion

How you classify a product positions it. By virtue of the “company it keeps,” consumers understand what the item generally is meant to address, solve, or alleviate. It also groups products for analysis so retailers can make better decisions about the assortment they carry, what to promote, and what perhaps should be culled.

Think about an activity tracker — when the customer is looking for tools to get healthy, what if you categorized your pedometer in exercise equipment but Fitbit®, Garmin®, and Apple® wearables are in the watches department — whether the customer is looking online or at shelf, how will they know about the pedometer sitting in exercise equipment if they start with the electronics department? And how will the retailer compare sales and make decisions about what to stock? 

Don’t get me wrong — taxonomy is a huge competitive advantage in that you are curating the buying experience and building the relationship you want with your customers.  It supports efforts to target the audience and helps retailers narrow choices as well as present alternative products.

I encourage you to make your taxonomy purposeful and reflective of consumers’ (or intended consumers’) needs and expectations. Consider all the layers of the onion — product attributes and how they offer a solution, consumer buying behavior and perception, and retailers’ product assortment and online and in-store classification guidelines, as well as position in the market.

My closing thought is to remember that taxonomy grows and evolves; like a rose garden, it needs to be tended. To get the most out of it, you must sometimes prune and sometimes expand. When done well, proper classification will ultimately grow the bottom line.