“In the marketing service space, I think a lot of tasks can actually be done through tech-driven solutions,” Douin says. “And I really like the approach of You and Mr. Jones, which is basically to innovate in this space with a tech-first approach.”
Success in e-commerce means the ability to crunch lots of data sitting on a variety of platforms, Douin says. “It’s very difficult to do manually. To optimize all of your assets, a brand that sells on Amazon can have thousands of and thousands of product detail pages. You need automation to do that.”
Beyond Amazon is the growing complexity of e-commerce broadly, Douin says. Such retailers as Walmart, Target, Kroger and others have made major strides in e-commerce during the pandemic. Social and digital platforms—led by Facebook and Google—are building their own e-commerce capabilities, and thousands of influencers are opening live social commerce storefronts.
The e-commerce agency space with which Douin will now compete is itself growing rapidly and seemingly ripe for acquisitions. Holding companies have consolidated far less of it than other digital marketing services, and much of the work is done by independent tech-focused specialists such as Tinuiti, Beekeeper and Pacvue. One industry veteran compares the space to search engine and social media marketing more than a decade ago.
Major acquisition focus
E-commerce services have become a major acquisition focus for holding companies and private equity in recent months—alongside Google Marketing Platform partners. Interest in the latter has been driven by the hunt for expertise amid the impending demise of third-party cookies. Interest in e-commerce has been fueled by the pandemic accelerating already rapid growth—but also because the loss of cookies places even more value on retailers’ first-party data, Doulin says.
But while e-commerce agencies have generated growing acquisition interest, Douin also notes that e-commerce work is largely handled in-house by small- and medium-size players. And at Amazon she recently saw a trend toward bigger marketers bringing e-commerce services in-house. “We actually estimate that by 2025, 30% to 50% of the large brands will have in-housed their e-commerce operations,” Douin says.
Unlike other areas of digital marketing, e-commerce incorporates supply-chain optimization and logistics functions not normally handled by ad agencies. Initially, Douin says she primarily worked with holding company shops. “But then as the Amazon offering evolved, we actually partnered with many other partners, such as independent agencies but also consultancies,” she says.
E-commerce media also diverges from other media handled by agencies, she says. “The [key performance indicators] holding companies used to optimize against are no longer relevant in e-commerce, because brands want to optimize around a new set of KPIs around driving sales, conversion and all of that.”
Marketers, too, have struggled to organize around e-commerce. Consumer marketing, sales and shopper marketing departments all have a claim on the space, and there’s often no consensus about who’s in charge of e-commerce media budgets.
“It’s actually critical that e-commerce becomes completely integrated within the broader marketing and not siloed,” Doulin says. “For a very long time, brands have considered e-commerce as a transactional thing, very low funnel. And the big question is how can brands also actually tell their story online within an e-commerce environment. Amazon has actually invested a lot in capabilities for brands to tell their stories.”