I recently joined Edelman in Chicago, where I’m focused on enhancing the firm’s business advisory services by consulting with clients on the rapidly changing consumer landscape and developing e-commerce solutions across various platforms.

One of Edelman’s key verticals, grocery, is top of mind for me as I work with the teams to enhance and expand our e-commerce solutions. In my first few weeks in the role, I had the opportunity to attend the Digital Food and Beverage Conference. Coming out of the conference, I was struck by how many of the messages for both suppliers and retailers were the same: make things easier for each other, and you’ll reap the rewards.

As grocery begins to see incremental growth in e-commerce — much like in the early days of digital — there’s a lot of gray area. No organization handles e-commerce in the exact same way, whether it’s who owns the budget, who owns the content, or who gets credit when it goes right.

For suppliers, it’s all about bringing things to the table proactively. A few examples of ways to do this:

  • Position yourself as a category thought leader. As everyone figures all of this out together, don’t settle for the same research that everyone else uses. Think about your brand’s unique proposition and what you can bring to a retailer that your competitors can’t. Build out e-commerce talent and capabilities and don’t be shy about sharing your efforts.
  • Get your digital shelf health in order. Retailers want to see that you understand the critical importance of their onsite customer experience. By demonstrating that you’ve prioritized consumer-friendly assortments—text and image content—you’re raising your hand as a preferred partner to work with.
  • Proactively bring the retailer information to help ‘the rising tide lift all boats.’ Too many brands are afraid to share information because they don’t want competitors to benefit from their insights—but a brand rarely does well on a retailer site if the category is lagging, so consider what you can bring to the table. Has your brand team done research on the language consumers use in your category? Share it with retailers so they can optimize their catalogs.

For retailers, the name of the game is making yourself the easiest retailer to work with. Some examples of ways to do this might be:

  • Provide ample opportunity for suppliers to merchandise using your digital assets. There’s a lot of real estate on a retailer site, and brands want access to it. Have you built out a streamlined process and explanation for how this works with your site?
  • Give suppliers an easy way to update their branded and product content. If all else is equal, a brand is going to give preference to a retailer that provides the most seamless and headache-free ways to update its content—time is everyone’s most valuable resource.
  • Be as open and transparent with data as possible. The more a brand knows about how its product performs with a retailer, the more it can provide back — custom content, product assortment, etc. Provide information about shopper journeys on the site so a brand can react accordingly.

The best work in the e-commerce space happens when both retailers and suppliers are open and interested in partnership and as flexible as they can be with each other. In an increasingly competitive landscape, partnership is no longer a “nice to have — it’s a must.

Kris McDermott is a senior vice president, ecommerce, Digital, Chicago.