Unilever looks to grow global e-commerce sales by 40% as it focuses on digital

Unilever hopes to grow its global e-commerce sales by 40% in 2015 in an effort to reach more customers through digital channels. The move is part of its cost-cutting strategy to make its advertising budgets work more efficiently.

Maille Mustard - Unilever E-commerce

The company announced plans today (16 April) to “step up resources” in e-commerce, “further accelerate digital” and increase overall brand and marketing investment this year in order to see more return on investment.

In a call with investors speaking on the company’s first quarter results, CFO Jean-Marc Huet said that while e-commerce has only recently become relevant to the company’s categories, the segment is growing rapidly.

“Consumers tend to be more loyal online, and brands are as important there as they are in traditional channels,” he said.

The company says it has different e-commerce models in different parts of the world and has, until now, put its resources into five hubs including the UK, where e-commerce makes up 5% of the company’s business compared to 1% globally.

“You have the traditional bricks-and-mortar driven Tesco.com types in the UK, but they will evolve over time,” said head of investor relations Andrew Stephen.

“We have our fair share of the markets, but we would like them to develop over time.”

The announcement comes after recent moves by the company to push its presence in the online space.

In February, Unilever launched IDEAS, a crowdsourcing platform to help its brands directly invest in start-ups through its Foundry initiative.

Foundry was created last year in a bid to find innovative marketing start-ups working across digital, content, social and mobile to help support the company’s brands.

In December it also launched its first e-commerce platform through a direct-to-consumer website for its Maille mustard brand, giving customers the opportunity to purchase premium mustards not available in shops.

Earlier in the year, Unilever also ran a hackathon event in London where it asked participants to come up with ideas on how it can influence purchasing decisions of someone shopping for personal care products before they reach a retailer’s website.

Each move was part of an effort to experiment with ways for the company to bring its e-commerce and marketing teams closer together.

Meanwhile, the company’s first quarter results, announced today, showed sales had grown by 2.8% while volume grew by 0.9% in the first three months of 2015.

Huet said the company plans to rebuild momentum through its “streamlined processes” and by “investing even more in our innovation, continuing to strengthen our go-to-market capabilities and further sharpening our execution”.

Along with rivals such as P&G, Unilever has focused on driving efficiencies in the cost of producing its advertising over recent years, crediting this strategy for its increased share of advertising spend in the last quarter of 2014.