By Justin Biddle, UK Lead at Shopware
D2C success is getting increasingly complex as consumer demand changes, with brands under growing pressure to serve the consumer in ever more intricate ways. This has the upside of offering brands a variety of ways to grow sales, conversion rates and increase customer loyalty, but on the flip side, the technical challenges make it harder to do.
To succeed in D2C, brands need to excel in a number of areas, and their digital infrastructure needs to be properly optimised to deliver on their promise to consumers. Launching an online channel and seeing what works risks wasting valuable time at best, and could negatively affect brand trust at worst. Adopting an open source approach that is both built with flexibility in mind and has a core understanding of what works well for your business and your consumer creates a stable foundation, with the ability to evolve, and is therefore the best strategy for digital growth.
Why is D2C important?
The D2C approach can create an immense amount of value for brands. By choosing to sell directly to the consumer, brands can cut out the middlemen, creating a more streamlined supply chain and therefore increase their margin. Of course this means that the brand will have to bear the costs of customer acquisition, but for well established brands this may easily be offset by a margin boost. In going D2C, brands are also consciously trying to build a direct relationship with the customer, giving them full control over the customer experience and any additional services it may wish to bundle into the customer journey. The brand is then able to make crucial decisions on how to maintain and build that relationship.
D2C is a great way for brands to build a stronger connection with their target audience as, most crucially, they become guardians of data. This is the holy grail of the digital world as the combination of “permission to market” and full customer understanding allows brands to place the right products, at the right time, with the right promotion and the appropriate call to action in front of consumers. Furthermore, in understanding their customers’ complete needs they can evolve their products to better fit ever more granular situations, support their products with inspirational content, and value add services, which builds a stronger rapport between brand and consumer and in turn drives long term loyalty.
How to build an effective D2C customer experience
Data from Zendesk reveals that 75% of customers will spend more to buy from a company that offers a good customer experience and in building an effective D2C strategy, this needs to begin with the customer. This customer-centric approach, focuses on putting the customer first and anticipates their needs to create added value. This could be in the form of added personalisation, or increased interaction or additional support, or could consist of adding additional service that deals not just short term requirements, but also more deep seated needs. Brands can therefore fashion offerings that fully address consumer needs to provide both the best service and make their online experience seamless.
Nike is a prime example of a brand that has transformed its business to D2C via an effective consumer-centric approach. Nike said that itsdirect to consumer strategy was the fundamental reason for a 16% rise in revenues and a 25% rise in direct sales. Nike even went a step further by ensuring it was creating added value for loyal Nike customers, by giving exclusive early access to footwear for members of its SNKRS app.
An effective customer-centric approach may start with the product purchase, but to create long term loyalty, savvy D2C brands must focus on how they can provide added value to the consumer, giving them a compelling reason to return. This could be by creating valuable content to educate and inspire shoppers and learn more about the brand. A great example of this is Springlane, a German cooking equipment store. In addition to a wide range of products, customers can also find recipes, videos and tutorials on its website to engage the shopper and create an inspiring digital customer experience. This is the first step in helping the customer achieve the outcome they want, not just identifying the product they want to buy. In addition, by exuding a sense of reliability and showing expertise, the brand builds trust with their customer base and hence improves loyalty.
A successful D2C brand also needs to go further, and consider what else the customer might need – and most importantly determine the outcome that the customer wants. If your customer has bought some baking tools, then the outcome they want is not the delivery of baking goods, but in the first instance it is a cake – and further on from this it might be a family celebration. So rather than just offering the customers information on related products like mixers and baking tools (which everyone can do) this might be the ideal opportunity to offer real extra value, such as an advice service or extra benefits and rewards related to their interest, such as cooking classes or relevant community groups.
Of course, the backbone of any good customer experience is communication. Brands need to offer this flexibly. At the absolute least this should be via an online chat support line. Remember that use of customer services before purchase has a significant effect of conversion, and any opportunity to start a dialogue with customers should not be wasted. Prompt, and if possible live communication makes a real difference in creating a positive user experience and can leave a lasting impression on the customer. Of course communication can go far further than just chat facilities, and brands such as Currys PC World, Dunelm, and Watches of Switzerland all trialled video services connecting online shoppers to their store staff in 2020. Each has spoken positively about the impact it has had not only on customer satisfaction but also on their organisations in helping connect internal departments.
An online D2C sales strategy in today’s competitive digital retail landscape that focuses simply on selling a product is short-sighted. All brands are looking to make a sale, but to stand out in such a crowded marketplace, brands need to be delivering more than just a product, but an experience that creates added value. Consumer trends and expectations are constantly evolving, so to curate the best digital experience, brands must adopt an open source approach that allows flexibility to customise and adapt their offering. A brand that is adaptable to change and can create an experience for the shopper that focuses on their overall desired outcome is the recipe for establishing success in D2C and can in turn help to increase brand trust and long-term loyalty.