Convenience, Redefined: Can D2C Brands Keep Up?

Welcome to Marketing: D2C Weekly, the newsletter that aims to provide insight into one of marketing's buzziest categories: direct-to-consumer brands looking for new and effective ways to connect with customers. Whether you are with a DTC brand exploring brick-and-mortar options or a legacy company looking to reinvent a business model, we’ll supply you with fresh thinking, effective case studies and cautionary tales.

Talk to almost any D2C marketer about what they think they offer customers, and inevitably, they’ll come round to convenience. They’ll concede product quality is essential, and that AI and a good founders’ story are nice, too. 

But really, they’ll insist, people are eager to buy directly from brands because somehow, it makes life easier. That’s why people are so crazy about companies like Casper, ThirdLove and BarkBox, right?

But as D2C brands continue to branch out beyond their roots -- both in terms of channels and product offerings -- I think this focus on convenience (which just about any digital brand can copy) may make them more vulnerable than they need to be.

In a study released last fall, Diffusion PR asked adults who had made D2C purchases what the primary driver of their choice was, and 27% said convenience. It was the most popular reason, beating drivers like product quality and fast, free shipping (both chosen by 18%). 

But that stat means that almost three-quarters don’t think convenience matters most.

My point is that as more D2C companies morph into something new (and more traditional brands explore D2C channels), questions like “most important purchase driver” are thrown into flux, too. 

If I shop for a pair of Nike’s online or at a Nike store, is it any more convenient than if I bought those shoes through Amazon or at Foot Locker? And is buying something at an Allbirds or Everlane pop-up inherently easier than any other brick-and-mortar splurge? 

Besides, as more companies crowd into the D2C space, defending a “most convenient” title becomes next to impossible. Is Farmer’s Dog — which delivers  significantly more or less convenient than NomNomNow? 

“When people talk about convenience for D2C brands, I think what they often mean is removing barriers and giving people more control,” says Kate Ryan, managing director at Diffusion. 

And even if consumers don’t say it in surveys, what builds love for these brands, she says, “is that people feel that these companies somehow know you better than a bigger brand. It’s more about a relationship. And it’s about giving customers much more than they’d expect from another brand—free shipping, hassle-free returns, 100-day money-back guarantees. It’s about giving people more control.”

She recently bought her son a bed, for example, a purchase that involved a mattress from Casper and a frame from Pottery Barn. As it happens, neither product was right. “With the Casper return, I had an email within minutes telling me how to straighten out. I had to chase down Pottery Barn for weeks.”

While she says the experience sums up the D2C difference, hardly any consumers agree with her. The survey found that just 9% think D2C brands have better customer service than traditional brands, and only 11% say D2C companies offer more personalization or buying assistance than traditional rivals. (The study, conducted by YouGov, was based on almost 1,200 adults.)

So if convenience is becoming less of a thing for brands to hang their hats on, what should companies focus on instead?

Control matters more than ever.Let consumers have more of a say about everything, from personalization to time of delivery.

Brave stands out. As D2C companies pour millions into consumer ad campaigns, Ryan says it’s hard to escape how much riskier and more creative they are than other brands. To get noticed and define what they stand for, good D2C advertising has to be bold. Campaigns like Bonobos #EvolveTheDefinition and Harry’s “A Man Like You” engage people at a more meaningful level.

Know your customer.The Diffusion study finds that convenience matters much more to older people, with 26% of those 55 and older saying it was most important, compared to just 17% of millennials. Younger consumers care more about eco-friendliness and customer service (21%) than those over 55 (12%.)

Make it special. As retailers and conventional brands up their game to better compete with D2C companies, customer engagement and a differentiated experience matter more than ever. It’s time to let you (the brand) be you. Otherwise, shopping is just… shopping.

1 comment about "Convenience, Redefined: Can D2C Brands Keep Up?".
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  1. Nina Lentini from MediaPost Communications, March 8, 2019 at 9:14 a.m.

    Food for thought, Sarah! Thanks!

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