While many D2C brands like to think they are cool and disruptive, fewer consumers see them that way. Diffusion PR’s latest survey finds that just 13% of consumers said D2C brands typically have a trendy aesthetic, down 50% from 2020. They’re not only less hip, but they’re also seen as less convenient, with only 26% of the survey saying these brands are easy to shop, a 16% fall from last year. Kate Ryan, Diffusion’s managing director, unpacks more of the findings for D2C Insider.
D2C Insider: You’ve been tracking consumer perceptions, with a sample of about 1,200, for five years now. What was most surprising to you this year?
Kate Ryan: I was surprised to see such a significant drop -- 50% -- in those who consider D2C brands as "cool" and "on-trend," especially as this was a huge draw for D2C early in its lifespan.
The results around fast, free shipping were also interesting. Last year, 57% of D2C consumers said if a brand guaranteed fast, free shipping, that would secure their continued loyalty as a customer. That’s changed post-pandemic, with just 12% of consumers saying that was a differentiator.
D2C Insider: It’s almost as if regular retailers have captured most of that D2C mojo through partnerships -- we can buy Allbirds at Nordstrom and Dick’s and Harry’s, and Quip at Target.
Ryan: Yes. Traditional retailers quickly pivoted during the D2C boom to offer many of the same services that D2C brands had become synonymous with, including free shipping, better customer service, and omnichannel and digital offerings to win back customers.
D2C Insider: Many observers fault D2C companies for their similarities. Some people say their apps and websites are so similar it’s more like “blanding” than “branding.” Does that come through in these numbers?
Ryan: Absolutely. In many ways, D2C brands have "lost their cool," so to speak. Traditional retailers have had time to catch up. It’s no longer a key trait of a D2C brand, and it certainly isn’t influencing purchases.
Ultimately, D2C brands should focus on what makes them different versus what makes them fit in and how they communicate this to their consumer beyond their branding.
D2C Insider: For example?
Ryan: With reviews touting their unique features or value prop, for instance, or more authentic influencer marketing and storytelling.
D2C Insider: The research finds that younger consumers continue to be D2C’s biggest fans, with about 20% of those 18 to 34 saying they’ve got a cool aesthetic, versus 5% of those 55 and older. Yet younger people are also most likely to be squeezed by current economic conditions. Did you get any sense of how these respondents feel about the cost of D2C purchases versus traditional retailers?
Ryan: Although younger consumers are more likely to shop their personal values, which they believe D2C brands more closely align with, we did see that consumers across generations are seeking more affordable pricing and better return policies. About 24% said they could be swayed to shop traditional retail if they offered a price-match guarantee with D2C brands. And 23% said they are looking for a 100-day return policy, no questions asked.