COVID-19 has completely changed how we buy from our favourite brands and has led to major growth for online retailers. E- commerce grew by 46% in the last 10 months of 2020, at a pace that was predicted for the next 10 years.
As a result, many brands – including Nivea and Unilever – that typically sell products via third-party physical and online retailers, have decided to launch their very own direct-to-consumer (DTC) ecommerce sites in order to get their slice of the pie and get closer to their customers.
This collective shift to DTC is expected to boost online sales even further with an estimated 57% of global sales growth expected to be online by 2025.
But selling directly comes with a new challenge for these brands: attracting and engaging customers to their site to purchase. These brands must get this right if they are to rival online marketplaces like Amazon and other online distributors.
Here are five ways that brands turning to a DTC model can optimise the on-site experience to engage customers.
1. Bring your brand experience online
To compete in the digital economy and against the likes of Amazon, brands must consider how they can replicate a boutique in-store experience online. And the design and navigability of their site will be a customer’s first experience of that in the online world.
Through a unique user experience (UX), DTC brands should inspire consumers by creating an online shopping experience that feels more like the real life experience of browsing in store. And while this will help customers navigate their digital store with ease and encourage a return visit, it will also benefit how high they rank in search engine results.
In May 2021, Google’s Page Experience ranking update will mean it increasingly focuses on the user experience of a web page when ranking sites. Google will consider metrics including mobile friendliness, how the website uses interactive tools, site engagement and dwell time to judge whether the sites it ranks matches the intent of the search query. So, brands that put significant focus into creating a slick, game changing digital experience for their customers will be well prepared when these changes arrive later this year.
2. Use first-party data to shape the customer experience
For many years, brands have relied on third-party cookies to advertise to their target customers based on browsing habits. However, with Google preparing to phase out third-party cookies on its Chrome browser by 2022 , businesses will soon lose out on valuable customer data which helps personalise their online experience.
Brands are adapting to find new ways to connect with those customers using first-party data, which is collected once a customer visits a website. Those brands that have traditionally sold through retailers lack the ability to collect first-party data. So newly DTC brands must consider how they can collect and utilise this data to understand the intent of their customers, and intelligently act on their needs.
Experimenting with interactive tools like surveys and web chat can help brands understand the intent of a customer by simply asking them. This direct dialogue can also inform the brand’s wider campaign to attract customers.
Utilising first-party data in this way can help brands create a more direct, meaningful connection with the customers they’re targeting, especially if they’re going DTC for the first time.
3. Engage with the customer at the right time
Much like the in-store experience, there’s a balance to be struck when engaging with customers online. Customers are still looking for help, advice and recommendations when shopping online, as they would in-store. On-site chat, problem solvers and surveys all play their role in guiding customers on their path to purchase, but timing is everything.
These functions should be as helpful as possible, just like an attentive sales assistant that catches your eye at the right moment. In the real world, a pestering or unhelpful sales assistant can ruin the customer experience and lose the sale, and technology can risk doing the same.
Understanding the best time to prompt your customers while they browse your website ensures you can offer timely and considered help that doesn’t disrupt the customer journey.
4. Don’t forget about mobile
The m-commerce market is expected to see a significant boost by approximately 70% as smartphones become key to an omnichannel retail landscape post-pandemic. Purchases from mobile devices now account for over half (55%) of all online buys, so optimising mobile capabilities is a given for brands adopting a DTC model. With this behaviour shift, consumers expect a frictionless mobile experience just as they would on the desktop site.
While native mobile apps often provide a more condensed, user-friendly experience of the desktop site, companies often forget about optimising their mobile website to suit shoppers using browsers on the go. There are easy ways to do this, such as enabling AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages), reconfiguring your overlays to fit mobile screens, and even just regularly testing your website using tools such as Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test.
It’s important to optimise your mobile website and consider how your tools can best be utilised to add to the customer experience without dominating the small real estate of a mobile screen.
5. Use an integrated set of tools
For brands entering the DTC market for the first time, the pandemic has meant having to undergo rapid digital transformation in order to have their websites ready to handle an increase in web traffic and orders. On top of this, it’s important to add capabilities that improve and personalise the customer journey to convert customers.
While there are plenty of tools which can help, these can soon add up, cutting into your marketing spend, and many of these tools are actually never used. Moreover, syncing datasets from each tool can become an arduous task that takes days for ecommerce marketers, time which could be better spent elsewhere.
Organising your martech stack to be more cost-effective but still efficient is crucial to optimise performance, and your marketing budget. Rather than having one tool per process, invest in solid tools which can perform multiple actions across your e-commerce site and stitch together well.
Going DTC is fast becoming an obvious choice for many brands. But it needs to be done in the right way. Brands must think about the experience that they might offer in-store, and bring that to their DTC online store. Only then will you give consumers a strong enough reason to abandon the ease and scale of Amazon for a richer shopping experience.